As one of Maine Media’s finalists for the 2020 Arnold Newman Award for New Directions in Portraiture, Michael Darough‘s powerful series, The Talk, is on the walls of the Griffin until October 23rd. We wanted to know more about Michael and the work, so we asked him a few questions.
Tell us about what inspired the body of work? What was the first image in the series?
The Talk was inspired by the lives of different men and women that I would see on TV. These ideas for my photographs came from conversations I have had with family and friends when I was younger and within the last few years. The issue of systemic racial inequality, especially in regard to the criminal justice system, is not new. It felt like an appropriate time for me to begin to visually articulate those discussions and personal thoughts.
I believe one of the first images in my series was Remembering Gordon. This image was based on the photograph of Gordon or Whipped Peter, as he is commonly known, an enslaved African American man who escaped captivity in 1863. The image depicts lash marks across Gordon’s back; his head is turned profile while his hand is positioned on his hip. Although my photograph does not completely mirror the original material, I considered the composition and his body language when arranging my image.
Thinking about how this has been an ongoing problem in our country, I started looking at the root of this issue and how I might use historical imagery as a reference point to begin this work. I then transitioned to contemporary figures in the news to help guide how I was photographing myself.
Did your ideas about the work change over the course of creating the images? What did you learn from creating the series?
This project went through a couple variations before arriving at the current group of images. Conceptually, ,the idea did not change. I knew I wanted to create work about people who were victims of excessive force. Visually it was different at the start of the project in comparison to the photographs that are on exhibit at the Griffin Museum of Photography. When I started taking photos, all of them were in color and focused more on objects and less on the person. After constant re-shoots I arrived at a version that felt comfortable for the subject matter. I think what I learned most was how to work with lighting, explore storytelling and figuring out a way to direct my viewer through subtle changes.
While all of these situations pictured in the talk are of others, the images are self-portraits. How did your sense of self change when shooting the work?
Previously, I had explored self-portraiture in my work but those images were illustrating stories and memories from my life; these photos are addressing the lives of others. Considering the Information surrounding my portraits, it’s frustrating. I spend my time looking at the details surrounding the deaths of these men at the hands of law enforcement. By the time I would finish shooting and editing there would be another incident. Sometimes during this process, I would find another individual that I overlooked. Although I felt compelled to take on these roles and photograph myself, the cycle of violence feels frustrating.
What would you like us as viewers to take away from seeing The Talk?
This systemic issue within our criminal justice system has been affecting the black community for years. The talk is not something new, it is just a discussion that is currently being had in mainstream culture. I want individuals to look at the work and recognize this problem and feel compelled to have the necessary and uncomfortable conversations needed to fix it.
Can you talk a bit about what being a finalist in the Newman Awards means to you?
This was a great exhibition that I am happy to be a part of. The jurors selected a diverse group of work from talented photographers, addressing their respective content in creative ways. I think that each of us strived to explore new ways to work with portraiture. The imagery, while different, that emerged from our individual bodies of work came together nicely. I’m happy that I was selected as one of the finalists for the Arnold Newman Prize.
What is next for you creatively?
I’m going to explore this idea a little further. While I don’t see this project going on for several years, I do have a few more stories and perspectives to share. I am hopeful that through people marching in the streets, artists addressing this issue and individuals pushing for legislation to help protect individuals, there won’t be a reason for me to make this work. I’m not sure about all the details surrounding my next series but I do have plans to continue to pursue portraiture; probably photographing other’s, not myself.