Photographer Shanna Allyn is the master of a universe where women are covered in kittens, faces are obscured with food, and they have eyes like a cartoon character. Her series, Strange Beautiful, is, not surprisingly, strange. This coupled with Allyn’s style of photography (which seems less focused on technical aspect and more on documentation) takes the viewer through a bizarre world where there are more questions than answers.
In a statement about her work written by T. Martin Crouse, co-founder of the publisher Sic Semper Serpent, he describes it as, “The use of quirky objects combined with the locations and postures of her models creates a sense of surrealism. Out of place props in a variety of lateral interpretations have a strong effect.” Later, he goes on to say, “In Shanna’s universe of tampon cigarettes and hotdog mouthpieces, who really has control?” That statement itself is absurd and captures the essence of what Allyn is trying to do. These photographs record what goes on in her world, which is comprised mostly of a group of women with cartoonish eyes. They wear them as a mask, allowing them to look unaffected and apathetic. Nothing phases them, and we don’t immediately understand their motivations.
I see Allyn as a documentarian, capturing images that aren’t full of tension or sadness, but just show a day in the life of Strange Beautiful. The emotions that these models don’t show is compensated by our associations to objects in the images and content she presents.
Brian Moss, opened a gym in 1982. Better Bodies Gym, located in the heart of NYC, attracted bodybuilders from all over,and ever since 1997, Moss has casually photographed the leading competitors in the bodybuilding and fitness world.
The photographs are part of an on going series, a personal project, that gives insights to the bodybuilder’s life. Moss’ black and white portraits and action shots go beyond the bodybuilders’ physical appearance, and instead accentuates the human side of this ‘superficial’ business.
My images are unguarded, honest and voyeuristic. Whether they capture backstage scenes at the Mr. Olympia or private moments in a hotel room hours before the competitor steps out on stage, these images are imbued with an intimacy that had never been seen before.
Moss’ photographs have become very iconic, and they have influenced the way bodybuilders are currently portrayed in advertisements and mass media in general.
There is something intanglibly familiar about Korean artist Lee Jeong Lok‘s photoseries “Tree of Life”. Perhaps it is the beautiful, postcard-quality of the surroundings, or that Lee has truly tapped into a cross-cultural metaphor for the spiritual in using an illuminated tree as a subject. Lee has mentioned in previous interviews that he considers himself a deeply religious person, and attempts to give his photographs a palpable sense of spirituality. Says Lee,
“I tried to depict emotions and spiritual imagination in that the sceneries inspired rather than recreated the scenery itself. … Every myth talks about another world that we believe co-exists with the real world we look at and live in. The other world has a powerful presence that we cannot see.”
Lee, who grew up in the Korean countryside, often depicts an intimate bond with nature in his work. In his Tree of Life photoseries, the photographer admits to using installation, sets, scenes and digital manipulation to create his constructed scenes of illuminated trees in spiritually-emotive surroundings. Lee continues,
“But it is very important to me that my end product is photography. I believe there exists another, invisible world within the world we can see with our eyes. If I were to draw an image of this parallel universe, it would become a mere fantastical illustration. However, by using photography the end result is very different; it retains the essence of our experience of reality, while simultaneously conveying a sense of the hidden realm that exists therein.”
Artists are magicians in their own right for making something from nothing, for infusing the everyday mundane tools and objects with poetic meaning and creating a whole new experience from it. In the holiday season, with a good part of society taking part in excess shopping, people are becoming increasingly conscious of what we discard. Our relationship to the accumulation of stuff and the level of waste humans produce seems to be collectively shifting. The artists whose work is shared here: David Ellis, Vik Muniz, Gabriel Kuri, Song Dong, Tim Noble and Sue Webster demonstrate the way individual artistic voices arise from this consciousness and the beautiful and often magical work that is informed by our accumulated or discarded stuff.
Holiday, Vissarion sect, City of the Sun, Krasnoyarsk Territory, 2006
Koryak foothills, Kamchatka, 2000
Newlyweds, suburbs of Novosibirsk, November 2010
A new photography exhibition at the American University Museum wants to show you that Siberia is more than just a cold, barren place. Titled Siberia in the Eyes of Russian Photographers, it paints the Russian region in a different light. Photographs boast impressive landscapes and even some warm weather; We see children swimming and people wearing short-sleeved shirts. Anton Fedyashin, the executive director of the Initiative for Russian Culture at American University, spoke with Slate about stereotypes of Siberia. “Notions of Siberia in the United States come from Hollywood,” he said. “They come from films that emphasize the morbid exoticism of Siberia, the endless white plains, the sparse villages. Those are the kinds of images that are most widespread in the West. Of course, Siberia during winter does look like that, but there’s another side of the story.”
