Photography is used as a documentary and scientific tool; can it also lay claim to an archaeological calling? For this is the concept that emerges from the photographic work of John Coplans, who, much like a real archaeologist, has conducted a thorough and regular exploration of all facets of his body. Over the course of his experiments, his hands, his chest, his feet and his anonymous, always headless figure, have been portrayed as subjects in their own right. Every year since 1984, his photographic excavation site has grown, structured to constitute an archeological collection of images and of self, a personal and organic work with universal undertones.
This set of eight Polaroid panels taken in 1989 recreates a composite portrait of Coplans’ two superimposed feet, a cross between scientific precision and the strictly artistic dimension of archeology. In the way he stages and portrays his own body, the photographer doesn’t miss a single detail or frame: skin, hair, nails, and even all the rough textures of the flesh are revealed in a series of frontal shots, though taken by the artist himself.
There is nevertheless an objective and methodical dimension to the work of Coplans— who turned to photography late in life, after a career as a critic and essayist—which transforms his body and his artistic craft into a veritable field of research on the potential of the image. By fine-tuning his process to create an anonymous context, Coplans exposes to the world all the triviality and universality of the body dispossessed of its identity. These then are no longer self-portraits, but rather the image of the body subjected to the ravages of time and photographic revelation.
By Anne Laurens
Self-portaits polaroids (1984-2002), John Coplans
Through February 18, 2020
Howard Yezerski Gallery
460 Harrison Ave a16, Boston, MA 02118, États-Unis