Toronto-based photographer Steven Beckly, inspired by his academic background in Psychology, has created photographs that ooze commentary without spoon-feeding the viewer his point-of-view. Beckly uses the fusion of “biographical elements and idealized fiction” to create subject matter that is not only visually appealing and stimulating, but it offers up dialogue in respect to ongoing archetypal and social dilemmas.
We, Ourselves, and US is a series of diptychs motivated by the ongoing issue of human cloning. By using twins (and not) to create side-by-side portraits, the viewer must contemplate the two simultaneously – one picture cannot be divorced from the other … or can it? This and other questions of relationship and identity lie at the heart of this series, as Beckly challenges viewers to “contemplate the ambiguity surrounding such issues, and re-evaluate the meanings of self and identity in the context of technological advancements in cloning.” Beckley changes out one similar but not-the-same object for another (blackberries to raspberries, live flowers to dried ones, etc.), causing the viewer to wonder if these are before-and-after shots or if it is merely the same (same?) person in another time.
In an exploration of “home” and how it informs one’s identity, Beckly created “Single Rooms.” Set in motels and inns (“as they function as temporary homes”), subjects were encouraged to create characters based on their surrounding environments and the transitory experience of inhabiting their room for just a few hours. The result is a sober series of intimate portraits that, though contrived, retain their power to spotlight the complexity of we defines “home,” and it, us.
Uncivil Unions (above)
By cropping, digitally fusing, or simply highlighting found images of male duos in “Uncivil Unions”, Beckly has repurposed old pictures to “impose an idealized version of queer life on histories of inhibition and repression.” When viewed from this understanding, old photos take on a new meaning as they can now be understood as gay couples, compelling the viewer to wonder about the subjects’ relationship and lives together. This series works on multiple levels, not the least is the question of how society would be if gay couples were treated just as straight ones and what the family portrait, a mainstay and reinforcement of “normalcy”, really represents.
Whether you agree with Beckly’s perspective or not, his ability to bring to life abstract concepts in concrete ways, all whilst entertaining the eye, shows a knack for not only pushing the shutter release, but pushing the envelope as well.