Photo Essay

For Jan

Kdo hledá, najde.

These shots are of a series of life masks I created of myself during 2009, a substantial year in my life. I've been studying death and life masks as well as the physiognomy of the face for a while and it all came to a head while I was studying abroad in Prague last Summer. I become greatly attached to an icon of Czech martyrdom, Jan Palach; he immolated himself in 1969 as an act of enlivening an otherwise apathetic country that had been occupied by the totalitarian, Soviet regime.

"My act fulfilled its role. But no-one else should follow me. Students should try to save themselves, and devote their lives to fulfilling our goals. They should fight alive." –Palach on his deathbed

His was not an act of hopelessness, it served as a wake-up call that no march or protest could match, and it in fact resonated with revolutionaries for the next 20 years when the communist grasp finally relented in 1989. A cast of his death mask is now displayed at Charles University, where he studied and where I was inspired to cast my own face.

I was greatly touched by the passion and courage this young man had at just 20 years old, my age at the time of my trip. However, as an American I felt detached to his cause because of my own naivety to great social struggle. I've never been very involved in politics just as I've never been involved with religion. I'm passionate about few things and I understand that maybe I've put myself in a place of vulnerability for it.

It has been difficult for me to identify with those who are so engaged to their role in society, who can incite thought and change in thousands. In that aspect I can relate to the majority of Czech people prior to their fight for emancipation. But upon researching Palach and actually tracing his last steps for myself (as well as following the path that his admirers walked the day of his death) I grew to understand the need for more strong-willed individuals in this world.

I hope to get over my own fears of public scrutiny and make change occur through my art as I've realized my own ignorance only perpetuates the same nonchalance in others. This was my revelation of 2009 and these life/death masks are a memorial to the time at which I established positive change, leaving my unconscious self behind.

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Hi there!

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—The JPG team

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