“I loved the clever combination of photograms and selfies, using the visitor’s own likeness and the contents of her or his pockets to create art. This experience probably reveals more about the visitor than she or he would initially suspect.” —juror Libby Bawcombe
“This exhibit forces thought about the objects we consider intimate and how, quite literally, we frame ourselves by our possessions. This reflection upon the self, ego and materialism is utterly appropriate for the location and institution. The interactions are so cognitively streamlined that the user can’t help but be successful.” —juror Nathan Moody
Overview: Self Composed, a photo booth located in the expanded San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, refreshes the idea of the photo booth for the smartphone age. Visitors can create their own artwork inside the museum by placing personal objects onto the photo booths’ glass tabletops. The moment of delight comes when they recognize themselves in their resulting shadows—an eye composited onto a smartphone, a nostril seen in a wallet. Revealing a visitor’s visage through a photogram of everyday objects, Self Composed is part hands-on art, part self-reflection and pure inspiration to think more critically about the selfie.
•Each unit has a separate video designed to attract visitors when it is not in use.
•Visitors receive a printout of their work that includes instructions to download the image and share on social media using the hashtag #SelfComposed.
•In the first four months, more than 60,000 Self Composed works were created.
Comments by Will Ruby and Sam Wick:
Did you meet with any out-of-the-ordinary obstacles during development? “Much of the work throughout was in protecting what was good—even as we added the supporting structures around the very first simple prototypes to make them function in the museum. We even agonized over adding the singular button; we were so protective of the core interaction.”
Was the topic/subject of the project a new one? “This was new for most of us. Designing for that context comes with a number of challenges. To begin with, creating a unique experience with photography is difficult in itself—it’s well-trodden territory. Then, finding something that was conceptually appropriate for the museum and worthy of being there made it exceedingly difficult. There were also a number of more practical concerns. The unit had to withstand a constant stream of people with minimum maintenance. It also needed controls to turn it on and off within museum hours, which posed some unexpected hurdles.”
Are there any other technical features you’d like to call attention to? “We were balancing image quality with robustness and ease of maintenance for the museum. To that end, we worked very hard to make our film-grade camera equipment tie in to the museum’s larger exhibit control systems, which took some doing and required some post-install shakedown. The most extreme case is for the cameras—there’s a custom steel boot holding a solenoid that fires to manually actuate each camera’s power button morning and night: the button pusher robot. If you’re ever standing by the cabinets when they fire, you can actually hear them clunk.”