It all started with a gas mask. Looking like a menacing bug in a suit, photographer Wes Naman (formerly on staff at the Alibi) transformed his studio into an extraterrestrial time portal, from which he made a series of spooky, rustic self-portraits.
The photos, which he modestly describes as “cool, funky and weird,” were posted on Facebook and later went viral among his friends. He soon had a steady flow of subjects willing to pay him $50, provide bizarre props and costumes, and grant him complete artistic freedom.
And that's when things got really weird.
While he cheekily admits that his initial interest in this project was to see how many “Likes” he could get, it also provided a chance to experiment with the layers and texture of his work through small digital manipulations in Photoshop. Already planning a show at the Cellar Door, a gallery known to indulge in odd nostalgia, he forged ahead knowing that his work was destined for a receptive audience.
Like a mad scientist, Naman was soon adding all manner of strangeness to his repertoire: shrunken bodies, distorted features, disfigurement and textures of decay as seen through the lens of an ancient daguerreotype camera.
Like a mad scientist, Naman was soon adding all manner of strangeness to his repertoire: shrunken bodies, distorted features, disfigurement and textures of decay as seen through the lens of an ancient daguerreotype camera. Gothic nuances resonate throughout the work, lending it a look like a lost Addams Family photo album.
The imitation of outdated technology and outfits create a space once removed from death, like a circus of the unfortunate. There is a sinister immortality in his subjects. Some works find humor in absurdity, such as “The 5th Element,” which takes period costumes to a new realm with a group portrait of poodle-inspired alien-chic ladies. Others explore darker themes of mutilation and deterioration, such as “Toddy,” a full length portrait of a decapitated man holding his own head in a jar, and the beautifully lit, crusty-skinned “Isaac.”
Upon closer inspection of the tiny prints (most are no bigger than 8 inches by 10 inches), you may even discover someone you know. “All of the models are from Albuquerque” explains Cellar Door owner/curator Jessica DuVerneay. “People walk in and say 'is that my ex-girlfriend/hairdresser/classmate?’ ” Best of all, in her opinion, “The community loves It. The photos are technically stunning and really fun; it is such a cohesive body of work that hangs together tightly, both conceptually and formally.”
Compared to his previous series, this new outing feels more emotionally evocative. His online portfolio is full of super-stylized Sin City-inspired shots of bloody, brooding characters in crisp, noirish scenes, and mystery-glam pics of performers. Seeing visual irony sparkling beneath the studio perfection, DuVerneay was initially drawn to their dark, mirthful intent and sought to connect with him. Naman's Foolishness opens a new path for his aesthetic, in all of its gory glory.
Creative genius mixed with entrepreneurial spirit fuels this artistic opportunist's work. Though he certainly is part businessman, most of the portraits in the show are less than $100. Naman and DuVerneay agree that reasonable prices are the best way to get original art into people's homes. DuVerneay adds, “It's rare to find such phenomenal, original work of studio quality for so cheap.” He also recently opened a studio (6401 Cochiti SE, near San Pedro and Central) as a resource for artists. “It's only business in that there's money involved,” he says.
So hurrah for a commercial artist having a soul. Even if it flirts with freaks.