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Awesome Men Throughout History: Charlie White

This week’s Awesome Man Throughout History, artist and photographer Charlie White, is a weird dude. Best known for his Understanding Joshua photo series, in which a creepy muppet thing interacts with human models as a stand-in for male fragility, Charlie approaches photo projects the way aspiring directors approach a new film: he develops a scene, has a set built, hires actors, gets a visual effects team together (lighting, costumes, etc), and then spends untold hours in post-production scrutinizing each photo down to the pixel.

white1It’s quite the undertaking, but the end result is a portfolio full of lush, evocative, beautifully surreal photography. I once sent postcards from the Joshua series to my friends in lieu of Christmas cards, and the overall response was that Charlie’s work is as creative as it is mentally scarring.
Charlie was born in Philly and was an early fan of science-fiction and video games, but wasn’t a techie because his family couldn’t afford a computer. That’s a refreshing change of pace from all the tech genius thirtysomethings running around the art/design world these days.

Charlie plunged headfirst into digital editing techniques when he went to the School for Visual Arts in NYC, which he has described as “an enormous shift in my life.” Not only was he given the chance to be a real working artist, he discovered that photography (and the editing processes thereof) was a very effective tool for realizing his ideas. It’s one thing to have a really neat concept for an art project, but it’s quite another to be able to bring it to life exactly as you want it without having to compromise anything due to lack of resources. As Charlie told The Art Biz, “photography allows me to create a portal.”

For his Joshua series, Charlie commissioned Schell Sculpture Studios to make a 5’2” puppet that looks like E.T. with clinical depression. The puppet is a stand-in for human, specifically male, disenfranchisement and alienation, and, HYPERLINK “http://www.pbs.org/wnet/egg/234/cwhite/interview_content_1.html”to quote Charlie, “the push-pull relationship between that which is desired and that which they can obtain … it’s either you can or cannot conquer the world.”

Leaving aside Charlie’s interpretations of his work for a moment, the startling thing about Joshua is how real he looks. His presence in each photograph is organic and unforced, as if he were truly present in a snapshot rather than created and posed for a specific effect. Visually, he’s really disturbing but also very vulnerable, which enhances that disturbance.

Check out selected stills from the Joshua series on Charlie White’s website, and take a peek at this Interpol music video he directed back in 2010.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.

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