two Mick Jaggers with text 'Brian Howell feature article on Impersonators series'



The Impersonators Series



Brian Howell’s photographic series exist on the borderzone between conceptual and social documentary photography. He takes quotidian subjects – professional wrestlers, abandoned homes, defunct printing plants- and digs deeper into his subject matter to connect these marginal places into a more profound creative discussion about the hollowing out of contemporary society.  Howell’s Impersonators series – which feature a carnivalesque mix of celebrity impersonators – puts that question on bright display as everyone in his scenes is eager to be someone that they are not. 

painting of man writing with text Pull Quote

 “Howell’s photographs – brilliantly captured in a flash of silver light – are compelling, even chilling. These are people who want to be famous more than they want to be themselves.” 

Barry Dumka 



The Impersonators Series

By one estimate there are 85,000 Elvis impersonators around the world.  In our starstruck age, celebrity impersonators are a boom industry.  Part of that growth is explained by the dominant social and economic power that a celebrity commands yet can’t always take advantage of in person. Like the bones of saints in the Middle Ages, there are still not enough celebrities to go around. So there is now a big market for mimicry, for subjugating self-distinction to serve as celebrity avatars. Alice doesn’t live here anymore – an even cheaper version of Paris Hilton does.

For his Impersonators series of portraits, Brian Howell has used an old motif – paparazzi snapshots – to place front and center the diminishing value of individuality in a culture drugged by fame. For Howell himself this series is transitional as it shifted his work to a more conceptual stage. The project was developed in an early part of his career when Robert Frank and the New York street photographers of the 1970s still held sway. Certainly the influence of Diane Arbus is witnessed in the way Howell smudges the light and it is convenient to see these impersonators as among her eccentrics.

But in this series Howell presents a new type of person – an eager participant in the hollowing out of society’s appreciation for authenticity.  They are ciphers for a soulless time or cultural market indicators where the only stock going up is the value of fame.

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