My series, 'The Practice', uses imagery taken from the photographic images produced by a dental practice in the United States in the 1940s and 50s. The process of producing the series of exhibitions involves the discovery, selection, printing, background reworking and curating from original prints, slides and 16mm film. The result is both an original comment on the work of dental practitioners and their use of photography and also a research project which produces new meaning from found images that are brought into an alien context, investigating the nature of portraiture, the found image and the 'curatorial' gestures inherent in this method of practice.
Investigating the archive collection of a 1940s New York dentist, I have explored approximately ten thousand slides, alongside the photography equipment used. The research questions the nature of subjugated portraiture, the purpose of photographic practice and its use within mid-twentieth-century dental practice.
There is a professional purpose behind the taking of these photographs, the figures are in some senses posed. The pose of the sitter involves a consciousness of this purpose while at the same time retaining their predisposition to photographic portraiture. At the same time, facial movements aiming to show the teeth also recall with irony the pose of the traditional smile.
The works are astonishingly well preserved with no degradation save the slight pinkness of some glass plates. In the process of reprinting there is a further questioning of the photographic act, the separation and connection between the sitter and the work produced. The found image is detached from a context and culture and this research project adds to the debate on how this recontextualisation practice can further the understanding of photographic context. Elements in the series evoke the later twentieth-century photobooth as well as a history of formal photographic studio portraiture and this in turn focuses the questions around the use of photography and the increasingly commonplace nature of image-making.
There is also a set of social-historic investigations here. Little is known about the use of photography and the abilities of the photographers working in dentistry in the 1940s. The project has to do with notions of inheritance and what remains behind once someone has departed. But it's also about deliberation, the significance of the object. The images hover between historical and fictional and also make us question the nature of the doctor/patient relationship. There's uncertainty, ambiguity and speculation, they ask a lot of us and have an unsettling quality.