World of One: Fortuna

An Asian man on a domed stone stage in a white suit with Asian men in black suits reaching from below.

Archival Pigment Print from 35mm Negatives
24 x 41 1/4 inches | edition of 5


Growing up in the US through the mid 80’s and 90’s, I was raised in a culture obsessed with trying to convince everyone that they are winners. This is an unrealistic outlook, given the fact that in most competitions, more often than not, there can be only one winning party. So statistically speaking, myself and others often ended up on the losing end of things. For me, this near obsessive focus on being a winner has actually had a negative effect. Mostly I grew up feeling that since I was not the strongest/smartest/fastest/tallest/wealthiest person in the room, I was effectively falling behind in the human race. Fortuna, together with two other works from my World of One series, Commodum and Glory of Shame, were created with the intentions of dealing with my feelings of inadequacy, and of helping me re-evaluate my perceptions of success.


Fortuna was shot at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park, which, according to the official website, was built in 1862 and is “an original feature of the Park.” I chose this location because it is accessible and also because its outdoor setting is ideal for taking advantage of beautiful, natural light.  But, more importantly strategically, the stage was high enough for me to properly place my likeness in the composition in the way that I wanted. I wanted the white jacket Johnny onstage and above the dark jacketed Johnnys, in part to demonstrate his superiority, but also because of the lighting. Because of the natural contrast it creates (what I call a “yin-yang” composition), I generally like putting the dark Johnnys in the direct light, and the white Johnny in the shade. I also chose to have the white Johnny onstage, because of our associations in American cultural with white being the color of all things good, therefore driving home the notion of  the “winning” side. Inversely, I put the dark jacketed Johnnys offstage in the pit to stand in for our negative connotations with the color black, thus acting as a visual foil to the white jacket Johnny. The faceless arm reaching in from the left side of the frame was included to create for the viewer the feeling of being a member of the “failing” crowd, thereby allowing me to share my complex feelings of failure and success with the viewer. I also decided to keep the light spots in this image, even though it is often considered bad photo technique, because I’m always looking for just the right amount of imperfections to give my pictures a sense of realism.

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Fortuna gets its name after the Roman goddess of luck and fortune. Fortuna (the goddess) is often depicted with holding a cornucopia in one hand to represent good fortune, and a rudder in the other to represent her power to steer luck like a boat, in directions both good and bad. My Fortuna effectively uses my likeness to illustrate the same point. Our lives are made up of a mixture of good and bad luck, of winning and losing — none of which we have any control over. Instead, we can only reach for the opportunities as they come.

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