In the dark days of strict self-quarantining, I felt a profound loss to my photographic portrait practice, in addition, a general malaise and sense of isolation. With the mandate to wear masks, I considered not only the loss of identity with faces obscured by swaths of fabric, but the loss of connectivity with friends and family. I thought about the historical legacy of wearing masks in cultures all over the globe that allowed for story-telling and new personas, and it reminded me of the humorous paper bag masks created by illustrator Saul Steinberg in the 1950’s.
I reached out to friends and family and presented my idea for a new series titled Undercover. They would create their own paper bag masks and arrive at my backyard studio for a portrait session at a determined time. They would step onto the backdrop and wait. I would then appear in my own mask, shout instructions which often resulted in great hilarity, shoot quickly and return to the house. And because I shoot film, I had no idea as to the results for a number of weeks. What I wasn’t expecting was that while wearing their masks, participants lost a particular self-consciousness that comes from performing for the camera, instead feeling a levity and elevated spirit from participating in an artful and fun activity. The end result revealed new sides to people I know well and documented how art can shift moods even in the darkest of days.