Time is nature’s way to keep everything from happening all at once.
—John Archibald Wheeler, Ray Cummings, and other attributions
This exhibition, meant to complement Unknown (American)—commissioned by Washington University and on display in Weil Hall through summer 2024—is made up of a selection of work from the last three years. During this time, I’ve become interested in portraits of historical leaders in the form of busts, especially those of leaders who lived before the invention of photography.
While it’s obvious that these portraits, or portrayals, are manipulated in appearance for various reasons, it is nonetheless portraits that sew together history despite the unknowability they confess to. Photography has always been like this. Its mission is impossible. A photograph isn’t a window into the past—it’s only an object produced by a mechanical process. Portraiture’s mission is also impossible. We can’t know a person by looking at their image. Yet within all this impossibility, to me photographic portraiture is filled with longing.
So I wonder if it even matters whether a portrait has a subject, or whether a photograph was taken at a particular moment. I wonder how this relates to the depiction of historically significant individuals in the days before photography, both back then and now. I want to acknowledge the unknowability of what can be seen and recorded, and the physicality of the object that serves as the record.