Joy McKinney: Studies in awkwardness

This photographer puts herself in awkward social positions to challenge the socially accepted boundaries between people.

New York City-based photographer Joy McKinney touches strangers and captures the moment of connection when she crosses the accepted boundaries of personal space.

A recent graduate from Parsons New School of Design, she presented her work as part of the Pecha Kucha session at Design Indaba Conference 2014

In her graduate project The Guardian she snapped portraits of her touching seventy-four consenting strangers' faces on the streets of New York.

The project gave her the courage to go a step further: In a complementary project entitled Touch Me she documented attempts to touch unsuspecting strangers.

In this interview she also talks about At First Glance, which really kick-started her exploration into a more performative approach to her photography. She turned the lens on her own lack of self-esteem as a black woman and the series of photos shows a woman of Asian descent walking down the streets and gradually covering her face in black paint.

In the project . “It was also a personal reflection on my own journey coming from Montgomery, Alabama to New York City and for me it was really, really hard. I was wondering how people were identify and responding to me.”

It also led her to more provocative work as lecturers challenged her to her own body rather than a model: “Now I use my body as an instrument to investigate social space,” she explains. “I use my camera and my body to really challenge social issues through this awkward ‘don’t touch me’ moment.”

According to Mckinney photography is important because it documents, it makes use of the moment and freezes it. That is why she also does believe in altering her work but rather to keep “it tyre to what I see.   

As photographer it is your duty to society to really break the norm and use you tool to investigate what is going on in the world, to really capture it, she says.

She echoes John F Kennedy belief that it is up to the artist to make a better society: “So being creative and pushing the boundaries of creativity creates a better world. It is important.” 

Watch the Talk with Joy Mckinney