PILSEN — Like many an eager teenager before him, artist Jedediah Johnson learned the hard way that asking people to kiss you can lead to rejection.
“You cannot walk up to somebody wearing lipstick and ask them if you can kiss them. They will say no 90 percent of the time,” the 34-year-old Pilsen photographer said.
Now Johnson makes out “by appointment only.” He enlists friends (or anyone willing) to sit for a portrait in which he puts on lipstick, kisses the subject and then takes their photo.
All this kissing is a part of Johnson’s series “The Makeout Project,” an installation that opens Wednesday at the Art Museo gallery at the Intercontinental Chicago O’Hare hotel in Rosemont.
The project originally featured Johnson standing next to people who had kissed him, but the artist got “tired of looking at himself” in the photos. So he instead began doing portraits of the just-kissed subject with smeared lipstick and his tattooed arm in the photo.
“That arm is a really solid thing that really locates me in relation to the people,” Johnson said. “I want people to come up with their own stories behind these pictures. Just to think about kissing and who we kiss and how we kiss and what does it mean.”
The artist, who estimates he's kissed about 100 people for the project, said his biggest fear is coming off as a creep, rather than an artist.
"I haven’t had a lot of people tell me they think that, but I’m sure there are people who think that," Johnson said. "I'm trying to sort of divorce kissing from an intimate act. The idea that a kiss has to be romantic, I'm sort of trying to question that truth."
In 2005, Johnson was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He decided he needed to “get serious about something,” which ultimately led him to get a bachelor's degree in photography and a teaching career, he said.
Before moving to Pilsen in 2011 to pursue a master's degree in photography at the School of the Art Institute, Johnson — who’s originally from Indiana — had lived in Los Angeles for 13 years, doing odd jobs and pursuing photography as a hobby at parties.
The Makeout Project opens Wednesday at Rosemont’s Art Museo gallery, 5300 N. River Road and runs through April 15.
Johnson, who’s already kissed men, women, babies and even billboards, said he’s very eager to kiss any willing Pilsen residents.
“I would definitely make out with anybody here. I want to kiss older people and younger people, people from everywhere. I just need to figure out how to make that happen in an organic way,” Johnson said.
To set up a “makeout” session with Johnson, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.