Tommy Bruce: The States Project: Maryland
Tommy Bruce was one of the members of my unofficial Baltimore “welcoming party.” It sounds a bit sappy, but meeting and communicating with genuinely enthusiastic and brilliant young folks like Tommy, who would become my students, made the move to Baltimore quite easy. In the last five years Tommy has become a dear friend whose photographic projects have never failed to surprise me. Before he heads off to earn his MFA from the University of New Mexico, I wanted to put a spotlight on his work, which has become a fixture in Baltimore. Just mention Furry Doc in the proximity of someone while you are out on the town and you are likely to have a person within earshot enthusiastically say “Tommy is amazing!” I think that Tommy, with his quick humor and intellect, has a gift for inspiring others. Traits that match well with his belief that photography can facilitate connection and understanding between subject, audience and artist.
Tommy Bruce was born in State College, Pennsylvania in 1992. He received his BFA in Photography from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2014, and is set to begin pursuing an MFA in Photography from the University of New Mexico in the fall of 2017. He currently resides in Baltimore, MD and is the Mid-Atlantic Chapter representative of the Society for Photographic Education’s LGBTQ caucus. He has exhibited work in various galleries throughout the east coast and Midwest and has been an invited presenter in numerous spaces throughout the North East. Bruce has been making work with the Furry community since 2010.
For those unfamiliar, Furries are an internet born subculture united by a fascination with anthropomorphic animal characters. Participants in the community create an alternate identity based on an animal character of their own design, and interact over forums and social media and at conventions around the world. These identities are made tangible through the creation of fursuits—custom made costumes that represent ones alternate identity. Ideas of sexuality and desire are undeniably intertwined with the framework of Furry culture, though these aspects are still considered a taboo subject within the community.
An important distinction between the Furry community and other fandoms is the Furry community’s lack of a defined canon. Unlike Trekkies, who pull from Star Trek, or Bronies, who pull from the My Little Pony franchise, there is no single source of media from which the Furry community’s identity is built upon. Lacking an outside source of media to fuel the culture necessitates that participants produce and circulate content themselves. Each participant has the opportunity to affect and contribute to the community, and it is by these contributions alone that Furry culture has formed, changed and sustained. In practice, this makes Furry culture a unique space of play without strict purpose or guidelines. In my photographs, I seek to examine the various facets and figures of this decentered community through portraiture, self-portraiture and documentary methods.
Desire runs as a key thread through my images. Furry culture allows participants to create an avatar which embodies any characteristics they wish for. Invariably, these avatars are a reflection of their creators. My portraits then function in a dual manner. They are both a portrait of the character, and a suggestion of the creator. In making these photographs I both document the performance of the character and reinforce the verisimilitude of the fantasy.
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