Siberia makes up about 75 perfect of Russia’s landmass, but only 25 percent of its population. The people who live there are described as having an independent spirit, much like pioneers who settled in the American West during the 19th century. The exhibition draws comparisons between the two places. “It’s an image that overemphasizes the negative aspects of this enormous part of the Eurasian continent and one that completely underrepresents the enormous geographical variety, which is breathtakingly beautiful. The exhibit shows that it’s equally as beautiful and eerily similar to the American West.” Fedyashin explains. While many Western photographers chose to accentuate the emptiness of Siberia, the Russian photographers in this exhibition depict a multifaceted place, spanning from the 1860′s to 2011. (Via Slate)
In 1951, surrealist artist Salvador Dali teamed up with photographer Philippe Halsman to create In Voluptas Mors or Voluptuous Death. A black and white photograph, this image is simultaneously strange, complex, and alluring. It features a giant “skull,” a living picture that is made up of seven nude female models that took three hours to arrange and photograph. The final product has the artist standing next to the skull, looking like the ring leader of a circus. And, in many ways, he is.
Additional photos have recently surfaced that reveal some behind-the-scenes moments of In Voluptas Mors. Not only do we see the apparatuses needed to hold the models, but we see how the skull was constructed with bodies. From the looks of it, there was a process of getting one section of the skull situated and balanced. This would repeat until the structure was stable enough to be captured on film.
In Voluptas Mors was not the first time that Dali and Halsman collaborated, nor was it the last. They originally met in 1941 and worked together over the course of 30 years. All of their efforts were eventually published in a 1954 compendium titled Dali’s Mustache, an homage to the artist’s facial hair. Check out the upcoming exhibition at The Musée de l’Elysée, which runs from January 29 until May 11, 2014 to see these images in person.
Photographs of abandoned toy factories are haunting. Taken by various photographers around the world, we see what’s happened after production has stopped and employees stop showing up to work. Some places are left in mid-production, while others have been ransacked by graffiti. In other places, they were defeated by nature.
Illustrating a range of factory conditions, the most unnerving photos are ones that depict these places as ghost towns. They feature cracked doll heads, broken doll arms, and soiled teddy bears. There is an air of mystery about them, and beg the question of, “what happened?” Why did they suddenly pick and leave?
What makes these photographs unnerving is the juxtaposition of toys and abandonment. We think of things like dolls and bears as being innocent. They signify childhood, a time in our lives that shouldn’t be so dark. Instead, we see toys having to face harsh realities of time, wind, snow, and more. Nothing depicts this better than the Isla de las Munecas, or the Island of the Dolls (above). While actually a floating garden, this space of land is occupied by several hundred dolls that have severed heads, limbless bodies and with empty eye-sockets. It was originally conceived as a memorial for a girl that was drowned in a canal, but has since fallen in disrepair. (Via io9)
In artist Diana Scherer’s series Nurture Studies, she used soil, seeds, and photography to produce her work. Letting flowers grow in vases rather than the ground, she matured the plants and later broke the glass, exposing the dense roots that took the shape of their containers. They were then photographed at the peak of their lives; Flowers had bloomed, plants grew tall, and nearly all the flora was green.
Scherer’s work is visually very tight. The dirt is packed against the roots, and even out of their containers, the plants hold their shape. Although the plants look highly controlled, there is very little that Scherer can actually manipulate. Aint-Bad Magazine wrote about this Scherer’s photographs, highlighting this fact. They state:
There is an inherent contradiction in Scherer’s working method. Although she is dedicated to the project and keeps a close eye on whether the roots are developing as desired—checking them carefully and with the utmost precision—her ability to manipulate the plants’ growth is limited. She has to accept the impossibility of total control. This contrast between almost obsessive monitoring and an inability to fundamentally influence events becomes an intense, almost ritual presence in her work. Scherer’s photos are carefully rationed, showing a single moment as the culmination of a long process of growth.
Scherer’s presentation of the plants is very straightforward. There is no extreme lighting and the background is devoid of anything but a color. With the a series with the word “studies” in the title, I see Scherer’s work as specimens, the result of an exercise in timing, and, for lack of a better word, nurture. (Via Aint-Bad magazine)