Volatile: Unmasked Abuse

By Chris Heide

 Photo Used With Permission By The Artist

Photo Used With Permission By The Artist

Abuse and power have existed together since mankind first came into fruition.The pain felt by the sublimation of abuse is also a shared experience over which many individuals can bond. Transformative art also has the power to evoke deep emotion and empathetic experience; a healing narrative for abuse. Zac Miller has attempted to examine the explosive nature of abuse, on both a personal and societal level, through a raw journey of self-discovery in Volatile.

“This selection of photographs documents an effort to revisit a history of abuse. It is a confrontation with an ugly slurry of complex emotions. It is my tormented soul exposed. It is undeniably volatile” - Zac Miller

This is the very essence of pain and abuse- it can be unfathomably difficult to articulate emotions that are evoked as a result of those experiences. Miller’s book is a stunning and nuanced attempt to decompact his personal history of abuse, through a series of raw and demonstrably evocative self portraits. Aside from the aforementioned quote, the book itself contains no other written words. The powerful images are left to stand on their own volition.  

Restriction (possibly self-imposed or on a societal level) seems to be a recurring theme within Volatile. Several of the images feature Miller bound by masks- his mouth is covered by tape or a mask, his head is wrapped in plastic, his hands are tied by rope. Even the tasteful nudity depicts Miller’s anatomy as being restrictively bound. These powerful prohibitory images seem to indicate that his personal history of abuse may have impacted his path of self-actualization. The progression of restrictive images seem to narrate Miller’s journey of working through the dissentient imposed by his experiences with abuse and trauma.

Interestingly, the bulk of Volatile does not give a clear indication as to the specific nature of the abuse. The images imply victimization by psychological, emotional, sexual, substance, and physical forms of abuse. The strongest hint comes in the form of a few deeply haunting photographs late in the collection. In one of the stigma breaking images, Miller is unapologetically seen with a plastic bag over his head and the word ‘fag’ sprawled across his chest in red paint. It is a subtle, yet emotionally wrenching reminder of the systemic abuses that LGBT individuals face on a daily basis.

The most powerful images contain Miller in his most vulnerable from- fully naked and exposed to the world. He does not use his own nudity in a sexualized context; rather, his allows his own vulnerability to fracture the notion of toxic masculinity, while exposing his own emotional intimacy. They are the most personal images in the collection and, naturally, some of the most moving.

Volatile is a breathtaking collection of photographs. More than that, it is a needed and intrinsically painful look at the impacts of trauma, power and abuse. It is a stunning triumph of human emotion and vulnerability. Even more, it’s shocking, raw and appropriately outrageous.