In the summer of 2016, we visited Washington D.C.. We were on the top of a double decker tour bus on a beautiful July afternoon towards evening. It was pleasantly warm and not too humid. We were on the Dupont Circle/Georgetown tour. I think, with rush hour traffic, the tour lasted about an hour and a half.
A middle-school-aged girl was sitting in front of me. For the entire tour - oblivious to the alternately sunny and leafy route through the landmarks of American power and the excesses thereof - she was snapping selfies on her phone. She'd pop a few off - study them intently - maybe save one or two, delete the others and do it again from a different angle.
Only a few months later I began doing these portraits as warmup exercises before my daily work in the studio. There is an app in which artists and models post selfies to use as inspiration for others. As it was an inexpensive source of models, I began to use it.
In the process of hunting through hundreds, maybe thousands of selfies for one to paint each day, I began to notice that the photos kind of sorted themselves into a few categories: photos of good times with friends and families, glamming, and the trying on of identities like outfits in the changing room of Abercrombie and Fitch.
And then there were the photos that seemed to be unguarded moments during which the real person is looking out from behind the mask of identity they're trying on. Maybe I'm just projecting from my own long search for identity - but these were the photos that intrigued me and that I eventually selected each day.
That simple exercise grew into this project. I have never snapped a selfie. On some level, I get the whole phenomenon. But then, in the app, it's not unusual to find someone who has posted hundreds - nearly one thousand selfies.
How many selfies can a middle schooler pop off in an hour and a half? How many does it take?