It may not be obvious upon first looking at Kelli Connell’s Double Life (Decode Books) that something is out of the ordinary. You may have passed by the images above of a loving couple without giving anything much of a second thought. But as you look closer, you see the twist: there is only one person here. This moment of realization, and the ideas that spring from it, is what makes Double Life one of our favorite books of 2011.
We reached Kelli over email to discuss her project, an unexpected collaboration, and where it might go in the future.
Bryan: Do think it’s important for the viewer to know the photographs have been digitally constructed?
Kelli: For me, it is important that the images are perceived as being believable. I am interested in how constructing images that look believable can raise questions about social and identity constructs. Calling into question our pre-conceived ideas about identity and relationships is something I am interested in exploring in my work. It is also interesting to me that the veracity of the photograph is questioned through this approach as well.
It’s interesting how the relationship can be viewed from different perspectives. The first time through the book, I viewed it more as a traditional love story. But when I went through it a second and third time I started to think about the different ways that others perceive us and how we perceive ourselves.
How early in the process did you develop these different ideas? Was it something you had in mind when you started or did you discover new angles through the process of making the photographs?
I was pretty clear from the beginning that I wanted to explore the multiple sides of the self in regards to identity and who we portray ourselves to be in relationships. Usually viewers read the work as a relationship between two people, then over time, they realize that they are looking at images of one person doubled. It is then that the images are re-examined and the multiple sides of the self emerge. This viewpoint presents identity as being fluid rather than fixed. The work also speaks about how the self evolves, mirrors, morphs, and adapts through being in relationships.
Another layer to this work that I find intriguing is that most people perceive these images as self portraits. It is interesting that the “original” photographs are made using a self timer with my model and myself portrayed acting out “characters”. What is captured on the film is my model’s interactions with me. Yet, in the final composites, I merge two of her in each scene, removing myself from the composite (unless part of me is needed where there is physical contact).
It’s an interesting dynamic. How did the collaboration with Kiba (Jacobson, your model) evolve over the creation of the work?
When I started this project Kiba and I were already good friends. She has a background in photography as well, so she understands what I am seeing and doing behind the camera. What has evolved over time is our collaboration as a director and actor. We have both been pushing our boundaries. Kiba’s openness, intuitiveness, and ability to take direction is something that I don’t take for granted. Over the years, our friendship has evolved as well as our working relationship. We now have a great system worked out when I am in town for shooting. It has been really wonderful working with her and seeing how the work has progressed as our relationship has evolved.
It was interesting to read your thoughts (in the book essay & interview) on the continuation of the project. Does this book perhaps represent the opening chapter in a much longer story?
I plan on continuing the project as long as Kiba is still interested in being a model and I am still passionate about the ideas I want to explore in the work. Who I am in relationships and how I see myself continues to change as I get older. Who I was in my twenties informed my earlier work, and now that I am in in my thirties, my photographs reflect a different stage of life. It is my hope that the work becomes more complicated and nuanced over time.