Tuesday, 3 June 2014


"More of what the images are about now have to do with these preconceived notions about what people look like." (via)

In 1975, photographer Rick Ashley started taking pictures of his brother-in-law Michael. The portraits became the series "Michael". Some of the photographs are set up to staged narratives. They earned "one of the top Massachusetts Cultural Council Grants in Photography" in 2013 and have been exhibited in various places. So far, responses were both positive and negative ... some people found the photographs "disturbing" (via).

"Michael is my brother-in-law, and we have been making photographs together since 1975. This project began 4 years ago and continues to evolve in ways I never anticipated. I chose Michael as I hoped the disconnect between these pretentious poses and someone with Downs Syndrome would bring attention to the superficial nature of posing specifically, and the inability to know anything about anyone in a portrait generally. To my surprise, the resulting photographs did not reveal pretentious poses, but instead different Michaels: the author, the jock, the hipster, etc. What the poses failed to do on others, they did to Michael to such an extent that his mother was amazed at the transformation, once commenting that ‘he almost looks normal”. My guess is that this occurs as Michael has no agenda, no image of self that needs to be presented. Michael is fully engaged in the process. He sits, puts his hands where I ask, and looks where I ask him to or he doesn’t as Michael doesn’t do what he doesn’t want to. The resulting photographs, which were based on photographic conventions, were then emailed to China where they were hand painted onto canvas, as painting is the original maker of myths." (via)

"It began as an investigation into the use of artifice in portraying people both in photography and painting. I continue to challenge how I can alter our perceptions of people through the images." (via)

"It was not until I added the Superman photographs to the project that the work hit a nerve. Suddenly I was being asked: “Do you feel like you are taking advantage of Michael?” and to paraphrase another: “you are receiving this reaction because you don’t portray Michael as the person he is and while the photos of Michael may be ones he loves they aren’t positive portrayals that assist in breaking down walls of prejudice against those with developmental disabilities”. Symbols, even ones with unexpected consequences, are charged with great power and influence our perceptions irrespective of their validity. My father contracted polio at the time I was born. My formative years were spent with a father that had use of his left arm and right hand and could breath without assistance for only a few hours a day. He was a brilliant and strong man who had served in WWII later receiving his MBA from the Wharton School, and then from a wheel chair he ran an automobile dealership and insurance company never once complaining about his condition. As a child I continually watched people judge my father based on what they saw and the assumptions they made about him based on that information. What was true about my father is true of Michael and for that matter the rest of us." (via)

Rick Ashley is a 2013 Fellow in Photography for the Massachusetts Cultural Council and has shown most recently at the New England Photography Biennial and the Panopticon Gallery in Boston. He has also exhibited work at Gallery Kayafas, the Griffin Museum of Photography, the Virginia Carten Gallery, and the Photographic Resource Center in the Boston Area as well as RayKo gallery in San Francisco. He is currently represented by Gallery Kayafas (literally via).

photos via and via and via