If my art were a coin, one side would be how I see and create the individual image. While shooting I allow my inner self to run free, letting go and giving way to intuition, emotion, and past experiences. The flip side is how I choose to use the photographs I create. I place them into the context of books, installations, and the internet so my ideas and feelings may come to life. These two sides inform and rely on each other and I have used this approach to investigate the world and myself. The results have led to two major projects-- an ongoing body of work titled, Stranger Than Family and There's just no telling.
The process of creating Stranger Than Family allowed me to confront and unveil my own existence. Growing up as an American, adopted from South Korea in a multiracial family of seven, we always saw ourselves as "normal." It was always evident in the gaze of others when we stepped outside the bubble of our home that we were viewed as different. We knew they only saw our exterior, the differences of our skin, our hair or our abilities. If only they could pull back the curtain and see past the facade, they would discover a family that was similar to their own. In 2011, I created a book titled An Unfinished Body, as a way to show the world how we came to be a family and to reveal our similarities through our everyday lives. Comprised of my family's snapshots, ephemera and my own photographs, the book acts as a window into our world.
An Unfinished Body gave way to my first success within the medium although once completed I found myself vulnerable. My photographs in book form became a story which people understood. This scared me because I saw where photography’s ability fell short to expose all the complexities of who we are. A large part of my family's life revolves around the special needs of my brothers and sister which I found to difficult to illustrate through documentary photography. The greatest challenge is articulating our complexities to the level of our own understanding and experience.
After the book came out I didn't want to make photographs of my family and I felt they needed a break after a year and a half of having a camera in their face. During this time I graduated from college and started a position as studio manager for a photography gallery in Chicago. It became difficult to find time to make photographs with purpose. In a reaction to my new reality I found refuge in making photographs when I could using my everyday life as subject matter and sharing them through tumblr and instagram under the guise of there's just no telling. Although many of my photographs remain private, I view them all as little experiments in communication and expression.
Shooting when I could led away from using a technical and heavy medium format camera to a compact and simple 35mm point and shoot. Allowing myself the freedom to photograph whatever and wherever my intuition guided me, opened my eyes to seeing beyond the subject. I finally found the energy and tension I was searching for when I created Unitled Acid, a photograph of a post-concert moment of my friend's drug-induced hardcore dancing.
After a couple of years and hundreds of rolls of film I developed a vast archive of work and came to understand my own voice within my medium. In late 2013 I brought together the photographs which held the energy found in Untitled, Acid, placing them into a handmade clamshell box I brought to life the work of there's just no telling. The individual photographs each hold their own story, but are purposely ambiguous and enigmatic in nature so viewers may bring their own perspective. This work does not hold any direct meaning beyond what the viewers experience and imagine, they are free to make their own connections between the notes. The success of the work lives in how certain individuals have the ability to transcend their experience past the facade. For those who can see, there's just no telling is a literal expression of my soul through the photograph, a collection of my energy.
For me There's just no telling was one large experiment to help me find a new way of seeing and communicating ideas which I can apply to Stranger Than Family. This is where I stand at this current moment and I look forward to sharing with you the works that will come in the future.
"Matthew Avignone is a Korean born American photographer and curator who communicates his feelings and ideas through documents and art."
Discover more Matthew's work over at matthewavignone.com
(Interview by Alex Crétey Systermans)