joshua aronson’s new photo series explores the in-betweeness of identity
In ‘I Thought About Posting This,’ the NYC-based photographer questions how we think about gender and explores our relationship with social media.
There’s one photograph in Joshua Aronson’s latest series, “I Thought About Posting This,” which shows a boy on the beach, his hands stretched behind his head, and his pointer fingers tied up in a Chinese finger trap. The straight line of the trap accentuates the deep curve in the boy’s back and the clear blue ocean waves in Miami, where this photo was taken and where Aronson grew up. “That picture encapsulates what I’m talking about as far as this twilight zone. This in-between space. This feeling that you in your life can live with certain aesthetic things, that might be commonly deemed feminine or masculine, and you can live with those things without necessarily needing to be feminine or masculine,” Aronson says. “But rather you can sort of play with these aesthetic indications of gender and sexuality, in a way that just feels fitting to you.”
The 25-year-old photographer’s work often explores identity, from his portraits of young emerging artists to “With Mine Dyed Blue,” a series celebrating the beauty of body hair in colorful tufts. While dealing with complex concepts and subject matter, Aronson’s playful approach to imagery is recognizable and carried throughout his work. When “I Thought About Posting This” was on display at Congruent Space, a concept store and art gallery in Chicago, there was a pile of Chinese finger traps for the taking — to carry and play with while viewing the show. “They’re like this really childish, new obsession of mine,” he says.
i-D caught up with Aronson to learn a bit more about his creative process, how “I Thought About Posting This,” has challenged his own notions of identity, and what he thinks about our ever-evolving relationship with social media.
How did you get into photography?
I first started taking pictures as a teenager, growing up in Miami. My friends and I were making music and skateboarding, and we were getting into graphic design. Having a camera became this synonymous tool with doing all of those things and furthering what it was that we were trying to do. I also got into music videos. When you make films, you quickly realize that making a movie is like being in a relationship. You have to work on your thing like every day, and you might be working on a film just in the same way that you might be in a relationship with someone for months at a time. If not, years. It was apparent to me that filmmaking and being in a relationship was maybe not as realistic as photography, which is in my opinion, more like a one night stand. It’s really amazing, it feels great, and then the next morning you’re out and you’re on to your next picture.
When did you move to New York?
I moved to New York in 2017. After I graduated from school, I was briefly back in Miami where I started to take portraits of the young emerging artists who were kind of embedded in the Miami scene. That kind of, more or less, got me going and I started to photograph young artists in all different cities. I moved out to New York to start assisting Ryan McGinley and I’ve been living here ever since.
How did you come up with this concept for the series?
I‘m always looking at books, pictures, magazines, and what I feel happens is that I will notice, in looking at all of these things, something that’s missing and that will kind of drive me to act. In a way, my work is ultimately filling in gaps in the world and in the pictures that I’m seeing. The genesis of the show was this feeling that I had that there weren’t enough images out there that were capturing this kind of twilight space. And what I mean by that, is that today, I look at myself and I feel not quite one way or the other. Maybe I’m not quite pink or not quite blue. Not quite left, not quite right, but somewhere in between.
Tell me about the title, “I Thought About Posting This.” What does it mean to you?
Well in choosing a name for the show I had a list of about 253 titles. I’m not kidding! And the way that “I Thought About Posting This” sort of effervesced to the top of that list is in how vulnerable, honest, or real the statement is. “I Thought About Posting This” became the title because it’s not “I posted this” or “I took this picture,” it’s “I Thought About Posting This” for a reason, because there’s this inevitable vulnerability. I’m looking at my pictures and I’m recognizing a spirit or the DNA in the pictures that’s intimate, honest, and vulnerable, and it’s about putting that on display for the world and saying that this is how it is for me or this is how I want my pictures to be.
In what ways are you alluding to our relationship with social media?
I like unlikely pairings. My photographs are attempting to be real, intimate, and honest, and there’s an obvious element to social media that’s totally the opposite. In that sense, I’m alluding to it just in the unlikely pairing of the two things. But also, I’m alluding to the innocence and again, the vulnerability that comes from sharing our lives online. And I think that innocence and vulnerability is apparent in my work and something that you hopefully feel or see when you look at my pictures. I think that ultimately as a photographer, it’s my job to be of my time, to make photographs that can only be made right now. All of these things are true to the moment that we live in.
Do you find that working on this has forced you to reconsider notions of your own identity or how you look at social media?
I like to try to make pictures about things that I feel I know. And so it’s definitely affirmed these feelings that I have about myself, that speak to that waywardness. It’s possible to be sort of somewhere in between and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s kind of funny that we live in a time where we almost need pictures of a feeling, an event, or a thing to affirm our doubts or confirm our beliefs. But I guess we live in a time where consuming pictures is equivalent to just consuming the world. Maybe the show’s kind of just feeding that system, that feedback loop. How hungry are you? How many pictures can you consume? How much do you want to know about the world? Because ultimately, I guess you could learn so much from your bed. From your phone. The more we continue to walk, or dance down this hallway to this image ingrained society, the more aware we need to be of the difference between consuming pictures and learning about the world by consuming the world. We need to continue to be curious about where we live.
I don’t think working on this show has changed my relationship to social media. Putting together an exhibition reaffirmed a hope or belief I had in the lasting power of pictures beyond a screen — beyond social media. I think it affirmed the importance for me, and in general for young photographers to find opportunities to display our work outside of Instagram and outside of the internet, to explore what it feels like and what it means to put together an exhibition, a book, or a zine.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects at the moment?
My next project is my first photo book and it’s a series of pictures that were taken in the Hamptons at an abandoned home on this street called Dune Road in the dead of winter and that should be coming soon.