Tommy Kha

I.
Through the framework of self-portraiture, the snapshot aesthetic, and performance, my work plays with themes of likeness and image.

I’m interested in representation of Otherness, and how Western media and art histories inform how Othered bodies are perceived through photography. In thinking of imaging and depiction, I’m also interested in the parallels and dissimilarities between our physical body and the photographed self, in the shadow territories between the two.

At the forefront of my picture making is the exploration of the intersections of sexuality, race, and regional identity. I often use my body as the site of conflicting narratives. I subvert photographic histories of otherness and their hierarchy of depictions. By giving my representation agency, I confuse my position of power. In my practice, I shift between humor and pathos, familiarity and foreignness, performer and camera operator, author and director.

 

II.

In I’m Only Here to Leave, I photograph cardboard cutouts of my body and masks of my face out in the world. Through the camera, my photographic body transforms and is flattened within the resulting photograph, where it comes to resemble a minimal collage or a bad Photoshop job. The final image occupies an uncomfortable, botched terrain between self-portrait and still life.

I fabricate these standees and masks from self-portraits, thus the work can be seen as “pictures of pictures.” The cutouts change in appearance, whereas the masks manifest as different materials—either as 3-D printed, cloth, or paper masks

Specifically, with the mask, I ask Queer, Asian, and Southern bodies—or simply bodies I desire to have, to wear my face, attempting to make myself more Queer, more Asian, more Southern. As the masks do not contain any eyeholes, I not only blind my sitters, but effectively erase and replace their identities with my own. This lightly references the use of Yellowface in Hollywood cinema, where a Caucasian actor temporarily adopts Eastern features.

 

III.

I use antiquated tools in I Facsimile, and I Facsimile, and I Facsimile (an extension of I’m Only Here to Leave), such as tintypes, to produce unique prints. I look and take advantage of the inherent qualities of the camera—to photograph and to copy, to experiment with the idea of reproduction and subvert the edition by denying/limiting the photograph its ability to be copied. Jigsaw puzzles are in alignment with the cutouts, though often never appear fully formed/assembled.

 

IV.

Return to Sender is an ongoing body of work for which I ask friends, strangers, lovers, and ex-lovers to kiss me, and I don’t kiss them back.

Though I remain stoic and neutral, I become the object of desire by receiving the Kiss.

In my actions as the photographer/director—such as scouting locations, lighting, setting up the camera, and composing the frame—I begin to undermine my character’s passivity.

As the shutter’s long exposure captures this fleeting, intimate moment, I allow the Kissers control over their representation in our picture, adding another level of confusion to the roles of photographer and subject, director and actor, protagonist and supporting character, self-portrait and performance.

Recently, I’ve begun employing actors, restaging kissing scenes from cinema and cropping out the kiss, leaving the gesture as implied.

 


  1. My Extended Pictures, or video works, continue to develop my deadpan character by inserting my body into Western pop culture narratives. Both Awkward Film Seriesand Supporting Character (GIRLS)insert my body into identifiable clips of movies and Television shows. Through greenscreens and editing, my disembodied form inhabits a world from which my representation—a queer, Asian American, Southern man—is absent.

    VI.
    In my recent exhibitions, Insensitive Flesh and Other Echoes Inhabit the Garden, I’ve began to play with the photographic prints as objects as well as fabricating artifacts that echo the camera’s inherent quality: to copy. Busts, 3D printed masks, and appropriated family albums occupy these spaces, confirming colonial legacy and my confusion at its intersections. Through printing images on adhesive vinyl, I’ve started to experiment with the gallery space, enlarging and physically folding prints directly on to the corners and gallery walls, expanding and playing with the perception of the space.

 

VII.

In short, my work is about the self in self-portrait, the portrait in self-portrait, and the hyphen in self-portrait.

“I am this space my body believes in.” from Neon Vernacular. By Yusef Komunyakaa

 

EDUCATION

2013          MFA Photography, Yale University

2011          BFA in Photography, Memphis College of Art

 

SELECT EXHIBITIONS

2019          (Two-person) Other Echoes Inhabit the Garden, with Meena Hasan. Launch F18. New York, NY

(Solo) Insensitive Flesh, Baxter Street at Camera Club of New York, New York, NY

I’m Only Here to Leave – Hyères International Festival, Villa Noailles, Hyeres, France

2018          (Solo) I’m Only Here to Leave. Blue Sky Gallery, Portland, OR

Southbound: Photographs of and About the New South – Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, Charleston, SC

New Southern Photography – curated by Richard McCabe. Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, LA

Federal Project 2 – Photoville, Brooklyn, NY

(Two-person) Summer, Some Aren’t, with Jack Pierson. Teen Party, Brooklyn, NY

Love in the time of… – presented by de Sarthe/Wang Xin, The Gallery at The Armory Show, New York, NY

