I don’t know about the rest of America, but New York is one of the most friendly cities in the world. In the sense that you can be different and still feel comfortable among others. I think that artists among those who have done a lot for this. Raising questions of identity again and again, artists push the boundaries of social norms. What does it mean to be black? What does it mean to be transgender? Ultimately, these questions boil down to one: what does it mean to be yourself among others? Artists explore various aspects of this theme: racial, gender, economic, religion and many others. A photographer, Megan Tepper focuses on the question: how we perceive our bodies and bodies of others?
All pphotographs by courtesy of Megan Tepper
What is the main theme of your work? How do your projects relate to each other?
I could say that the main theme within my work deals with body-image in one way or another. My projects all relate through me, but in each of them, I am working through something.
How do ideas come and develop?
My ideas develop through critical thinking about my experiences and what they mean. I have a ridiculously good memory, so when recreating events, it's easy for me to remember and see what they looked like. Often times, I sketch out ideas before shooting. There is a lot of planning and research within as well. For instance, when starting my Becoming Brian series, I wanted to immerse myself in the experience of Brian Wilson, and what it was like for him when he was going through a mental breakdown. I read many articles and books written about him, as well as watching documentaries.
Could you talk more about your project “Becoming Brian”?
I have been enamored with The Beach Boys for as long as I remember. I had gotten a CD when I was very young and I would listen to it non-stop. It was only later in life where I would learn more about Brian, the genius behind them. He went through so much mentally and it really got me thinking about what it is like to have major mental illness and still make it out alive. I started comparing myself and my own mental illnesses and saw him as an inspiration of sorts. With Becoming Brian, I started to explore that area. I mostly looked at his lethargic state, where he stayed in bed for a few years, rarely leaving the house. And when he would leave the house, he would be seen in his robe. I wanted to recreate that, but also try to tap into what that must have felt like that. Additionally, getting to dress up as him really helped me explore more of my gender identity. I do not identify fully as male or female – usually somewhere in between. Getting to put a wig and beard on felt like I was able to see what it could be like as a male and be perceived on the outside as such.
How much does your real life overlap with the stories that you create?
I base my photographs off of real life, so I would like to say that that is what my photographs are: real life .However, when one is constructing an image, it is hard to say what the truth is and what is “false.” I would like to think that I am conveying the truth, but of course, it's only my truth. I think the project, that probably holds closest to reality is my latest photo-book To The Grave, a narrative that I was originally working on with my ex-partner. When it comes to images like The Current Past, I focus on my body and its relationship to my family members' bodies. In regards to the truth, that is what I'm showing. But in reality, we don't really talk that much about our bodies to each other. So it's a way of confronting something that isn't entirely true, considering the images face that issue straight on.
To The Grave
What does this mean for you to show yourself in your art work? What does it mean for your family?
When I first started thinking about whether or not to show myself in my images four years ago, it begged a question to myself. I was always able to talk about myself freely, but never thought of showing that in my work. When I started to show myself, I realized I was doing something so much more than just being “brave,” I was seeing myself in different ways. I definitely feel that taking photographs of myself has tremendously helped my self-esteem. When I was taking photographs with my family, it was much harder. While I could normally just pose myself the way I wanted to, it was hard to get my family members to cooperate in the same way. For instance, my mother felt self-conscious about the images, especially knowing that they would be seen by others. But my father on the other hand, had no problem with taking photographs because he knew he was helping me with my work. I do not think that they were particularly affected by being shown in my work unclothed. However, I believe that by letting them become vulnerable, it helped me to understand more about my family members. One of the best outcomes from the project is that there was a specific closeness formed, and I especially felt that at the gallery opening.
Do you think that our views about body are formed within family and social context?
While I feel that body image is ultimately up to oneself, social and familial views really do factor within that too. I never considered myself a fat person until I was told that I was. And of course, within society, the idea of being fat seems to be the worst thing that a person can be. I often find that I am in a pretty good place with my self-esteem, but it's definitely hard hearing every day that I should not be fat. Very hard actually. It's hard to form your own opinion of yourself without thinking about others. But it's possible.
What is the title “No Place is There” about?
A lot of my titles have been inspired by song lyrics. The title “No Place is There” is directly related to the album “Home, Like No Place is There” by The Hotelier. At the time of the project, it is an album that I had on rotation quite heavily, and I found a lot of myself within the lyrics. While the title goes with the album name, I was particularly inspired by a lyric from the song “Dendron,” where the lyric says “Wish I was home, but no place was there.” The work that I made for that series was me trying to see where I fit in. When I was home in Ohio, I felt more drawn to hanging out with my best friend's family as opposed to mine. But additionally, Ohio started to feel further away, as if I didn't belong there. But New York felt that way too. So as the lyric says, I wanted to be at home, but I didn't know if it actually existed.
No Place is There
What does it mean to be fat in America?
I think it's really hard to be fat in America. Often times it seems that making fun of fat people is the last accepted prejudice. Being fat means that you will always be seen as a “health” risk. Being fat means that your weight will always be looked at like surveillance. Being fat means that sometimes you won't feel worthy of things that other people have. Being fat means that the idea of accepting yourself is ridiculed, because why would anyone think that being fat is okay?
I spent the first 18 years of my life on diets with the constant hope that the “skinny person inside of me” would eventually be freed and I could live my true form. But, that of course is not true. Honestly, I don't think I would have made the work I do without being fat. So for that, I suppose I am thankful for being fat.
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