Bruce Jackson (b. 1936), Teller, Alaska, 1997; photograph; Courtesy of the artist

Bruce Jackson (b. 1936), Teller, Alaska, 1997; photograph; Courtesy of the artist

Bruce Jackson Being There, Self Portraits

Friday, March 22, 2013

Throughout the run of Being There: Bruce Jackson Photographs 1962-2010, the artist is sharing some of the stories behind his photographs.Being There is on view until June 16, 2013. The catalog accompanying the exhibition is available at The Museum Store at the Burchfield Penney.


I have friends who do self-portraits of themselves in mirrors, holding the camera low, or by setting the shutter on a timer and running around in front of the lens before it goes off. I've tried both a few times and have always disliked the results. I'm not a good poser-for-the-lens; I always feel silly and it shows in the pictures. But I have gotten three self-portraits I like that were a consequence of photographing something else.

This one was in Teller, Alaska, in October 1997. Teller is on the Bering Strait, about 70 miles north of Nome. I was up there with the French anthropologist and geomorphologist Jean Malaurie, who'd asked me to help on a project. That's me, my shadow actually, between the dead seal and one of the mushing dogs belonging to the hunter who caught it. The hunter was sleeping in that shed with the open door behind the dog at that moment. What I liked about my shadows in Nome was they were always long and thin, neither of which I was: I've never been tall and I weighted about 70 pounds more then than I do now. The sun that time of year up there is always very low in the sky, making for long narrow shadows.So I took a lot of pictures of me tall and skinny in shadow. I took them on the tundra, on the streets of Nome, on the rocks of the seawall in Nome's harbor, and in Teller.

One day in 2010, Diane and I were walking along Rue de Seine from our hotel in St.-Germain-des-Prés to the Louvre when I noticed a beautiful sculpture in a shop window. I stopped to photograph it and while I was focusing my camera (a Leica M9) I saw myself in a mirror at the back of the store, so I focused on the mirror rather than the sculpture. It wasn't until I got home and looked at the image on the screen that I realized I was in there twice: I was also reflected in the shop window. This is a kind of image I enjoy, one with planes of action where you see something, then you have to figure out just what you're really looking at.

This third image, made last August in lower Manhattan, has a lot in common with that 2010 Paris picture. We were visiting our old friend Margie Ratner in her new apartment in the Frank Gehry building near the World Trade Center site and South Street Seaport. Margie's place is on one of the upper floors, so it has a grand view of Brooklyn and Queens. The view includes all three bridges in that area (Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg) and at night you can even see the lights at JFK. The light changes all day long and with the seasons, so her windows are hypnotic. I went to the window to photograph the Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn itself, then found the image also included Margie over my shoulder and two stools at her kitchen counter. At first, you're looking out into space, then you realize you must be in a room and you see the room. It's like one of those drawings of an object that at first looks like a vase, you  blink, and it's two identical faces; you blink again, and it's a vase again. Which is it? Both of them. How can it be both of them? How can you be ion two spaces at once? There's the pleasure of it.

-Bruce Jackson