Since his tragic death, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s image has fluttered on and off of our computer screens more times than we can count. When we lose celebrities who’ve influenced us, we might search for solace in a single work of art that captures an intimate expression of some larger cultural current; we elevate the photographic likeness of stars to the status of a late relative, bookmarked online rather than carried in a wallet.
A few short weeks ago, Hoffman and fellow actors sat for the photographer Victoria Will at the Sundance film festival, and her photographs serve as a testament to the worshipful and nurturing ways in which we consider celebrity. The series is unusual for Will’s choice to use tintype, a photographic process popular in the mid-1800s. As the artist positions her sitters behind a reverent lens, the prolific subjects themselves becomes elevated by the sheer amount of work needed to produce their image. In this way, the work harkens back to an era when people treasured the photograph of a loved one and maybe only sat for one shot throughout a lifetime.
Will refers to the process as “finicky” and “honest;” the images recall the work of Moyra Davey, a photographer who wrote on the power of accidents in the medium. With the remarkably delicate crinkling of emulsion and subtle and unintentional chemical happenings, each subject becomes marked and qualified by the artist’s accidental movements and sporadic perceptions. With each astounding frame, our idols beg the question, “Will this be the image by which you remember me?” (via 22 Words and Esquire)
In her recent series I Don’t Know The Names of Flowers, photographer Kristina Knipe examines her struggle with self-harm by documenting the marks and personal effects associated with the trials of others similarly suffering. Through the vulnerability of her subjects– some of whom she knew and others whom she found over Craigslist– the artist reveals a richly specific portrait of her own injury.
Inspired in part by the work of Alessandra Sanguinetti, Knipe situates her subjects within a decidedly natural world. Against a backdrop of wildflowers and floral patterned sofas, her portraits courageously reveal a tension between the beatific organic landscape and the angled, mechanical patterns of scarred and restitched flesh. The title of the work amplifies this sense of alienation, laying bare the tragically unfulfilled desire to connect with the simple purity of a budding rose.
Gently evoking poignant feelings of nostalgia and loss, this notion of innocence and corruptibility is explored further by Knipe’s expertly uncomfortable use of childlike imagery. In Andrew’s Dress, she presents a tiny article of clothing that for a grown man serves an unknowable purpose; as it wavers in the wind, viewers are forced to confront permanent blood stains. Similarly, a Raggedy Ann doll splays herself almost obscenely in a bed, revealing the words I Love You carved into her chest in red. For a particularly devastating image, Knipe shoots a page in a journal, revealing the terrifyingly pained visage of a girl scribbled in crude and childish lines.
Amidst this haunting sense of innocence lost, Knipe’s sprinkles her photographs generously with a dangerous sense of addictive ecstasy. Her photographs are decadent, richly colored and tonally mesmerizing. Scarred flesh is gleaming and sensual, and a beer can explodes orgiastically over a blissful subject. With relentless passion, Knipe invites viewers into a private world, colored by highs and lows that are equally difficult to navigate. (via Feature Shoot and Tischtography)
Amidst the violence and chaos ravaging parts of her native Lebanon, the photographer Rania Matar does not aim to make sweeping political statements about the Middle East; with her complimentary bodies of work titled Ordinary Lives and What Remains (now on display at Houston’s Bank of America Center), she hopes to capture the resilience of the human spirit. Fighting the photographic and documentary urge to re-victimize survivors of war, she offers a more nuanced picture of the lives of Lebanese women and children.
Much of Matar’s work explores global representations of femininity—in a recent monograph, she published images of adolescent girls inhabiting a space between freedom and familial responsibility, the childhood bedroom— and in Ordinary Lives, the artist’s powerful sensitivities color the otherwise bleak black and white war-torn landscape. In “Broken Mirror,” a young woman meticulously adjusts her veil before a shattered mirror, her perception of self seen as fractured by her environment but preserved within her emotional core. Similarly, “Dead Mother” captures the veiling process as a ritual connecting female youth to a monolithic photograph of the matriarch, an undercurrent of modern political and social debate serving as a relentless backdrop.
