Doc Ross’ recent exhibition at Chambers Gallery of a self-portraits was like no other series of photographs by the artist. Laying portraits of famous artists over images of himself the combination was something far greater and compelling that the sum of its parts. Painter and academic Roger Boyce described Ross’ self-portraits as a ‘photographically taxidermic record of his [Ross’] own temporarily-illuminated skin.’
Where does Ross’ A Phantasmic Exposure of Self Through Art have its origin? Ross traces it back to an exhibition he had seen of self-portrait nudes by curator, museum director and photographer, John Coplans (1920 – 2003). ‘ He did an exhibition of himself large and naked in the 1970s in photographs in the tradition of influential American photographer Edward Weston (1886 – 1958). ‘I saw them in London at The Tate and thought that I would like to do something like that myself. It was because of the encouragement of Roger Boyce that I did the exhibition. If Jon Coplans could do it why couldn’t I?
Ross also maintains that now he is 66 years old, ‘you do not care at that age. I now “uncare” a lot less than when I was twenty. I do not care about my body anymore or that I am old. I remember being really young and having my first solo exhibitions. When students tell me that they are having their first show, they are exposing themselves. At my point in time, this is me exposing myself and it is a combination of those things that made the show.’
More recently, Ross’ photography has also a tendency to explore new subjects and methodologies. ‘I am ever evolving with my processes and ideas. It comes back to this point in my life. I am going to be my own curator and curate things in my own life. I am the one in control of it and it is liberating.
More recently Ross also gained public attention for the gifting of a decade of his photographs from 2010, the Doc Ross Photographic Archive of places and people in Christchurch to Tūranga and, as a by-product of that decision, to the National Library. ‘I realised what I was seeing was the city through the people and the people through the city. I realised I was the only person who had the experience and time to make a body of work like that. Here is me and I knew that I had all day and everyday to do this and when I was finished I would give it to the city. I have never been motivated by making money but doing my own thing and creating my own treasures and I felt that the home for those work should primarily be Tūranga.’
From the self-portraits in A Phantasmic Exposure of Self Through Art he says that a number of the artists that he references were influential on his life and practice but predominantly they were chosen because of their potential to be integrated within the structure and composition of his figure in the images. ‘The self-portraits of me have some element of interest in their composition that would project in the right way onto my body, but Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Cindy Sherman are important because of their influence on my life. All of Sherman’s work is self-portraiture and I have always liked self-portraits. In A Phantasmic Exposure of Self Through Art the photograph of me wearing a t-shirt with her face and body means that it is layered as a self-portrait with a portrait of a self- portrait.’
Doc Ross: Series of self-portraits is at Chambers Gallery, 80 Durham Street, Sydenham
1. Doc Ross: DR Self Portrait – With Basquiat I and DR Self Portrait – With Picasso I
2. Doc Ross: DR Self Portrait – With Keith Haring I and DR Self Portrait – With Cindy Sherman II