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2019 SPE Annual Conference: The Myths of Photography and the American Dream / Major support by The Joy Family Legacy Foundation

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Beth Lilly

SPE Member since 2008
Member Chapter: Southeast

The Oracle @ WiFi

What could an artist do with a cell phone camera? This is the question Atlanta artist Beth Lilly asked herself and her answer became an ongoing performance art project. With a cell phone camera, Beth realized that a person could call her from anywhere in the world and she could make a photograph on the spot and email it back to them. An interaction that is both intimate and in real time. But why would anyone call her? So Lilly created a system of divination that uses her cell phone camera and skill as a photographer to answer callers' questions. Instead of shuffling a deck of cards etc, she spontaneously creates images taken from everyday life that, in theory, will answer the question.

This is how it works. On a designated day, the public is invited to think of a question and call Lilly on her cell phone. Two rules are critical to the project. First, the caller has to keep their question secret. Second, wherever Lilly happens to be when she receives a call is her starting point to find and take three unique photographs for that person. After the three photos are made, she emails them to the caller who, at that point, must reply back and reveal their question.

Pairing callers' questions with the images, the final document is posted to the website/blog. The main focus of the project is this - how text determines image interpretation. Each question begs an answer to the question it poses. Once the text is read, viewers find themselves incapable of interpreting the image in any other way. However, the meaning each person arrives at is entirely subjective, dependent on their personal experience and prejudices so each combination has an endless number of possible narratives. The project is truly interactive. A caller contributes a deeply personal question and Lilly contributes her talent as image-maker. Each part is vital - the images and question would be meaningless without the other.



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