What Remains operates as an arguably less subjective series of architectural photographs, documenting the aftermath of 2006’s war between Israel and Hezbollah. The series separates itself from Ordinary Lives in its deliberate use of color; the bright blues and yellows read like surrogates for the displaced families that once inhabited the violated spaces, offering a powerful tonal continuation of the striking and complexly seen human spirit captured in Ordinary Lives. Where we once viewed children, embracing the walls in rich gray tones, we are offered a Winnie the Pooh wall hanging, daydreaming beside an empty closet. Take a look.
In her recent work, the photographer Lisa Lindvay archives the indirect yet undeniable marks left on her family and their home by her mother’s mental illness. With the family landscape surviving as her constant foundation, she invites viewers into a claustrophobic space isolated from the perspective and normalcy of the outside world. Although we are given indicators of their location— McDonald’s bags, generic soda, a “Legalize Gay” wristband—the family appears as if entombed in a time capsule, each member left to fend for themselves since the onset of the matriarch’s illness.
The camera acts as an active character throughout the narrative, forcing intimacy when the closeness and comforts of family seem irrevocably fractured. Eye contact is avoided with all creatures and things aside from the lens itself, which somehow breaks boundaries and transcends each subject’s seemingly self-imposed solitude. Intimate and sensual moments— the applying of hair dye, half-nude lounging, naps with the loyal dog— are generously laid bare for the artist, providing viewers with intermittent flickers of hope.
In her still lifes, otherwise mundane or grotesque subjects are assigned deeper meanings. The artist worshipfully documents trash, each object appearing like a pitiful symbol of continuing life and hope amidst crippling circumstances. A jar of cheese puffs is seen from the floor and lit from an unknowable source, as if standing at the alter of some personal cathedral; an oily ring on a pizza box surrounds a golden mane like the halo of a forgotten saint. As the family faces an uncertain future, half-eaten pizza and dirty socks become the only reminder that time has not in fact stood still within the house; Lindvay captures each with beautifully archival rigor as if to denote days on the calendar. Take a look. (via Feature Shoot)
As a child, the vegan taxidermist Nicola Jayne Hebson wandered the Blackburn, England countryside, the sight of dead animals haunting her memory long after she returned home. The indignity of remains left to rot struck a chord in her, and she finally took a pair of mating, deceased frogs home, gently placing them in a frame, forever bound mid-coitus.
The artist, now 23, taught herself taxidermy, using only roadkill and deceased pets. The decision to use any living or once-living creature for the sake of art raises ethical questions, but Hebson hopes that debate over her work will inspire viewers to consider the ethics of the meat industry.
Ultimately, Hebson’s work reads as an emphatic attempt to reanimate a being that no longer exists, and it that sense it does—perhaps unfairly— claim nonhuman remains as an expression of the inherently human will to be remembered after death. But in this case, the work itself is so painstakingly delicate that it feels surprisingly generous; her careful craft isn’t a boastful display of her own ability; instead, it recalls ancient mummifications or ritualistic burial practices.
Her creations exude a life-like pathos uncommon in taxidermy in part because of her paradoxical choice to rely upon fantasy over strict realism, appealing to a more emotionally heightened realm of poetry and make-believe. One rat appears to lay a loved one to rest, and the viewer is seduced into mournfulness, forgetting for a brief moment that both rats are in fact dead. Other, more surreal creatures exist within what we might imagine to be a sort of afterlife; her seven-headed rat quietly recalls the biblical Book of Revelations.
Hebson’s creations are dizzyingly anachronistic, seeming to draw inspiration from anywhere between the Medieval Gothic period to the Victorian age. Unified only in their deaths, her works speak across generations and inspire us to mourn for those we so often forget. (via BUST and VICE)
In Hair Pieces, the photographer Rebecca Drolen examines the relationship between human beings and our hair, highlighting the impulse to deem body hair beautiful or strange. Inspired by what she calls the “archival” power of hair to outlive the rest of the human body, Drolen engages with hair pieces in comical and yet starkly emotional narratives. In the striking series, human hair transforms from ornamentation to elixir to parasite, creating a poignant work that elevates the mundane to the transcendent.
