Paula Rebsom

Picture People Portraits

In 2005 I became a member of the Picture People, a one hour portrait studio, typically found in malls. With unlimited free sittings this was the best solution to my lack of camera and lighting equipment. What resulted were several “collaborative” projects with unsuspecting mall photographers.

Full Artist Statement

Family Portrait – Picture People

“Mother, you are going to place your left hand here, on the child, and your right hand in front of the father,” said the photographer at Picture People, a one-hour portrait studio in Valley River Center Mall. This, however, was not your typical family portrait. It was one of my performance art pieces, The Family Portrait series, which explores paradoxes of identity, including human/animal; male/female; and predator/prey relationships. I hope to challenge these dichotomies in my artwork by blurring the boundaries between them.

In The Family Portrait series, I employed strategies of doubling and role-reversal. In the resulting photograph, two females with similar body types stand side by side in matching dresses and facemasks, one with antlers, signifying the male, the other with only ears, signifying the female. Their ”child” is a cement fawn lawn ornament. Blinded by masks, the performers relied on the mall photographer to pose them; all she knew about the two females in strange costumes was that they were a ”family.” It was the photographer’s own impetus to call them mother, father, and child in order to direct their poses. Much of my performance relies on just such happenstance, redrawing the line between audience and performer. The “audience” becomes the unsuspecting mall photographer, or the car driver who happens to pass as I stand along the roadway dressed in a hunter orange ball gown, wearing antlers, next to a vinyl deer.

When I was younger, I hunted with my father and won prizes for marksmanship. Now, in another role-reversal, I frequently take on the identity of the deer. Contemporary feminist theory often links hunting with sex, and women with animals. Even in its most masculine form, “wearing” a full set of antlers, the male deer is considered feminine because of his vulnerability to hunters. In my work, I sew costumes and other props for myself, and then find ways to insert myself into everyday scenes. The photographic document serves as the record of these events, and also as part of the final artwork.