See our Best of Detroit 2020 winners.

Eye for I 

“Hold it,” thinks the photographer as she takes one last look at the dreamlike setup. And “hold it,” thinks her model as she hopes everything’ll be alright. But they work together without sharing a word, because they’re one and the same person: multimedia artist Bethany Shorb.

The art of self-portraiture — the trick of catching that oh-so-familiar image unawares and seeing in it the presence of an “other” — is a strange magic. In Shorb’s pictures, whether in eerie black and white or mysterious color, a new self gets invented with each click of the shutter. Though now a graduate student in sculpture at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Shorb has explored an interlocking variety of media since her first encounter with painting back in grade school in Connecticut. Later, at the Boston University School for the Arts, she focused on sculpture and photography as well.

“Having a painting background really helped me get into color. ... I really got into warping the film from what it’s supposed to be used for.”

Joining a long tradition of modern and postmodern photographers, from Man Ray to Cindy Sherman, Shorb combines inner gazing with masquerade into scenes of ambiguously disturbing drama and gothic desire. There’s a degree of complicity between the eye behind the camera and the body in front of the lens that’s particularly intriguing.

But what about the technical difficulties in setting up and shooting oneself? Wouldn’t it be easier to use other models?

“I feel like I’m a horrible director of models. In order to get the amount of emotion that I want in my work, to get the right mood of each piece, I found that I could do all that better myself. And it’s easier to correct the technical problems of each shot than to correct the mood.”

Paradoxically, her early work in photography was almost impersonal.

“I used to do a lot of architectural things that didn’t necessarily talk back.”

It’s this “talking back,” from one part of the self to another, that lets viewers in on a hypnotic flaunting of libido, an autoerotic flashdance that won’t let us look away. As she changes in each shot from blonde to brunette to skinhead (she’s a natural strawberry red), Shorb puts herself where we find ourselves wanting her to be: “right there, a little lower, let down your hair, raise your chin, look in the camera ...” Of course, it’s just a seductive illusion, the way she seems to put us in the driver’s seat. In fact, she’s become a master (or mistress) of the controlling gaze.

Not one to become infatuated with the past, Shorb, 24, has a whole list of new projects: She’s currently planning a series of self-portraits to be shot as pseudo-film stills, in which she’ll appear with her broiling organic sculptures, “jumping in with them and interacting with them.” Or, as in the words of a recent statement of hers on beauty and repulsion: “The body of work, the body of the artist and the machine are in union as one, sexually, psychologically, and proximally.”

Shorb, the multiplier of possibilities, also continues to promote rock bands, as well as updating her Web site,, which documents her various creative ventures (photography, installation, sculpture, video, noise, etc.).

This past April, Shorb’s visions were included in Valkyrie UK, a group show in Sheffield, England featuring work from Clive Barker and David Bowie among others. And three of her sculptures are included in The Clarity of Seduction III, organized by Network Gallery at the Cranbrook Art Museum (1221 N. Woodward, Bloomfield Hills — call 877-462-7262) through July 9. The museum is open late on Fridays, until 10 p.m.

As should be pretty clear from Shorb’s photographs on these pages, just take one look through her eyes and you won’t want to stop.

George Tysh is the Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.

Read the Digital Print Issue

October 28, 2020

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit