Austen Ambraska

Close To You / Ditto

Close To You / Ditto is a photography series consisting of new works, selections from my personal archive, and handwritten questionnaire responses. The project will be presented in a gallery in two parts with an accompanying publication. Ditto will be exhibited as a series of framed diptychs visually exploring my relationships with the subjects over time. Close To You will be displayed as an unframed grid of the written responses and archival prints.

Ditto explores the intimate nature of taking someone’s portrait as I revisit some of the first people I photographed in order to examine our current relationship or lack thereof. This series of diptychs pairs my first image of the subject with one taken for this project. I first photographed these people up to five years ago. Their willingness to collaborate with me formed the bedrock of my understanding and appreciation of portraiture. The updated photos were taken with the same approach as the originals without intent to replicate any particular aspect.

I picked the location while they picked how to style themselves. The pairing of these images is not meant to highlight a passing of time but rather a change in their gaze towards me. Though they stare into the lens, they are truly looking at me. In one image I may have been a stranger to them and in the next a friend, or partner, or stranger still.

Close To You explores the process of reconnecting from aboard as many of these subjects have since moved away. I designed a simple questionnaire to be mailed out to each subject with a collection of prints from our first shoot. The questions are short and unfamiliar as to not lead any particular answers. Furthermore, the subjects get to answer the questionnaire at their own rate and without me present. A question like, Where were you, where are you now? Can be answered in a multitude of ways from two words stating their location to full insights on their life then and now. The way the subject responds to each question informs the viewer of our current relationship as much as the content of their response. Close To You considers the effects of distance on a relationship as it becomes harder to connect. While we have the means to stay in touch over the phone, most do not. Mailing them a physical collection of prints from our first photoshoot encourages the subject to consider a time we were together while answering the questionnaire. In this exchange, the traditional power dynamics of portraiture are complicated as the subject is able to provide the contextual information for the images.

Close To You / Ditto examines the intimate nature of taking someone’s portrait and the lasting connection it creates.