The word “iconic” has become overused in contemporary society. It’s used passively for such minute instances that its illustrious meaning has unfortunately dwindled. Even saying the word once gave you a feeling of glamor, but now it’s as if you’re asking for the time. Its use in celebrity culture is the most apparent, where celebrities, doing seemingly nothing, earn the icon status easier than any of their predecessors. Images of - the ones that are burned in the forefront of our memory - are lasting relics of a society that once was, and when we see them, they become an intense dose of nostalgia that we didn’t realize we needed.
The Staley-Wise Gallery in New York City offers us a unique and exciting viewing experience of these ‘iconic’ celebrities in a way that pokes fun at the form and viewing experience. The exhibition features different photographers’ work highlighting the incredible nature of these individuals, whether blatant or subliminal. The title is to be taken quite literally, as all of the images in the gallery have an obstruction in them that skewers the straightforward look of the subject. As the viewer, you must guess who’s who, pun intended. The series opened on May 5 and is scheduled to run until June 24.
Some people are recognizable, so they haunt your reverie. James Dean’s eyes stare deep within your soul, piercing your core and begging you to free him from the confines of the photograph. Submerged in water, Brad Pitt seductively guides you towards him and invites you to join him.
This is where the word iconic truly comes into play. Celebrities with mysterious vibes are also celebrated here, with Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan hiding behind cameras and hands taking center stage at the gallery. These are individuals whose presence is known, not their faces. You don’t have to have someone tell you what piece they did or what song they wrote because you know them; they’re as commonplace as anything else in society. Energy and gravitas float off the image, and the gravitational pull of their status inches you closer and pulls you further in. You almost can’t turn your head away as you walk by them; you’re paying respects to a deity with a profoundly divine status.
It works like this to correct the “iconic” narrative. In an era where anyone can make it, take the time to recognize the cultural impact deeper than an iPhone. An influencer can make money, but no one will ever write “Like a Rolling Stone.” It identifies which figures in our world will be forgotten.
Written by Max Wiener
Copy Edited by Kee’nan Haggen
Photo Edited by Olivia Castillo