Photographic Portfolio – Bard College

Note to the viewer: Below you will find two portfolios and a pair of essays. The first portfolio was produced as my Senior Thesis Project for the Bard Photography Department. There are two associated essays, the first is an essay by Daniel Berthold, my Bard College philosophy professor. Daniel was not only a subject of my photographs but also an inspiration for my life long exploration of phenomenology (and philosophy in general). The second essay is a Artist’s Statement I wrote for the project, 20 years later it seems to continue to reflect my concerns with the project, though I might state it in different terms and with a more coherent style these days.

Below the Bard work you will find the work I did at the Maine Photographic Workshops. I find these images to be beautifully crafted, but I include them primarily to contrast with the work at Bard. At MPW, I focused primarily on the craft of photography; composition, darkroom skills, technical and studio work. Upon returning to Bard my interests turned from technical/craft concerns towards how to use photography to explore and research the world. “Conversations” (my Bard portfolio) is as Daniel describes it an attempt at experimentation and as I conceived it a research project into the nature of photography itself.  20 years later I continue to be happy with the balance of technical, performative and exploratory execution. I hope you enjoy the images and the ideas.

For examples of more recent writing please see: On Being Lost and On Collecting My Thoughts


Image and Self-Image: A Portfolio

Photographs by Jabe Bloom ‘95

Essay by Daniel Berthold-Bond

I’ve always felt intensely uncomfortable with being photographed. So when Jabe Bloom came to my office to ask if he could photograph me, I was resistant. Then he told me that his Senior Project was to have his subjects photograph themselves-he’d set up the 4×5 camera, then hand over the bulb release to me to take the shot, letting me decide how to portray myself. A moment passed as I let this sink in. Then I smiled and said yes.

But I smiled too soon. When Jabe stepped away from the camera and turned the show over to me, I experienced a visceral sensation of vertigo, a really weird, giddy sense of disorientation. This wasn’t my run-of-the-mill discomfort, mind you, but something entirely different. I think now that what I experienced was a particularly vivid encounter with the uncanny between-space of being both (but not quite either) subject and object. By participating in the act of photographing myself, I was no longer simply the object to be observed and represented, I was observing and representing myself. I was subject. But then again, I wasn’t. I was still caught within the metaphysics of the photographic act; I was still capturing the self within the geometry of two-dimensionality and the ephemeral temporality of the instant. I was complicitous in my own limitation.

Can you experience yourself simultaneously as subject and object? Can you experience yourself as object at all without the intervention of what Sarte called the Other’s “look”? One might think that nothing could be easier than to be both subject and object at the same time, or to be object for oneself. Jabe’s project provides a beautiful experiment for exploring these questions.

Look at the photographs. The one of me shows traces of reluctance and confusion. I’m looking away, trying to evade the confrontation with the camera, even though it’s a confrontation I was supposedly in control of. I look slightly distressed, as though I’ve grudgingly capitulated to the inevitability of my own objectification. Or look at the womon with the cat: the woman is a little tense, edgy; there’s a sense of mild foreboding about her, made all the more telling in contrast to the obvious indifference of her cat to what’s going on.

And the wonderful photograph of the man standing by the waterfall in high-water pants, hand also in pocket as ineffectual symbol of unconcern: he holds up the bulb as though it were a trophy, but he shows none of the “aw shucks” pride of the angler displaying his catch for the camera. He’s stiff, like the guy on the cornflakes box holding the rake, gazing with a mixture of reproach and challenge at the camera he has just invoked to establish his image.

Some subjects, however, like the woman gazing off into the distance, show no evident restlessness, no tension, no stiffness. Have they solved the riddle of the subject-object? Have they found a way to negate their self-objectification, to remain subject through-out? Or perhaps to come to terms with their simultaneous subjectivity and objectivity?

Perhaps they have. There is a palpable sense of serenity about such images. But I wonder about the thin line between serenity and resignation. Have these subjects transcended the paradox of their situation, or only sought to escape it?

Of course, I may well be projecting my own uncanny experience onto the other participants in Jabe’s project. But I imagine I see in these beautiful photographs echoes of my own sense of disorientation at being caught in the no-man’s land between my subjectivity and my objectivity. I see these photographs as images of the paradox of self-identify, mediated through a camera that has itself been made self-reflexive, no longer simply recording the world it observes, but responding to the conscious agency of the very subjects it was designed to represent.


Artist’s Project Statement


“Conversations” was an attempt to analyze the process of photography through photographs. I wanted very much to restructure the subject-object relationship in photography, to reaffirm the sitter’s independence. The ideal of Plato’s original spheres cleft in two. The project is an attempt to flirt with the melding of two egos. In this space, the photographic plane, the focal plane, the choices of visual storytelling, and the sitter’s attempts to rationalize the idea that they are about to be turned into an object, lay the new entity. This one does not rightly belong to either and the viewer must attempt to decipher the artist’s intent from the sitter’s intent. When the view has difficulty thoroughly untangling this web, the images are the most successful.

Be what one can be. Understand and conceive of the limitation of a unique existence. Face the singularity of one’s own existence. Free the self from preconceptions. Art is the struggle, the recognition of its own struggle, against itself. To be what it is not. The presence of a humble strife. The existence of itself, the insistence that it is not what it is. The eternal strife to transcend itself, to know the other embrace it fully without fear. The presentation of the question does truth come before being. Creation as seen as the positing and the creating of truth through matter. The concept of comparison dichotomy. The urgency of the willing to experience something as new and fresh. The struggle to open a space and fill it.

We cannot help being fascinated by ourselves in this world. Our bodies and minds want to find it, see it. The world becomes us slowly. Where we stand defines what we see, our choices define experiences. We no longer see chaos that is not processed or constained by our concepts.

I try hard to go out into this without preconceptions, without ideas of right and wrong, to question without expectation of answers. This for me, this is the experience of the senses, a reaction to the other which belongs to us both…

Word And Image

Please find a PDF the article about my Senior Photo Project in Annandale Magazine here:

Annandale PDF

Link to PDF of original article


Maine Photographic Workshops Portfolio