Architectural photographer Trent Bell takes a different turn in his career to create ‘Reflect’, a poignant series of photographs that feature long-time prisoners and the handwritten letters they’ve written to their younger selves.
Inspired by a close friend of Bells’ whom was sentenced to 36 years in jail, ‘Reflect’ looks beyond the prisoner’s stigma of a past life of crime and instead zooms into a rather positive yet heartbreaking side of their story- one that starts with bad decisions but follows with deep regret, hope, and wishful thinking.
By superimposing the prisoners’ portraits on top of their handwritten letters, Bell creates an instant dual portrait, a visual image that portrays both their current physical being, and the state of their inner selves – a side of them that shows us how much they wished they would’ve made the right decision in their younger years.
“Our band choices can contain untold loss, remorse, and regret [...] but the positive value of these bad choices might be immeasurable if we can face them, admit to them, learn from them and find the strength to share.”
In artist Reiner Hansen’s series Facial Fallout, she paints self portraits that each depict a different persona. In some, she plays a character, like a reality star or the girl next door. In others, it’s another version of who she already is, but with a different hair style, skin sunburnt, and more. All of these are a departure of her true identity, which itself is fleeting and malleable based on who she was trying to be. Hansen explains:
Each is based on, or rather mapped onto, my own features and characteristics. My self image is re-conceived as these other women, who live in a world entirely different from my own. There is a process of transformation into involuntarily ‘stereotyped’ notions of who these people are or might be, a sort of method acting in painted form, leaving a history of performance in each image. Simultaneously a game that is playful as well as a meditative speculation on a fabricated ‘other life’, these images are partly about investigating the idea of ‘escape,’ not just away from ‘the self’ and into anonymity, but also away from the art historical traditions of the self portrait and its established practice of depicting the artist. Instead, concealing my self behind imagined personas, I attempt to escape identification.
These portraits are humorous, and part of the joy of looking at Hansen’s work is finding glimpses of her true self within all of these paintings.
“Before it happened, I thought about going to the Peace Corps. I wanted to be somewhere, get somewhere bigger. I wanted to grow.” “Every part of me was altered.” Rochester, NY – 2013
“The officer asked me if I could describe my rapist. When I told him it was my husband, he dropped his notebook on the table and asked me, ‘Why are you wasting my time?’ They never did anything” “Once we have a place to talk about it, it’s like releasing a poison from inside us.” Rochester, NY- 2013
“Imagine if someone erased your personality at age twenty. You have to figure out what kind of person you are without the first twenty years.” Ithaca, NY – 2012
“I’m no longer afraid of what it means to be me. I refuse to let fear turn to regret. I am strong, and will be stronger.” Rochester, NY 2013
With her stunning series Trigger Warning, the photographer Lydia Billings works to “craft [a] collective voice” for survivors of rape and sexual abuse, and in doing so, she creates a complex visual and narrative mapping of diverse stages of human coping, healing, and experience. She powerfully avoids any impulse to re-victimize her subjects, granting them the power to speak out and to reveal only what they are ready to share. She first meets with each subject without a camera, allowing organic and intimate conversations to flow for as long as three hours. When she returns with her camera, she gets her shot in as little as ten minutes to one hour.
She cherishes her connection to her subjects and aims simply to make all “feel like they’re being seen honestly.” She explains, “I can celebrate every day the strength […] and beauty of survivors.” And her intent resounds throughout each piece; her sharp focus on the individual highlights steady tears, streaming locks of hair, set wrinkled brows, and unrelentingly magnificent eyes that stare straight ahead. With the focus on her subject, the various backgrounds take a back seat, becoming blurred and out of focus, and ultimately resting in peaceful deference to the details of the human face.
Trigger Warning also features a complimentary series of third person stories of assault alongside topographical shots of places in which rape could conceivably occur (note: none of the locations photographed are actual reported sites of rape or abuse). Sprinkled amidst the emotionally charged human portraits, the jarringly objective images are evocative of the work of 1970s New Topographics photographers, who shot man-made industrial structures and landscapes without the sentimentality or emotionality of early landscape photography. The power of this chapter of Billing’s work lies in an elegant slippage between fact and very real possibility, between emotional impulses and objective aesthetics; the dizzying relationship between neutral and candidly seen places familiar to us all—a wood, a church, a home— and simply told yet harrowing stories of very real traumas forces viewers to acknowledge the faces before us, to enter into dialogue with their experience, and ultimately, to applaud their courage. (via Bust, Daily Mail, and Huff Post)
Ben Foster‘s sculptures almost appear to be comptuterized digital renderings at first glance. An industrial and natural artist, Foster creates these life-sized animal sculptures out of enamel-coated aluminum, often placing them in the natural environments that surround his New Zealand home. The sculptural form juxtaposed against the natural landscape has a stunning effect, appearing to be at once disparate and cohesive.
