Tuesday, July 5, 2016


Buck and Jonathan, Art Institute, Chicago, IL

Are these two students friends or enemies? I took this image of Buck and Jonathan’s photograph at an Art Institute of Chicago exhibit last weekend. I was drawn to the photo when I noticed an Asian man taking great pains to record the image on his camera. The photographer, Julie Moos, spent almost a year at a high school with students and staff to understand the students’ relationships and then invited them to be photographed in pairs. However, she didn’t let them know with whom they were paired until the last minute. They might have been with friend or foe. The students were asked to sit beside one another and look directly into the camera lens.

Once the photographs are placed on exhibit, observers are challenged to determine which of the duos are friends or enemies. The exercise forces us to re-examine not only our own high school relationships, but also our own filters, biases and stereotypes.

What first impressions do we perceive that is surely based on those filters and biases? Could these cloud our perception and judgement of people we meet to block interactions that fate has placed on our path? Would we now re-evaluate how we respond at the next meeting? This project is as much a social experiment as it is photographic art.

Too often we get more concerned about the outside of a person than the inside, e.g., if we don’t have tattoos we judge people who have them. It’s been rightly said, “Never mistake the moment for the man.” Appearance and first impressions can be deceptive, so we must be aware. These students may or may not look similar, but we are only seeing their outside and we must recognize that sometimes we see a splinter in someone’s eye while overlooking the log in ours! We should always look in the mirror before peeking out the window.

And what about Buck and Jonathan? How do you think their different races have affected their relationship? Does Jonathan’s “Harvard” sweatshirt provide any clue? Do they seem at ease or in tension beside each other? Ms. Moos provides no clues or answers. It’s up to us to decide and in the process we may just learn something about ourselves.

Additional pairs from the “Friends and Enemies” exhibit at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC, can be found at:

No comments:

Post a Comment