At the end of life: a camera lens, desperately recording and archiving the fears of the dying. For the series Life Before Death, the photographer Walter Schels captures the terminally ill in anticipation of the unknown and again in the moment after death. These intimate portraits are the last of a lifetime, documenting the body after some ineffable human essence has vanished. Informed by the words gathered in interview with the subjects by Schels’s partner Beate Lakotta, the haunting shots imagine the invisible, giving form to the most unconquerable human fear.
Schels’s portraits, in their silvery black and white tones, are reminiscent of Victorian post-mortem photography, presenting the dead as if sleeping, their eyes closed and brows gone slack in seeming comfort. These images are poignantly juxtaposed with the interviews, conversations in which even the most mundane, peripheral things of daily life are assigned significance; beside wizened and terrified eyes and coupled with existential wonderings are thoughts on fridge-freezers and local football teams. The banal works against and in service of the tragic; when confronted with death, a burial site and a cup of coffee are equally potent reminders of our mortality.
At the turn of the 20th century, it was believed that the eye recorded the last sight seen by the dead, that with careful study of the ocular nerves, we might reconstruct the moment of death. Schels’s subjects, pictured with gleaming eyes and contained within unrelentingly tight frames, seem to stare into the viewer as they confront inevitable passing, as if to implicate us or to say, “You are the last thing I saw.” (via The Guardian)
Published in 1973, Arthur Tress‘ photo book, The Dream Collector, features visions of childhood dreams and nightmares. Tress began shooting these dream scenarios in the 1960s, first speaking with children about their dreams and nightmares, then staging an interpretation of the children’s visions via photography. During the 60s, staged photography was a rather new development within the photography medium; most photographers were taking shots on the streets. Over the next 20 years, Tress developed his trademark black and white, mythological, surreal photography. The Dream Collector collection represents Tress’ particular style while expressing “how the child’s creative imagination is constantly transforming his existence into magical symbols for unexpressed states of feeling or being.”
“The children would be asked means of acting out their visions or to suggest ways of making them into visual actualities,” Tress explains. “Often the location itself, such as an automobile graveyard or abandoned merry-go-round, would provide the possibility of dreamlike themes and spontaneous improvisation to the photographer and his subjects. In recreating these fantasies there is often a combination of actual dream, mythical archetypes, fairytale, horror movie, comic hook, and imaginative play. These inventions often reflect the child’s inner life, his hopes and fears…”
The strength of the portraiture tradition, and what separates it from documentary photography, lies in the skill of the photographer to attach meaning and the essence of the person in a simple image. Using metaphor, subtlety, and open-ended but vaguely familiar narrative, photographer Shelly Mosman is able to imbue an intensely personal and soft-spoken beauty to her photographs. Drawn to subjects for reasons she says she often cannot immediately describe, Mosman spends a great deal of time with her subjects, waiting for key moments when their personality is revealed through action, or the subtlest of looks or gestures. “Portraiture relies on the smallest mannerisms and expressions to offer narrative,” saysMosman, “I rely on the spontaneity of circumstance.”
The Minneapolis-based portraitist continues:
“In my photographs I negotiate and characterize the balance between my own vision and the unknown and often powerful potential given by each portraitâ€™s subject. I am drawn to certain people for the simple reason that I know shooting them will give me an image I could never have created on my own, and because my camera can reveal something they may not have known was in themselves. Â It becomes a synthesis of us both, captured in a single photograph. These connections with each subject areÂ often too straightforward and immediate to be conscious, but rather they are something that is felt immediately, coming straight from the gut, which is the home of our instincts.”
Angela Strassheim is photographer who used to capture crime scene images for forensic study. Her series, “Evidence,” documents the inside and outside of homes where domestic homicides have occurred. While the homes’ outside images ring familiar in a non-intimate way, the black and white, long exposure images of the homes’ insides offer a haunting glimpse into a more intimate space. The most unsettling aspect of these images are the noticeable physical traces of disputes – the bright, white flecks and splatters observed in the photos are the result of “Blue Star” solution being applied to surfaces to activate the “physical memory of blood through contacting the remaining DNA proteins.”