From his website, “Foster’s geometrical rendering is suggestive of the animal’s inherent connection to, and place within, the natural environment. Characteristically, it relies on the interplay of light and shadow and while the subject matter is ostensibly pastoral, the result is dramatic with the sculpture’s silhouette as commanding as the mountainous landscape it resembles.” (via colossal)
In reaction to a story by NPR’s Planet Money team about the financial collapse and its effect on Southwest Florida housing market, the The Big Picture photography column at Boston.com spent some time scouring Google Earth to document exactly how man-made structures and development planning has altered the land, coast and the way we cover that natural beauty we desire so much.
The resulting pictures show, in stunning simplicity, just how alien the natural landscape of Florida (or most of the Earth for that matter) has become. Ranging from densely-packed communities to barely finishing plotting, the photographs show the natural beauty of the land being lost, and mostly replaced by poorly-planned, short-term solution living situations. They also simultaneously insinuate humanity conquering nature like a plague of locusts, as well as demonstrate our efforts being over-run by nature, like every civilization of the past. (via boston.com)
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Artist Saint Hoax’s series War Drags You Out imagines prominent world leaders dressed as drag queens. The digital illustrations depict the likes of Obama, George W. Bush, Vladamir Putin, and even Osama Bin Laden getting dolled up. Animated GIFs show the primping process, which includes drawing on eyebrows, contouring the face, and adding fabulous accessories. And of course, like any good drag queen, they have stage names, too, like Putin’s “Vladdy Pushin,” and Bin Laden’s sassy moniker, “Ossie B.” The idea for this work came from Saint Hoax’s first visit to a drag show. They explain:
…I was struck by the richness of this glamour oriented culture.
I took a minute to actually look at the faux queens and deconstruct their main components.
The recipe for an iconic queen:
1- Flamboyant name
2- Fierce persona
3- Defining outfits
4- Personalized hairdo
5- A trademark feature
6- One hell of a PR team
I then realized that it takes that same exact effort to make a leader.
A rush of images containing Hitler’s mustache, Bin laden’s headgear, Obama’s campaigns, Saddam’s narcism crossed through my mind. It got me thinking that behind every “great” man, there’s a queen.
While Saint Hoax’s unique project is over the top, it’s had some serious consequences for the anonymous artist. Before the Osama Bin Laden painting (first in the series), was to be shown, they released a Youtube video announcing where the work would be displayed. Because of the video, Saint Hoax received over 70 death threats, and the painting was destroyed at the airport while in transit to its location. (Via Huffington Post)
Stung by the human desire to avert one’s eyes from death and decaying bodies, Emma Kisiel presents Down to Sleep, a series of images that—-like her other series At Rest– forces us to kneel in mourning over the bodies forgotten dead animals,. As she happens upon an animal, she crouches down, fixes each within a compassionate and gentle frame, immortalizing each in a way evocative of Victorian post-mortem photography, each appearing as if he is merely asleep.
Kisiel’s subjects, their lives affirmed and dignified despite their tragic and lonesome deaths, are afforded a painfully loving final farewell. Through their passings, their bodies are sectioned off and dissected by the artist’s frame, leaving only the most poignant physical markers of a meaningful life; with each patch of fur, each tooth and eye, each clasped claw, the viewer is permitted to examine the creature with a balefully sensual intimacy.
Viewers are invited to engage with each animal in a funerary ritual free of any artifice that might make their demise more palatable; they aren’t embalmed, stuffed, or even buried. The are left, haloed in nature’s humble offerings of grass or pebbles, in the exact place and time at which their lives were taken; as time passes, we recognize that these sleepy bodies will disintegrate.
Each animal subject, shot in natural light, offers an honest rendition of death, for as hard as the Kisiel’s camera might work to give meaning to a life lost, it also relentlessly reminds us that discarded bodies will inevitably be vanished and consumed by the earth. But perhaps this is the most compassionate way in which we can examine the dead, as eventually forgotten yet eternally potent reminders of the preciousness of life; in these happenstance grave sites, a simple but meaningful meditation on existence take place. (via Lenscratch)