iitExposure: self[less]


This body of work consists of a single image, my winning entry in a 2017 photo competition judged by iitExposure, a student photography organization at the Illinois Institute of Technology. The competition's prompt was as follows:

Produce a revealing photographic portrait of yourself from which human bodies are entirely absent.

My entry was this photo taken in Daphne, Alabama:


The building in this photo is a permanently closed fast food franchise. It’s a kind of thing that exists almost anywhere you go in towns across the U.S., the kind of thing that even the people who live right there in Daphne wouldn’t bat an eye at when driving by. The location had been vacant for just a few months when this photo was taken, but the activity that once filled the building was already largely forgotten by the community around it. Despite the fact that the existence or non-existence of another fast food restaurant was nonessential to the town of Daphne, that newfound non-existence was presumably a very important element of the former franchise owner’s life. The closure of the restaurant had an outsize impact on that person and their employees, an impact that felt real and strong enough for them to wish to make a statement to the community around them. That statement was a simple "sorry", posted on the letterboard outside.

The "sorry" is potentially a reflection of the fact that this personal shift felt much broader to the person who wrote it. Even though Daphne, Alabama was largely ambivalent to the passing of one of its fast food restaurants, the franchisee could have felt that a public apology was both warranted and important for the town. One could speculate that the short statement came from a feeling of desperation, and longing for relevance to others. Or one could speculate that it was something much less involved, a simple practicality to keep people from rolling through the drive-thru. The ambiguous simplicity of the word allows the viewer to map their own assumptions onto it.

At the time in my life that this photo competition ran, I often believed that the things that impacted me had a larger scope than they really did, and I felt a need to publicly respond to conflicts that were minor in nature to everybody else involved. It was a tendency I had identified in myself and was working to combat, and choosing to interpret the fast food letterboard's message as a similarly outsize reaction to a personal tragedy allowed me to navigate an aspect of my own personality by viewing it in another. And in doing so, mapping a single word on a building to a reactive habit of mine, it became a convoluted self-portrait.