PDN Photo of the Day

Recontextualizing the King of Pop

Todd Gray spent several years in the 1980s as Michael Jackson’s personal photographer, making images that captured a quiet and tender side of the ascending star. In the decades since then, Gray has been making art that complicates ideas about identity and history, using his own photographs in installations and collage, and working with performance, sculpture and drawing. A new show of his work, “Pluralities of Being,” is on view at Gallery MOMO in Johannesburg until October 7. Combining his images of Jackson with drawings made during a residency at NIROX in Johannesburg, the show includes framed, collaged images and wall drawings. The images pair Gray’s vintage photographs with photo of fragments from nature, views of starry skies and other photographs. In one, a cropped image in a gold frame shows Jackson’s signature red jacket; above it is a black-framed photo of palm leaves and grass, suggesting a connection between the jungle’s mystery and the singer’s private soul. In another, a circle of twinkling stars obscures a photo of Jackson and Stevie Wonder in a recording studio, covering their heads but also cosmically connecting them to each other. As Gray told Carrie Mae Weems in an interview, he prefers to work “in a hybrid way to create a combination that mixes fine art and pop art. I think that’s where my images work in people’s minds, because they have to reconcile what they’re looking at with the reaction they’ve learned to have to a particular pop culture experience.”

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