Picture This: Marc Cartwright

By: Michael Matson

The first things you notice about Marc Cartwright’s self-portraits are his porn star body and fashion model face. But that’s just bait to lure you into what he describes as “mini-movies.” Like artist Cindy Sherman before him, who utilized her photogenic visage to star in the acclaimed conceptual self-portrait series "Untitled Film Stills," Cartwright sets out to capture moments that most of us overlook while at the same time confronting the viewer’s own expectations. And he does so by playing actor, director, and travel guide.

Photos: Marc Cartwright

“I want to take a moment and have it feel as though
Cartwright_Egypt the viewer is watching something take place,” says the NYU  grad. “A mental evolution occurs when creating the self-portraits, sometimes over a few days. The fact that Cindy Sherman created this entire alternate reality using photographs over a period of years fascinates me. But, I also use mine as little vacations. It’s like, ‘Where do we want to go today?’”

Cartwright’s destinations include Ancient Egypt, Columbus-era North America, and his own invented surrealist landscapes. The plan is to make a coffee-table book of the work, which the California transplant says will be akin to “constructing a photo album of my travels.” But the pictures are not just Walter Mitty-esque escapist fantasies. The roles the he casts himself in challenge existing notions of masculinity, nationality, and above all, beauty.

Cartwright_desert_construction In one photo, Cartwright’s head is seen incomplete and under construction, supported by wood planks. The image suggests physical beauty may be an illusion that is built or created by mankind, and like anything man-made, it is not impervious to nature; one strong tornado could destroy it in a matter of seconds. The conclusion is that concepts of beauty and identity are subject to continual metamorphosis and renewal. In another photo, Cartwright’s outer self is almost completely hidden behind a suit, eyeglasses and a camera, the latter being offered up somewhat tentatively as a physical manifestation of his intellect. Shot against a colored backdrop, this stance recalls a typical porn studio glamour shot, with the camera replacing a throbbing member. There is a level of melancholy in the image, almost a pleading to look beyond the surface. This self-portrait, in which he wears more clothing than in any other, is ironically his most vulnerable.

Cartwright didn’t set out to be a lensman, his career actually
Cartwright_Camera began as a model. But after befriending a photographer on a shoot he realized, “I didn’t have a passion for acting and modeling. Many times, while on sets, I would be more interested in what the creative staff was doing. I always toyed with photography and began to see it as a legitimate career choice for myself.” Still, as someone who now works photographing models and celebrities for glossy publications like Cosmopolitan, People, and Italian Vogue, he must certainly have an awareness of the aesthetic and fiscal value of his good looks.  

“It’s all so subjective,” he says. “To call someone attractive doesn’t mean that people are going to be  attracted to them. Of course, there are situations in day-to-day life where [being attractive] has its advantages, but I think more about whether people are going to find me intelligent or not. I would rather have someone call me ugly than stupid. Intelligence is worth its weight in gold.”