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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

"Jane Doe" poses for the Identity Project.

"Identity" explores the naked truth of perceptions


Ten years ago, photographer William Zuback wrote a poem about watching a person in the car in front of him while stopped at a red light.

"All you see of them is their eyes reflected in their rear view mirror. I always wonder what the rest of them looks like and what they are like. You begin to create your own reality of this person from the small amount of physical features you see, what kind of car they are driving, bumper stickers that might adorn the car and by what is hanging from the rear view mirror," says Zuback. "You formulate an identity of this individual based on these tiny physical clues."

Based on this idea – that humans form perceptions of a person's identity based on personal labels, stereotypes and beliefs – Zuback created "Identity," a photographic series that explores personal identity and how people both judge and are judged by their looks, clothes, surroundings and possessions.

"I explore our need to label and compartmentalize individuals based on the outside aspects of identity while not personally knowing the individual," says Zuback.

"Identity" features two black-and-white photographs of 33 individuals ranging in age and body type. One photo features them fully clothed but from the back and the other shows them naked but with a rear-view mirror over their face in such a way that only their friends and family will most likely identify who they are.

"Identity" is in The Frank Juarez Gallery in Sheboygan and the gallery will host an artist reception on Saturday, Nov. 2 from 5 to 8 p.m. with an artist talk at 5 p.m. The exhibit runs through Nov. 16.

The gallery also features an exhibit by Paula Swaydon Grebel,"Visual Arrangements," which includes new abstract works on paper and canvas.

Zuback says while photographing the models it was important as well as a challenge to keep himself out of the photograph as much as possible.

"What I mean by that is, as a portrait and commercial photographer it is imperative to direct a photo shoot to get the results you desire. With this, I didn't want to influence the participant with my own ideas of how they should look and pose so I allowed them to react in front of the camera as they saw fit and most comfortable," says Zuback.

"I wanted to get a sense for how they saw themselves, how they feel they are perceived by others and how they, given the opportunity, wanted to be perceived or viewed by others."

Zuback hopes that people who see this exhibition will begin to realize the humanity in each of these courageous individuals who volunteered to be part of this project.

"Move past the physical to feel and understand the vulnerability that we all deal with. Each of these individuals represents someone that you know, a family member, friend, co-worker or a neighbor," he says. "We all deserve the respect of moving past the physical to learn and understand the individual."

Zuback, who began his career as a professional photographer in 1988 after graduating from Brooks Institute, in Santa Barbara, Calif., manages the photography studio at Kalmbach Publishing Co. in Waukesha.

He dedicates most of his free time to his family and his personal, creative work.

"The Identity Project is certainly my most personal work to date. My own struggles with life-long weight loss and my identity helped lead me to this project," says Zuback.

Up until nine years ago, Zuback says he regulated his weight with different drugs from the time he was fifteen.

"For twenty-five years I would move on and off of different stimulants to keep my weight down. It has certainly had an impact on my health. Once I reached the age of 40 I realized I had to stop and be more accepting of my physical identity to try and live a more healthy life," says Zuback. "I feel I have always had more sensitivity toward others because I had my own issues with identity but this series has made me much more aware and vocal about it."

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