These photographs are not about the t-shirts per se. Not In Your Face is a series about identity, validation, and perception. I look for individuals who stand out in a crowd by the choice of the message on their back. The messages are combinations of pictures and words that reveal much about the identity of the wearer. They tell us who these people are and who they aren’t, who they want to be and what they want us to know about them. They demonstrate how individuals wear a kind of badge of honor that says “I belong to this group, not the other.” They advertise their hopes, ideals, dislikes, or political views. These individuals create their own iconography exploring the cultural, political and social issues that impact our lives today. In light of bullying and stereotyping, Not In Your Face seeks a better understanding of our own judgments and biases. It presents a time capsule of the kind of messages that people are willing to wear and share without fear of reprisal.
A few years ago I photographed a young man who called himself Doobie. He was entertaining and was obviously loved by his fellow travelers.
Venice Beach is a fertile ground for all kinds of t-shirt wearers. I find that the most up to the minute messages occur there and then six months later I see those messages on the streets of New York. They are bi-coastal. When I returned the following year to the boardwalk I was met with the news that Doobie had passed away. His “group” was in mourning and I saw their pain. The story changed from telling to telling but the gist of it was he was trying to help someone in trouble and he himself was stabbed. I don’t know where this happened or when but his buddies remembered that I had photographed him. I found his picture and had some copies made and we decided to have a memorial for him one evening at sunset on the beach. There were a few of his friends who took the lead but the majority of the people on the beach that night didn’t even know him but took part in our ceremony. Some told stories about him and it was oddly very much like a wake you might attend for a relative. It was clear no one knew much about him but there was a solidarity of spirit and purpose they all shared. They took care of each other. There were boundaries you never crossed. Where you were from or where you were going was never discussed at the least by me. I found that when each of them introduced themselves they mostly had nicknames. But when I was alone with them, photographing them many would tell me their given name which I kept to myself and tried to forget.
Someone said quietly that Doobie believed in God so they decided to say a prayer. It wasn’t a prayer I had ever heard before but layers and layers of thoughts and words about their lives and why they were here. The on-going theme was “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” By the end everyone was in a circle and before long everyone was holding a picture, placing it gently in the surf and watching as it floated away. It was a fond farewell for “Doobie.”
On Venice Beach in California there is a large population of homeless teens and runaways. Gabe came up to me one day wearing a t-shirt that said “Fuck You You Fucking little Fuck.” He was very young and very skinny, was shy but was very curious about what I was up to. I took his picture but he seemed to hang around for awhile which was unusual. Sometimes if one of my models looks hungry I will offer them some money for their efforts. Most of the time they will immediately go to the boardwalk and get some food. But not Gabe. He stayed and seemed to want to talk. It was nice because he was very interested in what I was doing. He explained he was named for the angel Gabriel and did I know about him. He gave me a detailed account of how Gabriel is a “messenger” but he he said is still not sure what his message was. He was very philosophical about his life. The following day he came with another shirt he said he got at Good Will and could he pose. I explained this project was about “Identity” and how I don’t show the same person more than once. So we talked about all kinds of things including how he ended up sleeping on the boardwalk but that was his business and I won’t repeat it here except to say it broke my heart. Each day Gabe came to visit even sometimes bringing me a sandwich from the shelter (we shared it) and then he asked me what kind of coffee I like. Then came a Starbucks I know he had to pay a couple of dollars for so I told him I had quit drinking coffee so he wouldn’t waste his money on it. Each day he had a different outfit on and although I couldn’t use it I took his picture. But then one day the truth came out and as I suspected he said that I reminded him of his Mother and that he missed her. I was crying inside but I said I am sure she misses you too. He said that was probably true.
So I hesitated but said maybe when I get home I could send her some of the pictures I had taken of him. He too hesitated but in the end thought it a nice idea. Then he asked me for a piece of paper I thought to write down her address. But below is the resulting letter. Right there I saw the plight Gabe was in. The fact he thought the cops were possibly after him made me think twice about getting involved and getting him in trouble. If he wanted to go home he could have but not with my actions helping the police to find him. I did not in the end send the letter to his Mother. I am not a counselor or a psychiatrist and did not know how this action would effect everyone involved. To this day I still wonder what Gabriel’s message was but I think it had something to do with knowing your place and knowing when someone wants you to get involved in their life.
Available through Susan Barnett are two museum quality traveling exhibitions featuring images not only from the book T: A Typology of T-Shirts, but other images from the Not In Your Face portfolio.
The photographs are framed and crate-ready for shipping. The choice of photographs would be determined by the Curator’s choice, theme of the exhibition, the specific interests of the community, the availability of space in the gallery or museum or an overview of the project itself on t-shirt culture. Portfolio images are tagged and categorized by topic or issue (political, social, environmental etc.) to assist in curation.
Susan would be available for the planning and installation of the work in collaboration with the Curator and the goals of the exhibition. She would travel to the exhibition and make herself available for lectures and book signings. She is interested in starting a dialogue around the project with special emphasis on the concepts of judgment. There is an illustrated lecture available and she would be interested in any creative program such as students showcasing their own t-shirts for discussion. One of the purposes of this typology is to encourage the very act of looking in order to determine the similarities and differences apparent in these time capsules uniquely taken from the back.
The photographs are:
17 x 22″ / 43.18 x 55.8 cm, framed in white wooden frames with Plexiglas
12 x 18″ / 30.4 x 45.7 cm, framed in white metal frames with Plexiglas
All frames have wire ready for hanging.
There are custom boxes ready for shipping.
University of Maine Museum of Art, Not In Your Face, Bangor, Maine
Rayko, San Francisco, CA
Uno Art Space, T-Shirt Typologie, Stuttgart, Germany
Leica Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
Empty Quarter Gallery, Silk Roses and Sneakers, Dubai, UAE
Center for Fine Arts Photography, Ft. Collins, CO
Griffin Museum of Photography, Worchester, MA
De Santos Gallery, Houston, TX