The Metamorphosis of Photographer Alex Stoddard

I met the photographer, Alex Stoddard, on Day #306 in his piece, “Metamorphosis, interrupted.” The piece (featured above) was arresting. Is this a youth being born or a youth dying mid-birth? Is the photograph the interruption, or are we seeing a subject in the midst of its demise?

“Metamorphosis, interrupted” is a dark muscular thing occurring, all the more alarming because it happens surrounded by such tranquility—by such clear summer light. The boy screams, falls, forcibly awkwardly forward-right even as he is tugged by both cling and frame off to the left. The composition is all wrong, yet utterly right. Sure, I can see what happens in this photograph. But I still can’t tell you what is happening in this photograph.

Stoddard was 17 years-old when he planned, posed, and took “Metamorphosis, interrupted,” and well into the final quarter of his 365 Project—which involves a photographer taking and presenting a photo of something for a full calendar year. He was still living in Georgia with his family and shooting photos in off-time between high school studies and a part-time job in a restaurant (according to a 2012 interview with Chase Jarvis blog).

Stoddard did photos partly because nothing else had stuck—Teagan Alex of SLR Lounge relates that he had tried drawing and painting the year before, without engagement or success—yet also because he wanted to finish something. He told Chase Jarvis in a blog interview that:

Another part of [the 365 Project] was this almost subconscious need for completion. I’d never finished anything in my life up to that point. I’d always given up when things became too difficult. I wanted to be able to prove to myself that I was capable of finishing something I started.

Not many photographers who start a 365 Project finish it. Far fewer leave the project with a body of work capable of garnering as much well-deserved respect or attention as Stoddard has seen. B&H Photo and [FRAMED] featured Alex in their first season of “Framed Show,” back in July of 2013, and Flickr recently named Alex as one of its “20 Under 20,” showcasing the finest talent among young photographers working today.

Many of those who feature Alex’s work describe it as “surreal.” Honestly, I think it’s the most often used descriptor; even Alex himself uses it in some interviews. And I’m not disagreeing…

Yet for me, Erin Fitzpatrick, writing for Refinery29, gets closer still:

What makes a good photographer? Well, if it has anything to do with being able to capture the human spirit in its most vulnerable state, then 21-year-old Alex Stoddard is one hell of a photographer…Moody, moving, and at times creepy, many of his images bring to life some of our most powerful emotions—resilience, heartbreak, hope—while others are intended to spin a fantastical story.

Fitzpatrick slants on a truth from Susan Sontag, the premiere photography theorist, who says that: “To take a photograph is to participate in another person's (or thing's) mortality, vulnerability, mutability”; Fitzpatrick suggests that the business of photography done well—and Alex Stoddard, she seems to believe, fits into this category—is the business of trafficking in change: be it time, be it essential humanness, be it that which transforms. I marvel, often, at the potential for photography to tell these kinds of stories, share these kinds of truths.