“The face is what one goes by, generally.” ~ Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
Matte sits at sidewalk coffee shop tables with his dog and takes pictures of people. Later he crops them, adds a watermark, and uploads them to Facebook. To a portfolio page he’s created.
He lives in Pittsburgh. The name Faceburgh made sense. A friend of his designed the logo using Facebook’s font and Steeler’s colors. He watermarks each photo with it.
Matte used to just people watch. Then he got a DSLR camera. He challenged himself to take a thousand pictures, to get better at taking pictures. He took pictures of what he liked looking at. People.
If you haven’t spent time in Pittsburgh, its a peculiar small-town city made of neighborhoods. Each its own little world. Oakland, college & frat kids & sometimes hippies; Squirrel Hill is jewish with good middle class families, the kids busy not getting into trouble; East Liberty’s working class black vitality; Shadyside is kinda gay and has had a little work done; Bloomfield, mixes Italian with southeast Asian immigrants and yinzers; you can buy Pierogies from the Russian Orthodox church in the South Side flats and Polish Hill is, well, Polish old ladies and also hipsters drinking their favorite cheap beer at Gooski’s, etcetera, etcetera.
I lived in Pittsburgh for eight years. Now I watch that city’s days pass from my perch in Chicago. Facebook sends me invites for nights at the Shadow Lounge and Brillobox. Twitter snapshots the gorgeous profile those hills and rivers give as friends head to and from work, or go out on the town.
Matte’s Faceburgh project windows me into the places where I used to wait, write, read, think, do laundry, coffee, live. I play detective games in my head. Here’s the South Side, that must be in front of the Beehive, check out the cobblestones behind that guy. Ah, that’s where all the buses line up in Oakland, that’s a lot of students. This feels like Bloomfield’s afternoon light, in front of the Crazy Mocha. The same Crazy Mocha where Melissa posted that someone collapsed from a heroin OD out front yesterday. Yeah, that’s my small town concern showing. That’s how place weaves itself into you even though you’re half asleep, chasing ideas boys the next cup of coffee poem performance or opportunity to show your work.
“He could almost hear these faces telling them why the existed, why they’d been saved. Can there be anything more profound, more satisfying, more curious, Galip thought, than a photograph that captures the expression on a person’s face?” ~ Orhan Pamuk, The Black Book
When browsing through the photo galleries on Facebook, I read expressions. How do his subjects connect to him through the lens? What argument, if any, do they make with being photographed?
Every time I consider Matte’s photos, I think about our society and the culture of surveillance. Perhaps we don’t get pissed at surveillance because we have already consented to it, or because we can’t see the cameras. Or because the public behavior of photographing strangers is ‘for our own good’, ‘for our safety’.
Some of Matte’s subjects flip him off, make some other gesture of ‘opting out’. He takes the picture anyway. Legally, he’s permitted. We don’t own the rights to our own faces. We don’t own the rights to other people’s point of view, of us. Perhaps that’s the button Matte hits with some of his subjects, when they react by confronting him. He reminds them of what they are vulnerable to – the unknown vision of themselves had by the Other behind the camera.
His tagline is “Our history of Pittsburgh, one face at a time.” Place as setting for all the stories written in the hearts of those who live there. Place as third character in any paired relationship.
The interactivity of his process, inviting audience through the social media portal, invites a cynical yawn but is, simultaneously, effective. Matte needed to select a small group of photos for possible print publication. He did so by inviting Facebook friends to vote. As I browsed through, making my picks, I got to see who amongst my peers shared my likes. Curiously, I shared the most likes with another woman who had left Pittsburgh a few years ago (shout out to Mo Modono).
I’ll leave you with the Facebook album view of Matte’s most recent photographs. And, of course, the link.
Matte Braidic’s Faceburgh : https://www.facebook.com/faceburgh