Joshua Aronson Is Pushing Boundaries With "I Thought About Posting This"
Photographers are the new rockstars, according to image-maker Joshua Aronson. In his new exhibition, “I Thought About Posting This” opening today at Congruent Space in Chicago, the artist attempts to explore the ways photography can shift the way we see ourselves and push the boundaries of gender and sexuality. Mixing still life, documentary, fashion, and portraiture, Aronson attempts to mirror the ways in which today’s youth are championing a more fluid and expansive identity, one that he believes is, “not left nor right, neither black nor white, nor pink nor blue, but somewhere in between.” It’s through his poignant photographs that he encourages viewers to consider their own inbetweenness.
Milk sat down with Aronson to learn more about his creative process, the importance of paying attention to subtleties, and what we can expect from this new exhibition.
When did you first pick up a camera and what initially drew you to photography?
My first camera was probably around 15 but what drew me to photography was movies. I would watch movies and wonder what made one movie better than the next. So I got a camera and started making movies, short films, music videos, and eventually started taking photography more seriously. It was like the deeper I got into movies the more I just wanted to take pictures. Films were like these relationships, you made them your life for months on end, and photography was more like one-night stands. In one night and out the next. I liked that passion, I think I got addicted to that feeling. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be in the moment like that? With the pace of ideas coming in, I needed photography to get them all out.
What do you love most about this creative medium today?
I like the way a picture can be a palette cleanser. There’s a fine line between a picture being this space for distraction and a space for being something real, and I try to play on that. I come back to this question: “how can I make an authentic, honest image?” and “how does this image scream loud enough to get you interested?”
Tell us more about your new show. What kind of messages did you attempt to explore with this body of work?
My work, in this exhibition, explores the potential for photography to express a certain subtlety that’s inherent to the way I see myself today. Young people see themselves as neither black nor white, left nor right, nor pink or blue. There’s a high end and a low end, but in the middle there is infinite possibility. I go back to this idea of being not one way or the other. I’m actually somewhere in between. So, here, I make pictures speaking to that wayward feeling. I think there’s a certain subtlety to the infinite and that subtlety is something best served in person. I mean, only so much can be communicated through a screen.
What inspired you to title this exhibit “I Thought About Posting This”?
When I was titling the show, there were 243 name options for “I Thought About Posting This”. I have a roommate, a musician who I live with, and when he heard “I Thought About Posting This”, he was like that’s the one. I thought, “nah, it can’t be”, but the more I thought about it, the more I recognized how fragile and refreshing a statement like that could be. “I Thought About Posting This”. It’s hesitation. It’s cool. It’s okay to hesitate too, because, how much of ourselves can really even be experienced through a digital screen?
What was your process for bringing this body of work to life?
On a holistic level, it all starts with an emotional reaction I’m having—a sort of crisis. I’m triggered by this inner crisis to start working on something furiously. It’s like it wakes me out of my dream state. Then I let myself jump between different places emotionally because I never want to hold onto something just for the sake of holding onto that thing. Like, if I’m angry at the start, then do I need to force myself to be angry again tomorrow? If I’m not feeling it tomorrow, then it’s not real, and if it’s not coming from a place that’s real, how can I expect that picture to have longevity beyond me?
What different photographic approaches did you employ to produce this body of work?
With this show in particular, I wanted to display an array of approaches to making pictures including still lifes to documentary images, fashion and portrait pictures, which mirror the waywardness I was describing earlier—the feeling of being not quite one way or another.
How can photography expand or challenge traditional perceptions of gender and sexuality?
Sometimes I feel like photography is music. I’m always considering my projects the way a musician would consider theirs. Like, am I making a mixtape? Am I looking at my pictures as an album? Are these dance records? Pop hits? Bangers? Who am I more like- Travis Scott or James Blake? Can I be both if I want to? And when you look into it, this idea isn’t actually all that new. William Eggleston is a label signed pianist. Wolfgang Tillmans has dropped records. He even had a song on Frank Ocean’s Endless. So, I think it goes without saying that if photography can mirror music, then photographers can mirror musicians, too. The way Prince and Bowie have expanded and challenged perceptions of gender and sexuality, we can and have too. Sometimes, I feel like in this image-saturated society, photographers can be the new rockstars. Even though the look isn’t that glamorous, the work we’re making is.
How has your work evolved from your last personal projects?
This is the first exhibition of mine to feature handmade, darkroom prints. I’ve never exhibited darkroom prints and, in this show, you’ll see darkroom prints next to digital prints next to unique one-of-one poster prints.
What do you hope people feel when they see these images?
I can’t tell you how to feel. I can tell you my favorite exhibitions make me want to jot down notes, go read books and make things. If there’s anything I hope you feel, it’s a drive to go out and do something.
Images courtesy of Joshua Aronson
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