Tuesday, April 10, 2012

(Un)Masked: Adriene Hughes

Emerging photographer Adriene Hughes explores the process of self-definition and the relationship between humans and our most primitive instincts in her series deer/woman. In this series, Hughes turns inward, to her personal battle with cancer and the effects it has had on her identity. In deer/woman Hughes photographs herself; fully dressed in women’s clothing, she wears a deer mask and poses in both domestic and wild settings. Many of the photographs from the series, including deer/woman, Denver Colorado, capture Hughes interacting with other humans. What initially appears satirical about these photographs becomes melancholy upon further examination. The deer mask becomes the intermediary between human and animal, concealing her true self in light of her sickness. The deer mask, as Hughes understandably feels, becomes an exterior illusion that influences perceptions and perspectives. In each photograph Hughes engages in ordinary, if not banal, behaviors and conventional interactions. The mask, however, offsets viewer’s expectations, emphasizing her disparate identity, almost begging for people to treat her differently due to stereotypical perceptions of otherness. The mask indicates Hughes sentiments regarding her jeopardized womanhood.
Deer/woman, Denver, Colorado captures Hughes in an intimate personal relationship. Scantily clad, the masked Hughes curls up on a couch embracing a nude male. Neither Hughes nor her partner look at each other or the camera, rather they stare into the distance. As Hughes seems to reclaim her feminine identity by displaying her womanly body, the message of the photograph becomes obscured through the masks presence. Questions start to emerge regarding the couple’s relationship: Does he see her mask? Does he care? Does she feel comfortable around him? Is the deer the elephant in the room? The photograph skillfully alters viewer’s perceptions and expectations as the composition and perceived emotions somehow remove the mask from the photograph, as if the obtrusive deer head exists solely in the viewer’s mind.
Deer/woman, New Mexico communicates a similar sentiment, although a bit more subtly. With Hughes sitting in front of a cabin in the woods, the mask appears less starkly out of place. Its presence, however, continues to confuse the relationship between human and animal.  While the aforementioned image prompts consideration of social interaction, this photograph contemplates a more personal sphere, an exploration of the inner-psyche.
Adriene Hughes, deer/woman, Denver, Colorado

Adriene Hughes, deer/woman, New Mexico

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