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Issue 133

Hoods by John Edmonds: Words
by Kari Cwynar

One might assume that a portrait of an anonymous subject, back to the camera, gives little information. Few clues as to the individualities of this person, the before or after of the photographed moment, the setting or the interaction. In the photographs that follow – excerpted from larger and ongoing series of hooded portraits – all subjects are turned away from the camera, tightly framed, unknown. These four are all in blue, offering perhaps a gendered clue.

John Edmonds began his project Hoods in spring 2016, as a graduating student in Yale’s Photography MFA Program. He describes his prior photographs as generous and romantic – perhaps too much so for unreceptive audiences – leading to a desire to make work that was less exposed, that prompted deeper looking; thinking of how viewers would read these images and the subjects within them from the symbolism of a hooded jacket or sweatshirt. The clothing is all his own, worn on his body and now worn by strangers. The stranger becomes a pseudo self-portrait; how the artist himself might be seen, glimpsed from behind.

It’s significant that the figure is anonymous. For the artist this work is less about the broad beast of identity and more concerned with the terms of relating to one another. Edmonds asks how you relate to someone you can’t see; how the coded visual language of clothing leads to the impossibility of an undetermined first encounter, of giving your own information when it has already been assigned. Edmonds’ Hoods insist on this conversation. Portraiture thus gives rise to questions of the language we use talk about other bodies, to talk about someone.

While the images appear deceptively simple, they are incredibly sharp: every detail is present, describing the contours of each figure’s silhouette. There is much information in this detail, as in the gesture and the clothing. If this information is subtle, it is reinforced by repetition – Edmonds often works in repetitive series, looking and re-looking and impelling viewers to do the same. He gives fragments of a whole, leading one to consider the reality beyond the frame: what a sliver of thigh, the texture of a polyester suit, the back of a hooded athletic jacket might say. There is imaginative potential in these anonymous portraits, and there is nuance in repetition – of near imperceptible differences that encourage a second and third take on what seemed a familiar image or scene. Edmonds’ Hoods insist on a close reading.

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