Kyle Meyer begins by photographing men in eSwatini (formally Swaziland) as they model head wraps that are traditionally worn by women. Returning to New York, the artist prints the photographs at an often-monumental scale, some reaching nearly 6 feet tall when framed. Each image is then cut into vertical strips and woven with the SAME fabric that appears in the image. The effect is a visual explosion of color across the entire image and a jarring abstraction of the head wrap itself – where the real material abuts the image “copy” of itself.
The pixel-like abstraction of the full image serves two critical and deeper purposes. Each man is a member of the marginalized LGBT community in their home country. The photo session with Meyer gives them the opportunity to choose their favorite fabric and model it with a rare freedom of expression and individually. And the woven abstraction in the final work purposefully obscures and protects their identity. Every work is therefore titled “Unidentified”.
It’s worth noting that the eyes are always visible in each image. Meyer has calculated the cuts and checkerboard in such a way that the pupils are never hidden. In a few lucky images, the eyes become literal mirrors capturing the reflection of the photographer himself at the very moment these images were captured.
A portrait always serves two audiences – the sitter and the viewer. The success of Kyle Meyer’s images aren’t just the beautiful objects that result, but the deeper gift he has given to both the viewer and the subject – of empathy, understanding, freedom, and protection.