Alva Bernadine is a British photographer known for his color-saturated, surrealist style and subversive content. Contained within his oeuvre are several series of unconventional nude photographs; from conjoined torsos to uncanny perspectives to disembodied legs and fetishized footwear, his works are story-filled portraits that engage and entice as often as they confound (or even repulse). Inspired by surrealist artists such as Rene Magritte and photographers Cheyco Leidmann and Guy Bourdin, Bernadine’s works contain elements of absurdity mixed with eroticism, glamour, mystery, and oftentimes humor.
This particular series incorporates mirrors to attain Bernadine’s signature stylistic effect. He was inspired to create these images when he bought six small mirrors in a £1 shop. “I have used mirrors before in my work but never in multiples,” Bernadine explained in a statement provided to Beautiful/Decay. “After initially trying to get as many into an image as possible, I then started thinking up different permutations, finally working my way back down to one mirror […]. As the mirrors were so small, you can only reflect a small portion of the body with one, which led me to try to reconstitute a woman with several.”
The results are provocative, to say the least. From playful self-examinations to fragments of orgasmic bliss, the images entice us with a unique — but not wholly transparent — form of voyeurism. We can see the nude models engaged in acts that hover between private intimacy and exhibitionism, but we are not given the whole picture; we are never truly certain of what is occurring in the room behind the camera. This ambiguity heightens the erotic effect by taking some control away from the viewer/voyeur in their engagement with the photos. Speaking of his work generally, Bernadine expresses how he is consistently trying to “produce a sort of unresolved picture, an inconclusive narrative, that the viewer has to finish for [him]” (Source). Thus, instead of passive consumption, Bernadine’s images stimulate the imagination, engaging us on both cognitive and erotic levels.
Bernadine’s work has become deservedly well-recognized over the years. He worked his way up as a self-taught artist and collaborated with magazines. He eventually won the Vogue Sotheby’s Cecil Beaton Award for young photographers for The Fetish, a series of photographs showing a high-heel shoe in a variety of strange contexts. In 2001, Bernadine published Bernadinism: How to Dominate Men and Subjugate Women, which won him the Erotic Photographer of the Year in Britain (2002). Another book, titled Twisted, recently came out in 2014. Visit Bernadine’s website and Facebook page to follow his fascinating, creative, and unconventional work.