Patti Levey has been photographing herself for over 30 years. Her work has been exhibited widely in New York, San Francisco, Santa Fe, and Tokyo. She holds a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University. While studying at Vancouver’s Phototherapy Institute, she authored a master’s thesis about using self-portrait photography as a form of therapy with women.
Taking Liberty is a series of black and white photographic self-portraits inspired by a post 9/11 period of self-reflection. It is not a statement about the politics of the war or religion but an open-ended question addressing the issues of personal freedom and identity.
The burka is the most conservative form of veil worn by Muslim women. When worn by choice it is a symbol of religious devotion and personal honor. The burka, as a garment, limits it�s wearer�s ability to walk and move freely as well as her ability to see; the cloth mesh obscures focus and eliminates peripheral vision. The burka renders the wearer completely anonymous; it covers not only the body but the face thus concealing individual identity, facial expression and emotion. I have been photographing myself for the past 22 years, mostly in the nude, and have to ask myself whether my method of self-expression a choice or a compulsion. Am I revealing myself or hiding behind and image of myself as an object? Who am I beneath my veil of personal freedom?
The American flag is a symbol of independence and freedom for Americans. Post 9/11 the American flag has become a symbol of patriotism in support of the United States� involvement in �the war against terrorism�. I chose to wrap myself in the American flag because I felt uncomfortably unpatriotic and un-independent. The veil of freedom is an illusion because as individual citizens or as a nation we are all dependent on each other. What is true liberty but a tolerance for differences amongst people, a recognition of our similarities and a sense of compassion for �the enemy�, especially when the enemy is a part of ourselves?
The photographic images in the series We the People were created in the darkroom through conventional silver gelatin printing and sepia toning. I photographed replicas of the United States Constitution and Declaration of Independence and sandwiched those negatives with negatives of emotionally charged figurative images.
My purpose is to stimulate critical thought, in the viewer, as to the meaning of Democracy in American and abroad.
I have been using self-portrait photography as an art form and as a means to self-examination, empowerment and healing for over twenty years. In addition to being a photographer, I have a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology and Feminist Therapy and have used self-portrait photography as a form of therapy with women.
Making self-portraits is a spontaneous, intuitive and somewhat mysterious process for me. Since I do not see myself through the camera lens, photographing myself is an act of faith. Working blindly, as I do, makes photographing as much a kinesthetic as a visual process; I feel where I am in the frame.
I use a 2 1/4' format camera, a tripod and a cable release. I include the cable release in my photographs as evidence that I am photographing myself and because it is a metaphoric lifeline or umbilical cord connecting me to the camera and consequently to the viewer.
For me, making self-portraits is both a political statement and a spiritual practice. I believe that it is as radical for a woman to photograph herself as it is for her to love herself in any society that values women primarily as objects. I also believe that art is a bridge between worlds, inner and outer, physical and spiritual. In this sense, I hope that my work contains evidence of this fleeting state of grace, this bridge that connects us to ourselves, to each other and to all things.