Justin Schmitz

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In The Mist continues my examination of adolescent male culture. This body of work consists of photographs depicting Airsoft players (a military simulation game played with replica firearms), JROTC recruits, target shooters and the forest landscape where these boys play, train, and practice.

Airsoft is a live-action version of first-person shooter video games. I am interested in the enactment of make-believe roles that look and feel like actual military special operations. The boys precisely recreate the look of a contemporary soldier and carry seemly realistic weaponry–confusing the line between reality and imagination. At times, their fantasy game takes on realistic proportions and these young men appear as soldiers. In other instances, their age, ill-fitting clothing and physique reveal them as children. The performance of a video game in physical space further conflates the distance between fantasy and reality. The missions, scenarios, and personas are make-believe, but the targeting and tactics involve the development of skills that can be used outside of the game. Young people playing with guns in war games is not a new phenomenon, however contemporaneously, these photographs allude to the menacing potential of young men. I contemplate the discipline that is being learned, the empathy that is being shown, and how these boys will interpret the world they will grow into.

Justin Schmitz is an artist living and working in Chicago, Illinois. He received an MFA from Yale University in 2013 and a BFA from Columbia College Chicago in 2004. He was awarded the Toby Devan Lewis Fellowship by the Yale University School of Art and the Tierney Fellowship for Excellence in Photography by the Tierney Family Foundation. Justin is also the recipient of The City of Chicago Community Artist Assistance Program Grant, The Union Civic and Art League Scholarship, and The Albert P. Wiesman Scholarship. He was a finalist for both the Honickman First Book Prize at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies and the Photography Book Now Prize. His work was part of The Museum of Contemporary Photography’s MidwestPhotography Project. Schmitz has exhibited in Chicago at Johalla Projects, Gardenfresh, Heaven Gallery, the Evanston Biennial, and Version Festival. His work has also been exhibited at M+B Gallery in Los Angeles, The Aperture Foundation in New York, and Les Rencontres Internationales New Cinema and Contemporary Art Festival in Paris and Berlin.

Artist’s website: http://www.justinschmitz.com