Seph Lawless is the pseudonym of a globally-recognized American artist, photojournalist, and political activist. Although he has achieved a significant degree of renown and acclaim by way of his work, Lawless has opted to keep his true identity concealed.
In light of his growing global popularity (some would say “notoriety”), many people have claimed to have discovered the real name of the man behind the Seph Lawless pseudonym. The Internet is rife with rumors and speculations as to the true identity of Lawless, with a number of Internet forums and other websites abuzz with claims that they have discovered who the activist really is. Despite the conviction and insistence of these claimants however, the true identity of Lawless remains a secret to the general public to this day.
The rise of social media over the past several years has given Seph Lawless an ideal platform with which to express his creativity and voice out his concerns against injustice and oppression all over the world. “The Artivist (a combination of the words “artist” and “activist”) employs creativity to fight and struggle against injustice and oppression,” Seph said. For Lawless, any medium may be utilized toward the attainment of these objectives, including pens, paint brushes, camera lenses, the human voice, and even the body.
Much of Seph’s global renown is due to his extensive work in detailing deserted locations in countries around the world. Since 2005, he has photographed and captured video of thousands of abandoned cities all over the United States, with the resulting images forming part of an ongoing project that he has entitled ‘Autopsy of America’. The project is especially striking for its intimate accounts of those “left behind”–the people who continue to inhabit these abandoned communities to this day.
For Lawless, the Autopsy of America project is much more than just an outsider’s voyeuristic view of the plight of the abandoned cities’ residents. In an interview with ABC News, he explained the rationale behind the project, saying: “I wanted Americans to see what was happening to their country from the comfort of their suburban homes and smart phones.” This statement would later be featured as a tagline for the European showcase of the artist’s work by the Amerkihaus Museum. Also entitled Autopsy of America, the exhibit has been lauded by critics as one of the most powerful visual representations of true state of ordinary American people. The exhibit opened in Munich, Germany on November 21, 2014, with Lawless himself addressing a crowd of more than 2,000 attendees during the opening.
Even the establishment press has acknowledged Lawless and the power of his work. He was named one of the Most Interesting People for 2015 in an issue of Cleveland Magazine, which cited the sheer visual impact of his work as well as his characteristic dark humor and pithy insights. The magazine was especially emphatic about Lawless’ stand against war, corruption from the government sector, and civil and human rights violations. 2015 was in fact a particularly good year for Lawless, with his striking images having gone viral every month of the year. It was also then that his work was featured in countries around the world.
Even the notoriously conservative Fox News network has acknowledged Lawless and his work. Lawless was invited to a talk show on the network in 2014 by host Greta Van Susteren. Although the network opted not to air a live interview for fear of Lawless taking the opportunity to promote his more controversial advocacies, the resulting taped interview became one of the network’s most popular segments of the year. Van Susteren was in fact sufficiently impressed with Lawless’ work, referring to his images as “stunning” and “beautiful”.
Other journalists and editorialists have voiced out similar sentiments, with Eric Sandy of the Cleveland Scene saying that Lawless’s work provides a “true diagnostic for some of (the country’s) true ills. June Steward of San Francisco University said that Lawless “exposes (a country) ravaged by economic decline, rampant unemployment, and foreclosures”. Steward also cited Lawless’ work in exposing “the forgotten ruins” of the United States, as well as the “forgotten people (…) left behind to survive.”
Katherine Brooks of the Huffington Post was especially descriptive of the process behind Lawless’ images. Referring to the artist as the “master of the abandoned”, Brooks described the artist’s work as “filled with eerie portraits of shopping malls, factories, homes. All dilapidated, all empty, all but forgotten.”
But perhaps one of the most powerful assessments of Lawless’ work comes from the artist himself. In the interview with ABC News, he said: “I prefer absurdity over reality because it’s more honest.” For Lawless and the thousands of people that have been touched by his work, honesty is what it is all about.