The vibrant photograph is cropped tightly around its subject. Platinum hair frames a face constructed of mismatched pieces - the eyes are uneven, the mouth and jaw seem masculine. She looks sad. Propping her head up at an awkward angle is an equally unreal-looking hand holding a black bowtie. Only after reading the title did the fact that she has a double eyebrow become apparent. There it is on second look - one eyebrow on top of the other. The portrait is by photography professor Daniel Gordon, a young artist who was recently selected to be part of the New Photography exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art.
"I created this idea of a portrait studio where I'm playing Dr. Frankenstein and striving to bring these people to life. Often I end up kind of horrified at the thing that I created," Gordon says. His photographs begin with a vague idea and some Internet searching. He prints his findings on a cheap, ink-jet printer and then sets about slicing and cutting the appropriated images. From the cut up paper he constructs objects and figures that he arranges into scenes. The results fall somewhere between collage and 3-D tableaus. He then lights the scenes and photographs them.
Gordon describes his process of creation as unplanned. He might have an idea of something or someone in his head, but the search for images inevitably leads him in unexpected directions. "I never really make the thing that I set out to make. It always turns into something else. But the moments after you struggle and something actually comes together in a way that surprises you and it works, that's very rewarding."
Though the figures are often distorted and strange, not people you would see walking down the street, Gordon explains that he aims for a feeling or mood that is true to life. They are emotions and moments that could easily happen, regardless of the bizarreness of the characters involved.
In addition to the MoMA show, a book of his earlier photographs, Flying Pictures, will be published and displayed in an installation at the Leo Koenig Gallery next month. The photographs that comprise the series are each lovely landscapes with a figure (Gordon) positioned in the air with arms outstretched, not unlike Superman.
The photos are free of manipulations; the effect is achieved instead by artful staging.
In reality, he ran, launching his body about four to six feet above the ground, and is about to come crashing down to earth in an imminent and painful impact. Yet the power of the camera transforms the event, making the viewer believe, if only momentarily, in the possibility of flight.