Paul Mpagi Sepuya: Portraits of the Unique Relationships Between Artist and Subject

Photographs are becoming cultivated images of the self that hide the insecurities of an individual, and highlight the positive aspects of an individual’s life. They have become a way for individuals to exploit their lives and prove the interest of their everyday; they lack expression and connection between photographer and photographed and focus exclusively on the subject being photographed.

Paul Mpagi Sepuya’s photographs provide a clear, concise and affixed understanding of the unique relationship between the photographer and the photographed; the relationship that is often lost. A portrait strives to be a telling record of the personal and emotional relationship between the artist and the subject, revealing the social existence of the subject and the creative and emotional personality of the photographer. The resulting image captures layers of meaning, which exist only through the personal connectedness of the artist and the subject.

The relationship between the photographer and the photographed is one of consent, trust and power. While the photographer has the overpowering ability to make decisions of the photographed; deciding exactly how to portray an individual, and choosing which flaws to highlight, the photographed must trust the photographer will not exploit their self. Sepuya eloquently reveals the sexuality of an individual, often his friends, partners, lovers and peers, in which the photographed is revealing their innermost personality, through mutual trust of photographed and photographer. These intimate depictions explore a more complex exchange of personalities between the viewer and the subject.

Positioning his subjects in front of a mirror facing himself, Paul Mpagi Sepuya exposes the relationship between the photographer and photographed to capture and reflect a genuine image of each subject. He often smudges his mirrors to disturb the transparency of the picture plane and to heighten the imperfections of a person.

These relationships are not straight-forward and cannot be depicted within a single frame, but require a layering of imagery comprised of aspects of multiple photographs. The fragmentation of photographs that make up Sepuya’s work is an unusual technique within the art world, but by doing so Sepuya curates a unique perspective of Sepuya’s own self through the documentation of another subject.  Sepuya’s ability to refine images of individuals creates a curated image of the subject. 

All artwork copyright the artist. Learn more at Paul Mpagi Sepyua’s website.

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