Dead Men Don’t Look Like Me presents 20 duotone plates of men re-photographed from 1950s-era mug shots found by the artist’s friend Mike Brodie in an abandoned Georgia prison. Brodie gifted the mug shots to Schiek, who then edited the original cache of hundreds down to a select few, cropped the images to remove all official documentary references while leaving stains, staple marks, tears and other signs of age, and enlarged the prints on highly reflective chromogenic paper to imbue them with personal and cultural meaning beyond their original purpose.
Mug shots are compelling by nature, and Schiek was particularly struck by his subjects’ brutally glamorous attractiveness, a blood-and-guts charm he describes as “the American male stench.” Like young actors posing for a Hollywood headshot, they smirk and leer at the camera with palpable defiance, collars popped on their standard issue prison shirts. These are haunting and seductive images that reveal the interplay between cinematic fantasy and real-life criminality in the concept of the American antihero—from the iconic movie rebel James Dean, to the mass murderer Charles Starkweather, who infamously resembled Dean, to Martin Sheen, whose character in Terrence Malick’s 1973 film Badlands was itself based on Starkweather.
Recognizing the thin line that connects and separates these men from him, Schiek worked reductively to organize the photographs according to certain obvious visual cues—age, race, hairstyle, bearing—arriving at a group that drew a passing visual resemblance to himself, though the lives portrayed played out differently than his own. In romanticizing and repurposing these images, enshrining them as icons of dark impulses, Schiek resurrects them as art objects. By utilizing them to wrestle with notions of the self, he stares smack in the face of his own mortality. What results is something rich and unwieldy in its dichotomies—a self-portrait created from typology, fiction created from history, and optimism gleaned from morbidity.