Photo project

Searching for Intimacy: Rebels in Terttu Uibopuu’s Series

What should a photographer do if a character’s story is too complicated to tell it with a photo? Terttu Uibopuu’s answer is simple -- take a picture anyway. Her project called ‘...and the fruit’ is about people who are still searching for themselves.
Terttu Uibopuu

Photographer from Estonia living in NYC. Teaches at Wesleyan University and the International Center of Photography. She has exhibited her work in group shows at Nicole Klagsbrun and at Regina Rex galleries. In 2012, she participated in the AIM program at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. She received her BFA in photography from Columbia College of Chicago and MFA in photography from Yale University, where she was also awarded the Alice Kimball Traveling Fellowship.

‘…and the fruit’ started with a picture I took of a couple who tried to have a threesome with me. I just ended up photographing them making out, and from thereon I realized that I wanted to continue making portraits that convey a certain intimate mystery and allude to a narrative that the photographer is somehow involved with her subjects. My wish was to find ways to fabricate intimacy in photographs.


One of my favorite subjects to photograph was Jessica. When I met her on the street she had ran away from home and was crashing with her friends in New Haven, CT. She was born as a man, as Justin, and was now in the process of becoming a woman. I found her really beautiful and wanted to capture something that could describe someone in this awkward hybrid state. Right away I knew that I could not tell her story visually, because her story is too rich and complicated that no photograph could really do justice to that. So we scheduled photo shoots together, and played dress up. Every time she saw photos of her she used them as a guide to figure out what kind of woman she would like to become. We started photographing in her bedroom, you can see in the photo with the turquoise wall where she is holding a turtle and playing with a cat.


The last photo was taken on Staten Island where she ended up moving to a year later. I didn’t know at the time, but as she stood in front of this store window in her old lady-like purple dress and fumbling with a piece of green paper it was the first time she had ever come out in public as a woman. I didn’t know that at the time. Unfortunately, my picture doesn’t describe that, but having that story and knowing that makes this photo very special to me.

My goal was never to find kids or young people who were deeply troubled or doing something illegal or destructive, I really wanted to find subjects that perhaps had a normal upbringing, but still needed to find themselves and revolt against certain expectations.

Most subjects are strangers, except for one person who is a dear friend. Normally I would find people in public places, such as bars, coffee shops, street fairs, or bookstores. It wasn’t hard to find people, because once you know what and who you want, you actually end up getting it. Timmy, the guy standing by the river with a semi-erection actually came up to me during a 4th of July parade and asked me to photograph him nude, he said he has a big penis and is aspiring to be a porn star. So, he was really excited to have his picture taken and have me put it up on my website. And Tina, the woman holding a snake, I spotted while driving and saw her walking on the side of the highway. I pulled over and asked if I could take a picture of her, and she asked if I could give her a ride and then photograph her with her cousin’s snake. It was such a gift! So I definitely ended up being a magnet for many more similar situations and a lot of times getting more than what I had bargained for.

I was on a road trip to Kentucky to photograph parades and people watching fireworks, but ended up taking these intimate portraits that really excited me and kept giving me a rush. The whole project was really scary, but fun and felt juvenile in someway. I was addicted to it for awhile, and once done it also left me with the biggest hangover and withdrawal.

I left Estonia to come to America by myself when I was seventeen, and even though I stayed with friends of my mother, somehow it felt like I was running away. I quit school in my junior year, my dad thought I’d never even finish high-school. I guess I really identified with not so much the rebellious side of my subjects, but the need to be loved and accepted, probably foremost by myself.


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