The solace that may be found beneath many coloured-morph suits

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In Orchid, Matthew Morrocco asks urgent questions about our exploitation of the environment and technologies’ exploitation of us

A lone figure drifts through golden landscapes — The Rocky Mountains; The Cliffs of Zion; Devil’s Monument; The Everglades. A whimsical and liberating image. And one, which is a far cry from the current reality that confines our bodies inside, bent over screens. Enveloped in vivid morph suits, the individual is anonymous and free. 

Orchid, which is the title of the series currently on show in a virtual exhibition Colored to Suit presented by RSK Artworks, was created by Matthew Morrocco in 2019 (although he has employed the morph suit in his work since 2016). And ‘Orchid’ is also the name of a cryptocurrency that keeps internet search histories private. An apt title for a project that, despite its aesthetic-vibrancy, asks serious questions about privacy in photography, social media, and contemporary society. 

In Orchid, Morrocco draws parallels between social media exploiting our privacy and our exploitation of the Earth and its natural resources. His suited-subject defies both these realities. Both in their anonymity and the extent to which they blend with the surrounding landscapes. 

The work draws upon extensive research, including Louis D. Brandeis’ essay The Right to Privacy, published in 1890 by Harvard Law Review. From this research, Morrocco postulates that the right to privacy has historically ensured citizenship, rather than subjecthood, and protected rights of the body, mind, and self. Rights under siege today. 

Below, Morrocco discusses the work — what inspired it and how it evolved. 

Red Rock by Vermillion Cliffs. 2019. Archival pigment print, 24 x 30 inches. Image courtesy the Matthew Morrocco, and RSK Artworks.

What compelled you to employ the morph suit in myriad colours as an emblem of individual privacy? What about this costume, in the context of beautiful natural landscapes, defies the invasion of our privacy by social media, the internet etc.?

I started working on this project in 2016 when the media frenzy around the presidential election began heating up. I was looking for a way to escape it all. Ellsworth Kelly had died in late 2015, and I was thinking a lot about abstraction and how it can be a useful tool for escape. Discussions about photographers making non-consensual pictures of people have existed for as long as I have worked in photography. The conversations often centre on the idea of depicting something “real” and “true”, which involves compromising or embarrassing pictures of people. This conversation mostly leads to exploitation.

To me, the suits, mixed with Ellsworth Kelly’s bold colour schemes, offered an opportunity to depict a world where the subject is protected. I set the covered figure in landscapes hoping it would melt away among the grandiosity of nature and draw a throughline between the problems of climate change and privacy. I hoped to hint that a potential solution to these two problems is more connected than we think. But, more than anything, I wanted to suggest that we can live in a world where we respect nature and people’s privacy. Photography doesn’t have to involve exploitation to be valuable. 

Symbolically, the morph suit is an ode to anonymity. But, visually, the images evoke an intense sense of freedom, hope, and joy (not that those two things are distinct). What do you hope to evoke in viewers? 

I wanted to shake people from this idea that to be known, understood, important, or powerful, one must have a constant social media presence. I wanted to visually express that real freedom and power comes from giving yourself time off from your public persona. And from setting yourself free from the constraints we all seem to live under: this idea that things are meaningless if they aren’t public knowledge. 

Can you explain the story behind any one image? 

I’m hesitant to answer this. So much of the romance of making the pictures was watching the sunrise and set. We were always shooting around the sunrise or sunset, and I wanted to give the sense that there’s something larger in the universe happening than any figure or subject. The emotional range of shooting this project was wide, and we went through all the emotions of being exhausted, excited, sad, joyful, overwhelmed. It was intense, but I wanted the pictures to feel serene, light, and effortless. 

Vulnerability, which stemmed from the election of Donald Trump, incited the work. Did the project subsequently grow into something more universal? A warning, as such? What new significance has it taken on in the post-Trump era? (It may be too soon to say!)

I’m not sure it’s a warning. I wanted to offer a viewpoint to young photographers that I wish I had when I was young and learning about artists I liked. When I was younger, I often felt pressure to push myself and my subjects beyond the limit of sanity and comfort. I wanted to make work that dealt with things beyond myself. That wasn’t exploitative or emotionally over-taxing. And I hope that maybe it offers an antidote to the overexposure endemic to our contemporary moment. 

In other projects — Mirror Portraits and Complicit — faces and bodies are central. What was the experience of creating work in which you have disguised the physical form? 

Very freeing. Portraits are so intense and pressurised. I’m always nervous because I want to represent the person I’m photographing well. But with this, I just had a lot of fun. I hiked, I saw a lot of the United States, and I think, in the end, created something that I feel is important. 

Digital installation view, Coloured to Suit, www.coloredtosuit.com. 04 March to 15 April. 2021. Image courtesy of Matthew Morrocco and RSK Artworks.

Colored to Suit is Presented by RSK Artworks and is viewable here until 15 April 2021. 

Hannah Abel-Hirsch

Hannah Abel-Hirsch joined British Journal of Photography in 2017, where she is currently Assistant Editor. Previously, she was an Editorial Assistant at Magnum Photos, and a Studio Assistant for Susan Meiselas and Mary Ellen Mark in New York. Before which, she completed a BA in History of Art at University College London. Her words have also appeared on Magnum Photos, 1000 Words, and in the Royal Academy of Arts magazine.