Photography and words by AA Bronson
Tuesday, June 11, 2012, 7:10 p.m.
I am flying over the Atlantic on my way to Basel, Switzerland, from New York City. This morning I received an email from the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, the museum that owns the photograph reproduced here. It seems they are exhibiting it in an exhibition titled Dark Matters. The photo is a kind of visual puzzle. The question is, how was it made? It has the appearance of a montage or collage, and yet it is not. There is no fakery, no photo-shopping. It was made at a time when I had no identity. I was twenty-three years old, and it was 1969. I had left home at seventeen, and gone to university, and then realized that I did not know who I was or what I wanted out of life. Any goals I had were fabricated out of the expectations of my friends and family. When I looked in a mirror, I did not know what I was looking at. I felt strangely empty, even vacant, as if the person there had left, leaving me in charge of this young body, and I did not know quite what to make of it or what to do with it. I didn’t want to be a someone, with a “personality,” a set of desires, hopes, and dreams. I wanted to be an automaton, with no emotions, no judgments. I didn’t realize how Buddhist this was, in a primitive kind of way. I only knew I couldn’t stomach the almost fanatical concern with the status quo that our culture demanded at that time. I needed “to tune in, drop out, turn on.” Although I had been taking drugs since 1966, mostly LSD and marijuana, I found them overly aggressive for my sensitive body, and now I turned to visual play in an attempt to get to some more nuanced modulation of inner space. It was around this time that I found a set of five plastic convex mirrors in a junk shop (junk shops don’t seem to exist anymore) and began to carry them with me everywhere. I placed them in circles — on the sand of a beach, in water, on pavement, on the marble floor of a museum — and photographed myself, both distanced and multiplied by the mirrors. It felt right that I looked so far away, and the multiplication gave me a kind of anonymity that I craved. I wanted to make a self-portrait that captured my inner emptiness. This photograph is perhaps my most successful.