Of her series, Strassheim says, “Perhaps we have all processed a question in certain love relationships: Could we be a victim of violence or perform an act of violence against a loved one out of our immense capacity to feel jealousy, anger, rage, and desperation in a moment of extreme emotion? These photographs allow for the viewer to entertain the idea that this situation could involve anyone of us…The crime scene is presented on two levels; it is both an accurate, tragic, and dramatic transcription of the event and a mysterious backdrop onto which one can project their imagination.” (via it’s nice that and women in photography)
Daan Botlek‘s trademark figural painted works always evoke a certain one-off kind of narrative, but his latest series, Escape From Wuhlheide, carries this idea even further. Based in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, Botlek (previously here) was exploring an abandoned and graffiti-filled building in Berlin, when the idea of painting an escape came to mind.
“While wandering through Wuhlheide looking for some spots to paint the idea arose…to make some sort of storyline of an escape.”
The story in Escape From Wuhlheidereads like a cartoon rendered in real life, blending street art, animation, illustration and painting. Each ‘cell’ of the escape is painted individually, depicting two blanked-outline characters making their way through the dilapidated space, peeking around corners, crawling up walls and climbing ladders. Each ‘cell’ is then photographed, documenting their run away. (via colossal)
Russian-based photographer Andy Prokh captures images of his 6-year-old daughter, Katherine, and her pet cat, LiLu, as they grow up together. With the recent addition of a new feline to the Katherine and LiLu friendship, Prokh has now been photographing the friends as a trio. The threesome play chess, do homework, have tea, and play games with each other. Each photograph tells a story, each story resonating with childhood’s creative imagination. Prokh’s use of black and white enhances the whimsy and nostalgia evoked by his images. Prokh says he takes photographs of the friends because he loves them and believes “a photographer must love what he shoots.” Equally as impressive as his playful, fine art aesthetic is Prokh’s ability to stage and pose his pets, as cats are creatures not generally known for their obedience of human commands. You can check out Prokh’s full gallery of this series on his website. (via my modern met)
For her series The Absence of All Colors, the artist Ludmila Steckelberg creates a visual catalog of death; scouring her old family photo albums, she removes the photographic imprints of the dead, leaving blackened figures in their wake. Like fading recollections of face and features, these blank gaps— merely standing in for the deceased— leave an invisible mark on collective family memory. These old black and white images, now sepia-toned with age, are poignantly robbed of their power to immortalize and preserve those passed away. As with death itself, the act of removal, executed cleanly by the artist, is heartrendingly permanent and cannot be undone.
Steckelberg’s work is an unsetting exploration of the undeniable bond of photography and death. The photograph, though two-dimensional, suggests the three-dimensionality of life; here, the dead return to a state of two-dimensionality, receding from the aesthetic world of the living into an abstracted, flattened plane. The darkness they inhabit is utterly unimaginable to us, and yet they seem to be capable of observing us. In this shocking inversion, the viewer feels watched, gazed upon from the black depths. Pasted on one page of a family album, a removed couple faces into the opposite page, searching its blankness for an unknowable something.
Here, the living are left entirely alone, trapped within a space that once seemed full and vibrant, but is revealed to be merely an illusion by the artist’s careful cutting. Men and women look trapped within the borders of the deconstructed photograph, yearning to leap forth, to reconnect with those lost to darkness. (via Lensculture)
When the photographer Aline Smithson found an old, discarded doll from the 1970s, she was touched by his seeming unlovability; his bald head and uncannily wizened features made him unsuitable for most children. Like a lost boy, pitied for his strangeness, the doll found a home behind the artist’s camera. In rich and moody gray tones, Smithson constructs a visual narrative of poignant self-discovery, titled The Lonesome Doll.
The doll’s distinctively his floppy, childlike body works in tension with the firm face of an older man; in choosing to shoot him in black and white, Smithson heightens this drama, creating a dreamy, nostalgic atmosphere. The doll, no longer a boy and not yet a man, exists in a anxious state of perpetual adolescence; where he sits bolt upright in his bed as if woken by a child’s nightmare and dressed in a footed onesie, he also cautiously explores his sexuality, his oversized fingers grazing the shining nude body of another doll. Similarly, he submits to the caresses of a disheveled barbie.
Smithson’s doll is touchingly outcast by his own awkward existence; more mature than his companion toys, he must act out his fantasies with smaller, less ornate dolls, pressing their lips together, his wide-set eyes spit between each figure. He’s too small for the dollhouse, weighty for the clothesline. This strange adolescent is woefully confused, just verging on the point self-awareness. When stuck in a washing machine, he pleads for release, his stunned face reflected in the floor below. Take a look.
Smithson has created from these images a beautiful book that tells a poignant story of hope and love. She is currently looking for a publisher.