Elevate Difference

States of Union (09/2009)

New York, New York

Artwork can rarely be separated from the artist. The two inform each other. At least that is the case with photographer Alix Smith, whose latest exhibition, “States of Union,” recently opened at the Morgan Lehman Gallery in New York City.

A common theme of Smith’s work is identity—the perceived notion of one’s identity and one's actual identity. The identity that was most challenging for Smith is her own as a lesbian. She always had a feeling of wanting to fit into the norm. "I was intent on being straight or trying to figure out why I didn’t fit in," says Smith.

By illuminating other people’s perceptions of themselves in her “Constructed Identities” project, Smith came to terms with her own identity. The exhibit was on portraits of friends and acquaintances she grew up with on the Upper East Side who were told to dress as if they were going to work or dinner. As a result of the nature of the shoot, many of the subjects began to exhibit many of the same mannerisms: placing their hands and crossing their legs in a certain way.

The shoot taught Smith that others also experience the feeling of having to fit in. “I got that everyone was playing this part, whereas before I always had this assumption that I was the only one who felt awkward. Through this project I was subconsciously hashing out this idea, that I was playing a part like an actor on a stage.” Smith ultimately realized the people she was photographing were substitutes for her self.

Smith has made a lot of progress since being scared of what people would think of her lesbian identity. Her latest exhibit focuses specifically on monogamous gay couples. Part of what she wanted to do in “States of Union” was give gay people more role models. “I feel like when you are growing up and straight there are many models of what your life might look like; you can watch movies that show all these depictions, but when you are gay there are a lot less.”

She doesn’t want to hit people over the head with the message behind the pictures. “I get them there before they realize the full impact of the work. Something is drawing them to image, and then (they say to themselves) wait, there are two women or two men. I’m not trying to be completely outrageous.”

Smith's long-term goal is to travel across the country taking pictures of lesbian and gay couples from every state and lecturing about LGBTQ issues. "States of Union" can be viewed until October 10, 2009.

Written by: Danielle Sonnenberg, September 23rd 2009