NU alumnus explores the “twilight zone” of identities in upcoming photo exhibition


Courtesy of Josh Aronson

A picture of Russell Kahn (Communication ‘16), taken by Josh Aronson (Weinberg ‘16), which will be displayed at Aronson’s exhibition. Aronson said his most of his work focuses on sexuality and identity.

Catherine Kim, Campus Editor

On a beach in Miami, a red and white Chinese finger trap in hand, Josh Aronson (Weinberg ‘16) asked Russell Kahn (Communication ‘16) to use the toy to visualize the tension between masculine and feminine energies.

“(The Chinese finger trap) really captures this tone of sexual tension in an image that is not otherwise very sexual,” Kahn said.

Together, Aronson and Kahn created intimate art that focuses on sexuality and identity –– ideas Aronson has often tried to incorporate into his work. These shots will be some of the many images displayed in Aronson’s upcoming Chicago exhibition from Feb. 13 to 17 at Congruent Space, a conceptual platform that displays fashion and art.

Aronson, now based in New York, said a lot of his work came from a need to produce images that captured his and his friends’ current state of mind. Many felt they were caught in a “twilight zone” of identities, especially in regard to gender and sexuality, he said, adding that he wanted to see these feelings reflected in the world.

“I’m interested in recording … not only of our physical presence –– where we are and who are –– with but also our metaphysical or emotional presence and how we see ourselves really in a moment,” he said.

The exhibition is organized by Weinberg senior Barr Balamuth, who reached out to Aronson after seeing his work on Instagram. Balamuth said he was attracted to the themes of gender and youth identity in Aronson’s work and wanted the opportunity to further explore these ideas with the photographer.

“The idea of the show is to question how we construct our own identities using social media,” Balamuth said. “It’s a healthy thing to question.”

Despite Aronson’s blossoming career, he said he wasn’t a serious photographer at Northwestern. In fact, he was a philosophy major who liked to take pictures of his friends for fun –– such as taking monochrome-themed photographs with Kahn, he said.

Surprisingly enough, however, Aronson said his philosophy education has bled into his pictures in the “strangest and most unexpected” ways. While many photographers focus on the technical aspects of images, such as the exposure or equipments, he said he likes to think more about how his images make the audience feel and what their purpose in the world is.

Aronson said he came to a turning point in his career when he immersed himself in the emerging Miami creative scene after graduation. He began to document the talented artists he met by taking their portraits, he said. Taking someone’s portrait was like “getting to know someone by grabbing a beer,” he said.

It was these portraits that grabbed the attention of i-D Magazine, and later Dazed and The New York Times. Kahn said Aronson’s work highlights the photographer’s ability to capture the essence of his subjects.

“A lot of the magic of Josh’s work is magnifying the energy of his subject,” Kahn said. “I think that’s why he works so often in creating portraits of other artists. He’s really good at finding a spark in a subject and letting that light up a frame.”

Aronson said he is happy to be able to create a community among his subjects through his photography. His works have brought together different artists with equally unique backgrounds, he said.

Ultimately, Aronson said he hopes to create art that is introspective but also conscious of the world surrounding it.

“I aspire to make photographs that are true, that are authentic and honest,” he said.

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Twitter: @ck_525