A Multi-Media Artist Uses Mirrors to Capture Intimate “Co-Portraits” of Families at Play

Heather Corcoran
Mar 3, 2015 3:05PM

Multimedia artist Julianne Swartz uses her practice as a way to create and celebrate human connection. The artist has worked with such ephemeral materials as light and sound to foster intimate moments through installation, while also creating photographic documentation of passing instants. In her latest body of work, exhibited in “Co-Portraits Portfolio” at Mixed Greens, the artist takes the familiar format of the family photo and turns it on its head, using mirrors to capture tender images of familial bonds.    

To create the images in the portfolio, which is her fifth such photographic series, Swartz invited families to choose a favorite natural setting to be photographed. Giving one member of the family a circular mirror and just one direction—to be playful—Swartz placed herself and her camera between the family members. In doing so, she was able to capture hybrid images that document such familiar interactions as a child reaching for a hug or an affectionate gaze.

Performative photography is nothing new to Swartz. She has used mirrors and other materials like water droplets and bubbles to create analog photomontages directly in front of the camera’s lens, resulting in distorted images of land and sky, and body parts. Her mirror photographs have been compared to the late 1960s “Displacements” of earthworks artist Robert Smithson, yet rather than disrupting a landscape to the point of abstraction, Swartz uses reflections for their additive properties, changing contexts without unrecognizably altering an image.

There’s an additional human element that is essential in Swartz’s art, rooted in her drawing inspiration from the place where “art and social practice meet,” as she has said.  In her images, the viewer sees the hand that holds the mirror, whether it belongs to one of the subjects of the portrait, as in this series, or reveals the artist’s own finger, the arches, loops, and whorls of its unique fingerprint fully visible. This ever-present humanity is key for the artist, who is above all interested in “exploring sentiment, and bringing sentiment into a fine art context,” a concept she admits can be “a little tricky.” In her “Co-Portraits,” the abstraction of a familiar form does just that, as Swartz’s reflected images allow the viewer to reflect inward on the relationships in, and memories from, his or her own life.

Heather Corcoran

Co-Portraits Portfolio” is on view at Mixed Greens, New York, Feb. 19–Mar. 21, 2015.

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