Todd Gray

Todd Gray: Iconographic Photography

The subjective nature presented in Todd Gray’s photographs appears to
reflect the upbringings of the artist himself. In his photograph entitled
Anti-Euro, Gray studied the idea of being a “floating entity.” He attempts
to reveal the notion that all people are mixed in some way and that no one is
really pure black or pure white. He conceived the notion of creating his own
mythology after reading influential books. Gray states, “I would read Greek
and African mythology books and try to navigate between the two. I thought I’d
create my own culture” (Philip, Los Angeles Times, January 1997). Gray’s
other piece entitled, “Boxer punching buildings,” reveals aspects of his
frustration and disturbance toward society. The piece is composed of images of
an African American boxer throwing a punch at a large corporate building. He
presented it as a series of posters that were placed throughout the city to be
viewed by the public. During lecture, he explained that the poster was a
metaphor of classic slavery versus the corporate conglomerates of society. Gray
explains, “I was thinking about the gladiators of the past, dark people who
had to fight against domination. The same system seemed to be intact” (Philip,
Los Angeles Times).

As most identify Gray as being the ex-photographer of Michael Jackson, his
attempts and success to step into the realm of fine art was mainly due to
expressing his emotions. Gray states, “It was important to show that I could
do both [fine and commercial art] and keep the integrity. It’s like blacks and
other minorities share with women, that we’ve got to work twice as hard to get
half as far” (Philip, Los Angeles Times).

As Gray found himself becoming immersed in commercial arts, he returned to
the school where he received his undergraduate degree to “recommit” himself
to art. It was there that he found his new centerpiece for his artwork and a new
perception of the innocent. His interest on Disney characters and toys derived
from an observation that cartoons and popular culture influenced people.
According to Hunter Drohojowska Philip, “He soon found himself viewing the
ubiquitousness of seemingly innocent cartoon characters as a form of cultural
imperialism” (Los Angeles Times).

During the past eight or so years, Gray devoted most of his time to
investigate the ideas of what forms our thinking, or rather, what informs our
culture to think a certain way. His study began with the iconography of
characters that are noticed and identified by everyone in this world, Disney
characters. His portrayal of simple and lovable cartoon characters seem to
transform into intimidating life size portraits of powerhouses. At lecture, Gray
discussed the symbolism of various icons; Scrooge was reminiscent to the typical
industrialist, overpowering and demanding; Goofy was similar to a homeboy, or
could also be identified as a proletariat, a worker; Daisy Duck is similar to
the feminist type, dominant and governing, demanding Daffy (representing men)
around. According to Marilu Knode’s article, she writes “Each of these are
active, recognizable slaves to a commercialized stereotype, with Gray pushing
their innocent syntax into a twisted realm of cultural monster” (Knode,
Abracapocus: Goofy and Sex Looking For God). It seems that the primary intention
of Gray’s utilization of characters is to point out how overpowering simple
little characters can be. The idea of Gray photographing the silhouette of these
cuddly characters and presenting them as human size was primarily to reveal a
different aspect that may not normally be seen.

The impact of Gray’s photographs evokes much criticism as well as praise
among viewers. Though some may not find his work meaningful, his art proves to
become a cultural context of society. Though his artwork may not seem very
aesthetically pleasing or fit the typical description of “art,” Gray’s
artwork attempts to do something that many others do not, that is to study the
influences of our culture from society. Gray captures the ordinary and reveals
the extraordinary; he searches beneath the façade of our cultural framework and
re-presents them through his perception. Gray’s work may have served as an
emotional outlet for himself as well as an informative presentation to his
audience and viewers, namely anyone who sees his work. I believe the primary
intention of the pictures being life size was that it gave the subject in the
image a different aura. Subjectively speaking, if I viewed Goofy as being any
smaller, I would mainly reference it to the cartoons instead of any other social
context. By the grand scale of the image along with the black and white