Sometime last year I picked up Susan Bright’s Autofocus: The Self-portrait in Contemporary Photography, in which I discovered this series by Charles Latham, Cyrus (2006).
Bright describes the creation of this series (three images total, click the “read more” link at the end to see the others), as occuring after Latham, in response to the break up of a relationship, posted photos of himself enacting self-harm online. The heated response provoked Latham to find a more constructive means of investigating the source of this impulse, and this resulted in the creation of Cyrus, an imaginary friend. Latham projected onto Cyrus his insecurities, feelings of self-loathing, and anxieties as a means of personifying these aspects of himself with which he was struggling, essentially creating an abject Self.
I have yet to discern if within these photos Latham has posed himself as Cyrus, or whether he’s using a model, but Latham appears in the images as himself essentially as a mediator between Cyrus and his viewer. This mediation elevates this series from simply being a confrontational piece – a simple portrait of Cyrus might be too forceful, and would lack the engaged consideration Latham demonstrates by posing alongside his imaginary friend. Latham essentially shows a portrait of a relationship, and by extension, a negotiation with these more volatile aspects of his psyche.
Describing Cyrus, Latham states:
“Cyrus is a special needs case. He’s extremely impulsive, has a tendency to make the wrong decision and is prone to depression. He is extremely self-destructive. Typically he is someone in need of a lot of supervision and instruction. It’s the equivalent of having a new puppy… Cyrus makes an excellent minion because he’s sort of a workhorse. There isn’t much that he wouldn’t do for his owner, provided he is met with positive reinforcement, otherwise the system breaks down and he will no doubt start acting out. Things sometimes get broken. Things sometimes get bloody.”
There is a larger discussion on the self-portrait as abject here, as well as the role of the therapeutic impulse in art (recent undergraduate-graduating exhibitions have kinda provoked some extended thought on the issue), but I will leave that for another time.
All that being said – the point of this post was actually something of a side-track: I can’t seem to find any other work by Charles Latham, or really any reference to him apart from this entry in Susan Bright’s book. What ever happened to Charles Latham? Anyone know? It would be a shame if someone able to produce such a sophisticated, well-considered portrait series just dropped off the face of the planet thereafter.
Edit: Found this: http://neworleansphotoalliance.org/exhibitions.php?id=8
(click the ‘read more’ link below to see the rest of the series)