Artist Spotlight: Michael Sharkey
BY Albert Smith
May 08 2010 5:00 AM ET
The idea for this project arose from my own desire as a gay teenager to be given a voice. I desperately wanted to be counted and somehow made valid in the eyes of my peers. Sadly, coming out (and of age) in the ’80s, as I did, proved to be quite difficult for me and many others. I’ll never forget being beaten up by a high school classmate, as I’m sure all the other kids who suffered some physical abuse because of their sexuality will not forget. It was precisely this kind of willful, painful defiance that I wanted to capture in these portraits. But what you may also see is the delight that is the domain of a new generation: the sheer joy of being able to stand up and be seen without shame.
Why are you a photographer?
I really became a photographer by chance ... I started taking classes on the insistence of a friend and one thing led to another. Twelve years later, I'm still at it. Who knows what the future holds?
What catches your eye?
It's really the formal qualities of an image that initially attract me. Color, light, composition. When that is realized I push further for some human energy, some spontaneity, a moment. Photography can do many things, but the thing it really does best is capture a fleeting moment in time; the particular energy, whether high or low, of a subject at a given time.
How do you choose your subjects?
I think everyone is potentially interesting, you just have to find the right context. Do you want a clown in your bedroom? Probably not but at the circus they're entertaining. Even the most ho-hum joe-schmoe can be captivating in the right scene or predicament.
How do you describe your work?
I usually, for time’s sake, just say I photograph people, which is the truth. I like to think of my portraits as mementos that will exist after the person has left the land of the living.
What makes a good photograph to you?
With the superabundance of photographs in our culture, it’s easy to find worthless images, but what always surprises me is how many interesting images there are in the world ... and they come from every direction. It's a language that you learn. Like poetry, photos speak to you at a particular moment. You just need to look and listen.
Who are your favorite artists? And why?
So many! It's funny because I like painting more than just about anything. For oldies I love Goya, Manet, Velázquez; newbies maybe Jenny Saville and Cecily Brown. Photographers I love are many and varied, but some of my favorites are Pierre Molinier, Bill Henson, Roger Ballen ... I have hundreds of photo books and, like children, I love each of them in their own special way.