Recognising their innovative ways of using and reconfiguring traditional photographic process, the Tate Britain institution invited Walter & Zoniel to respond to their Silver & Salt exhibition of Victorian Salt Prints. The Salt Print Selfie installation was then performed on site at the gallery with public participation, during the exhibition.
Salt Print Selfie plays with the parallels between the time Salt Printing was invented, in the Victorian era, which resulted in a mass proliferation of imagery and access to it by the public, and the present day invention of the phone camera and of social media, with its own mass proliferation of the ‘selfie’ and public access to imagery.
The artists created an installation which invited strangers to be led through a process of creation which exposed them in person to elements they would execute with seeming anonymity on social media. From a starting point of being strangers, their journey was woven closer to one another through shared experiences and traditional acts of bonding.
Each person in turn was given three shots at taking their ‘selfie’ whilst sitting with their back to a wall and facing the rest of the group of strangers. The resulting images were projected above the subjects head, so they could only be viewed by the rest of the group who each had a ‘thumbs up/down’ icon at their disposal to offer their response to the photos. This proved an intense live replication of an online action taken multiple times everyday. Their chosen image was then turned into a digital negative and printed in situ.
Separated into pairs, and after removing any make up, they then took turns to steam their faces with facial steamers and apply a canvas to their wet face, covering the cloth with the salt of their own sweat.
Using each individual’s bodily salt as the substrate, and their digital negative, the canvases were then made into contact salt prints.
In a final step the canvases were sewn together in a communal activity akin to quilting and representing the journey of creation and of bonding through shared experience.
Throughout the installation the artists led discussions on the nature of the experience and the questions that it raised about acts that we find easy to do in apparent anonymity in the ‘safety’ of social media online versus when making the same acts in reality what that act means and feels like. The installation explores our relationships with process, production and what is the sense of self in portraiture.