Today was a good day – Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York, NY

Queering Space – Fosdick-Nelson Gallery, Alfred, NY

2017          Vice Magazine Photography Issue – White Box, New York, NY

Discursive Selves – Westbeth Gallery, New York, NY

2016          Art After Trump – Housing Works, New York NY

High Summer – Foley Gallery, New York, NY

Mossless 4: Public/Private/Portrait – Deli Gallery, Queens, NY

2015          Video Snack 5 – Fourth Wall at Vox Populi, Philadelphia, PA

2014          Baby, I Love You! Forms and Formulas of Love – Kunstverein Wolfsburg, Wolfsburg, Germany

Race, Love, and Labor – curated by Sarah Lewis. Dorsky Museum, New Paltz, NY

I never asked to be a role model – Georgia Scherman Projects, Toronto, Canada

2013          Shannon/All Pictures By – Aperture Gallery, New York, NY. Johalla Projects, Chicago, IL. Green Gallery, New Haven, CT

2010          (Two-person) Wanted to be a… with Park Deok Sun – curated by Darja Lin. Yongkang Lu Art, Shanghai, China

 

SELECT AWARDS & FELLOWSHIPS

2019          Hyères Festival Photography Finalist

2018          Magenta Foundation Flash Forward
2016          1st Annual En Foco Photography Fellowship Award

2012          Nominated for Alice Kimball English Traveling Fellowship

 

RESIDENCIES

2018          Baxter Street at Camera Club of New York Workspace Residency, New York, NY

2017          Fountainhead Residency, Miami, FL

2015          Light Work, Syracuse, NY

2011          Center for Photography at Woodstock, Woodstock, NY

 

PUBLICATIONS

2019          (Forthcoming) Soft Murders, Fall Line Press, 1 September.

2015          Essay by Jon Feinstein. A Real Imitation. Aint-Bad Editions, 15 December.

SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY

2019          Veronique Godé. “L’esprit Noailles aux couleurs arc-en-ciel” Arts Hebdo Média. 22 May. Web.

Jennifer Ho. “Claiming Dixie?” Oxford American. 19 March. Web/Print.

Jon Feinstein. “Seven Photographers Bring New Energy to Self-Portraiture.” Vice. 24 January.

Sarah Gilbert. “Southbound: capturing the complexities of the US southern states – in pictures.” The Guardian. 3 January.

2018          Melissa Smith. “Capturing the Complexities of the Modern South, in Photographs.” New York Times. 21 November.

Kara Milstein “New Voices in Southern Photography and Where to See Them This Fall.” Time. 5 October.

William Simmons. “Performing for the Camera: Postmodernism, Antimodernism, and the Performative Photograph.” Constructed:

The Contemporary History of the Constructed Image in Photography Since 1990. 24 September. Print.

Susan K. Thomas and William Simmons. “Signifying Queerness: Literature and Visual Arts” Living Out Loud:

An Introduction to LGBTQ History, Society, and Culture. Routledge. 14 August. Print.

Rick Moody. “Dear Rick Moody: Half My Family Knows The Truth About Me.” LitHub. 12 January.

2017          Will Matsuda. “Why Aren’t There Any Famous Asian American Photographers?” Aperture. 16 November.

Jack Pierson. “Guest Curator: Jack Pierson.” Musée Magazine. 16 November. Print.

Elizabeth Renstrom. “The 2017 Photography Issue.” Vice Magazine. 7 August. Print.

Scott Indrisek. “12 Artists in Summer Group Shows Who Deserve Solo Shows.” Artsy. 2 August.

2016          J.M. Martin. “New Horizons in Road Trip Photography.” Hyperallergic. 16 September.
David Rosenberg. “Growing Up Gay and Asian in Memphis” Slate. 15 June.
Jon Feinstein, “A Real Imitation: Justine Kurland in Conversation With Tommy Kha.” Humble Arts Foundation. 7 April.
Scott Indresik, “Sex, Elvis, and Eggleston: Tommy Kha’s World.” Modern Painters. 1 April.

2014          Monique Atherton, “Guest Appearances: Tommy Kha in Conversation with Monique Atherton.” ArtFile Magazine. 11 May.

Scott Indrisek. “In Favor for a ‘Law & Order: SVU’-Inspired Art Movement.” Blouin ArtInfo. 21 April.

2013          Priscilla Frank, “Artist Locks Lips with Strangers in Curious Photo Series.” Huffington Post, 6 September.

David Rosenberg, “Stoically Kissing Friends and Strangers.” Slate, 4 September.

Miranda July, “We Think Alone, Week 8: An Email that Includes a Picture of Art.” On the Tip of My Tongue, 19 August.