Kellye Eisworth met Jesse Kees for the first time when she photographed him for her project, “Transient.” She hasn’t seen him since, even after her depiction of Kees won first place in this year’s Art Melt.
When Eisworth began searching for subjects, a friend and fellow photographer suggested people who might suit her needs, including Kees, a sound editor and post sound assistant for Apex Post Production in New Orleans.
“Because I’m doing this project on tattoos—which is all about communicating with other people and how they perceive you—I felt more comfortable meeting these people for the first time and taking pictures capturing what they presented to the camera, as opposed to trying to get to the real them,” Eisworth says. “Everything I’m doing is about how they want people to see them.”
Eisworth, who recently graduated from LSU with a bachelor’s degree in photography, began this project in the fall of 2011 as part of a larger body of work called “Indelible Ink.” In it, the young photographer showcases the relationship between individuals within a subculture and the symbolic tattoos they use to express their personalities, as well as military veterans with tattoos.
Eisworth says the contrast of ideas—one group using tattoos to stand out and the other using them for unity—inspired her.
“With the alternative kids, I feel like the tattoos are really about expressing individuality and asserting themselves, whereas in the military, I find a lot of the tattoos are meant to show membership of a certain group or a brotherhood,” she says.
Having four tattoos of her own, Eisworth says she can relate to her subjects, but she wouldn’t categorize herself within the subcultures she has studied, claiming a more introverted disposition than many of her outwardly expressive subjects.
Kees says his photo session with Eisworth lasted about 15 minutes, and he spent most of that time “just standing there, staring at the little box.”
After Eisworth’s photograph won first place in the Art Melt competition, Kees says he received several text messages telling him the news.
“I think it’s cool; I guess I thought it was kind of funny, because that picture really is just a black-and-white picture of me,” Kees says, laughing. “It’s funny to know that my picture is something a bunch of people I don’t know have been staring at.”
Emily Adams, co-chair for this year’s Art Melt, says the three nationally accredited jurors were unanimous on their decision to award “Jesse” first place over the other 600-plus entries, and the piece was one of the first to sell.
“If you look at the piece, it’s startling. It stops you,” Adams says. “The crowds were definitely lingering around that piece.”
Eisworth says she felt overwhelmed and amazed at the preview party when it was announced that “Jesse” had won first place, and she felt like it was a group victory for the LSU photo department, having logged many hours in class and in the university’s darkroom.
“I feel like there’s a lot to learn from other people, and just being around other people who have similar goals keeps you motivated and keeps you honest about what you’re doing and why,” she says.
Currently working in New Orleans as a photographer’s assistant for Deborah Luster, Eisworth says she is more concerned with learning about the craft and less concerned with finding a permanent career. She plans to attend graduate school to earn a master’s degree, but in the meantime, there are projects to complete and work experience to gain.
“I’m not an art-for-art’s-sake kind of artist,” Eisworth says. “I’m not trying to make beautiful things, necessarily. I’m trying to investigate these real ideas. Using the medium of photography is the most direct way to do that.” kellye-eisworth.com