This is Matthew Elliott Allen, co-creator of To My Youth: The Weight of Informed Naïvety, an exploration of how humans navigate through their experience of maturing. Allen also explains how much of his life and creative work is influenced by the metamodernism movement and other artists who embody this. Allen conceived of this photo project after attending Jon Duenas’ class at Photo Field Trip this past February.
Mastin Labs: Can you tell us about your personal project?
Matthew Elliot Allen: “To My Youth: The Weight of Informed Naïvety” is a conceptual photography piece that represents an individual’s understanding of their own naivety through five photos representing naïvety in youth, emerging self-awareness in young adulthood, the weight of knowledge, acceptance of self, and transcendence. The phases may not necessarily have a direct correlation with age, but rather self-awareness.
ML: How did you conceive this project?
MA: “To My Youth” started as a portrait collaboration with another photographer Liz Fang. I saw her work on DRECK Magazine’s website and saw she was Chicago-based as well. I emailed her to meet up to collaborate and we started discussing “off the wall” portrait concepts. The idea that sparked the whole concept was this portrait of a nude person with a birthday cake on their back called “the weight of age”. Another photographer owed me studio time for assisting him a few times, so I took him up on his offer. We started booking models, assistants, and a makeup artist. Eventually, Liz and I locked down a kind of lifecycle we wanted to relate to age and naivety.
ML: Where do you live? And where are you from?
MA: Avondale, Chicago, IL, USA originally from the Northwest suburbs of Chicago.
ML: Tell us the story of how you came to be a photographer.
MA: I used to be intimidated by other photographers and other artists until I realized many of them were open to helping out new aspiring artists. I bought a Canon Rebel on Craigslist and just started shooting around. I vividly remember the day I felt like a real photographer. I had just moved into a three-bedroom apartment in Humboldt Park were we would kick around on our front porch, drink beers, and ride bikes to shows and parties. One Summer day my friends and I rode our bikes east toward Lake Michigan. Once we got closer to the water we found ourselves immersed in a cloud rolling off the lake. We rode along the Lake Side Trail and stopped along the path at Belmont Harbor, where I took a bunch of portraits of my friends riding bikes and walking around. I felt I was finally doing photography for real. It captured a moment of innocence before the city would change us – those shots are some of my all time favorite photos to this day.
ML: What does your work environment look like? Do you have a photo you could share of that?
MA: I used to only have a desktop iMac where I would slave away in a half-finished basement, now I recently purchased a MacBook where I work at cafes and coffee shops.
ML: Tell us about your choice of camera/lens for this project. Please also include how you chose the film and digital editing you chose for this project. We’d love to know where you had your film processed and your experience with editing your digital images to match your film images.
MA: I shot with a Canon 6D with a 24-105mm lens F4 and a Canon AE-1 with a roll of Porta 400 film. I got the film developed at PS Photoworks in Wicker Park, Chicago. The film scans came back a bit too warm for my taste. I then color corrected the film scans and edited the digital files to match as close as possible in Lightroom using Mastin Labs Portra Preset Pack. The presets were very accurate – I barely had to tweak the images to match.
ML: Tell us more about the concept for this project.
MA: Each photo represents a phase in the lifecycle – a micro narrative.
An individual in a “youth phase” can be reflective upon an individual’s pure naïvety, not knowing they’re even naïve to a new feeling within post-modern to modern oscillation. They have no experience yet to proceed to a new state. They are innocent and free from burden, but yet uncomfortable with their lack of self-understanding.
An individual in an emerging self-awareness phase feels different but doesn’t understand their naïvety yet. They are still naïve but are awakening and becoming self-aware. They are no longer innocent but still naïve. An emerging self-aware individual begins to understand their emotional states, but cannot control them nor understand them.
The weight of knowledge affects an individual when they are fully aware that they are naïve and impacts an individual in a negative way. Age is inevitable. Birthdays are no longer enjoyable in this phase. This individual understand that they aren’t as youthful as they once were – no longer invincible. The individual now knows they’re naïve and misery settles due to knowledge. They are aware of themselves and they feel they are no longer innocent nor youthful as they were.
The individual represented in a recovery phase is in tune with their naïvety and are beginning to transcend from the weight of knowledge. They are beginning to accept who they are and their limitations. A reawakening is occurring within, a self-awareness that’s an oscillation between emotional and logical. An individual in this phase begins to accept their fragility, beginning to transcend from the misery that comes with the weight of knowledge.
A transcended individual is someone who’s completely aware of their emotional state and how it affects their thought processes. They understand that they are no longer as naïve an individual in their youth, no longer simply a self-aware individual, no longer in turmoil under the weight of knowledge, nor an individual in recovery. No longer naïve like the modernist masses, nor as cynical as the post-modernist avant-gardes, but one who well aware of their new duality between sincerity and irony, its fluctuation, and its search for new forms of sincerity.
ML: Tell us about the editing process? How did you decide which images to include and exclude? Can you provide a few examples of images you almost included but decided not to, and why?
MA: Post shoot I usually go through all the RAW files and mark which ones I’d like to use in Adobe Bridge. After that, I upload those images in Lightroom. I then review the photos and cut a few more out of the previous selected images. I then use a preset and make light edits and sync the adjustments based upon location or lighting situation. I barely edit my photos to fit a “style”. I usually try to make the image appear as I saw it. I’m not into surreal or dream-like editing.
I only wanted to use one photo representing each phase. I only chose images where the faces were hidden or the eyes were closed to force abstraction.