With clever titles like Hair Tie and Ear Hair, Drolen’s images read in part as a modern take on 1960s feminist photography; her carefully staged self-portraits are shot in black and white, revealing the rich grays of her vintage garments, retro decor, and and outdated shears. The home serves as the backdrop to the artist’s exploration of a more domestic femininity. In turn, the luxurious tresses and the house engage in both harmonious and conflicting dialogues: expertly styled hair dresses the windows in one image, yet in another, it uncontrollably discharges from the bathtub drain.
In her apparent nod to both women’s and photographic history, Drolen addresses the association between hair and death, or the ability of hair to document and catalog human existence. Hair fills the medicine cabinet as if promising to cure disease; it covers a foggy, indefinitely seen window to a mysterious space beyond. Like relics of years gone by, hair hangs on a wall, labeled and numbered by tally marks. Without a hint of sentimentality, a pair of shears and a head of hair lay side by side on a cleared out bed, evocative of an individual’s absence and passing. Take a look. (via Lenscratch)
When her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, the photographer Isa Leshko faced the prospect of her own aging process and ultimately her own death; in refusing to photograph her family during that time, she retreated to farms where elderly animals were housed and photographed them for her series Elderly Animals. Many were rescued from factory farms where they had been genetically modified, abused, and they were therefore facing premature death; others were part of their caregiver’s families and always had been. Like she would with a human subject, the artist spent hours with her subjects, communing with them on straw beds and sometimes visiting them multiple times.
In the iconic Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes meditates on the poignancy of photographic memory, writing, “Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe.” The well-seen photograph fixes a moment within the space between light and shadow, reminding viewers that the exact instant pictured can never be recreated. In her rich black and white tones, Leshko realizes the potential of her camera to make permanent her elderly bestial subjects, and in the process of remembering each creature, the viewer is forced to recognize his or her eventual death.
The artist writes in her artist’s statement, “I have come to realize that these images are self-portraits,” uniting the living, the aged, and the deceased under a single canopy of mortal experience. Within the glimmers of the blind bovine eyes, the bare bones of the rooster wings, the grey snouts and balding patches of fur, we might all recognize what we must someday leave behind, and we are forced to search for what remains within Leshko’s thoughtful frame. (via HuffPost)
The student artists Ayako Kanda and Mayuka Hayashi of Musashino Art University in Japan recently unveiled a series of portraits of X-Ray and CT images of embracing couples. One might expect images devoid of flesh, readable facial expressions, and color to read as clinical and sterile, but the photographs are strikingly human: “X-ray images usually show the finite nature of our bodies composed only of matter. But these couples’ portraits reveal a pulse that isn’t normally seen,” the artists explain.
Indeed, the images do convey ambiguous and subtle degrees of intimacy rarely seen photographically. The two individuals, positioned side by side, become hard to differentiate; the transparencies and densities of muscles and bones causes the two figures to fuse, touch, and pull apart in unexpected and haunting ways. While their bodies are flattened in space, forced to overlap, the bones themselves become separated by dark spaces, complicating the idea of what it means to be truly intimate.
The series also succeeds in conveying something more paradoxically permanent about intimate love. As mechanical process of photography and X-raying is offset by the delicacies of fingertips and craniums, the fragility and mortality of the human body is revealed. Yet the portraits, because they are X-rays and not typical fine art images, carry a forensic quality. Intentionally or not, they use a visual language normally associated with medicine and anthropology, and they are therefore poignantly removed from the confines of time and space, grounded only in relation to one another. Like two human artifacts, they invite viewers to dissect and analyze their bond. The couples appear as if held under a magnifying glass or fixed in stone, intwined in a decisive moment forever. Take a look. (via BUST, Spoon & Tomago, Daily Mail, and Bestposts)