Artist Steve Kim‘s series Perfect (2) draws from an unexpected inspiration. These elegant portraits are based on the avatars of Tumblr users. Kim sourced material from the blogging platform that attracts so many creatives. Avatars are often quickly executed and little thought over photographic portraits. Kim rededicates time to each photo in order to render each as a proper piece of art. Interestingly, each portrait’s title is also the repective blogger’s username.
Maiko Takeda is a student of jewelry design and fashion, a fact that is apparent in these stunning photographs. Takeda’s portraits feature figures adorned or ornamented, creating interesting juxtapositions of light and shadow, geometry, space, and logic. Out of a simple and seemingly ordered concept emerges something intricate, chaotic, and mysterious. Takeda’s work is both elegant and bizarre, a world where beauty is revealed through obfuscation and composition. Takeda is currently pursuing a Masters in Millinery at the Royal College of Art.
Gary Ward uses charcoal, graphite, oil pastels, and an overall sharp wit to examine humanity’s mess of emotion over the confusion of body and identity.
His Archeology Series, collected here, is a playful response to the quandary of life after death: how, despite fame, class, or notoriety at the end of it all, we are basically just a slew of skulls with slight form variations.
Regarding process, Ward, a self-taught artist based in Los Angeles, says he is “interested in how the mind and hand talk to each other in one uninterrupted sitting.” He likes to see the authorship of a flawed line and honors how each mistake can spontaneously charge the work in a new direction.
Genevieve Blais, a photographer based in Toronto, borrows imagery from classic art history paintings to unpack sexual politics relative to today’s contemporary palate.
Of her intention, Blais states, “The aesthetic/topical dissonance aims to elicit an uneasy response in order to subvert the implicit authority and sanctity of the icon.”
The result confronts and critiques art culture by sitting in an uneasy space between not only imagery, but also mediums– cameras and brushes, forcing us to clearly see the model as the true determinant– a staged powerful variant that has been with us since Caravaggio’s rule, humanizing the myth.
Kathryn Mayo and Doug Winter, a husband and wife photography team based in Sacramento, collaborate with their models to create vintage portraits, seemingly of the past, using the traditional wet plate collodion process. This type of photography was born in the 1850s, but soon faded from the foreground, due to the proliferation of more practical, less time consuming processes involving dry gelatin emulsion.
However, in today’s fast-paced iPhone app culture, where formatting is clean, easy, and instantaneous, ironically, the slow painstaking process is exactly what this artistic pair prefer about collodion. Mayo elaborates, “Each image takes about 15-20 minutes to complete from focusing the camera, coating and sensitizing the plate, exposing, and processing. So, models need to have patience as not each image comes out perfect, and it takes a few to get one we like–sometimes, there are times when the chemistry isn’t working up to par and we don’t get anything at all.” Regardless of outcome, their passion is not just about product, but discovery and investigation. Mayo continues, “I love the idea of using a process steeped in history and with the ghosts of photographers who have come before me. It is a process that is wholly addicting.”
In a classical compositional style, Photographer Phillip Toledano‘s series A New Kind of Beauty depicts subjects that have drastically augmented their bodies. The photographs contrast classical ideas of beauty with the contemporary and nearly obsessive pursuit of it. A fixation with beauty is ancient, but the images examine it in the light of modern body modification. Toledano says of the series:
“I’m interested in what we define as beauty, when we choose to create it ourselves. Beauty has always been a currency, and now that we finally have the technological means to mint our own, what choices do we make?”
Jason Willome uses a diverse array of materials: acrylic, glitter, rayon flocking, archival pigment transfers, and cement, to expose ephemeral palpitations we, as humans, emote from personal experience, art history, or popular culture.
His portraits, for instance, take inspiration from a tabloid shot of glitter bombed Lindsay Lohan. Willome explains, “It was really beautiful because there was this atmosphere of glitter all around the space of the image, and there were these great cast shadows being projected through the glitter onto Lindsay Lohan, by paparazzi flash bulbs. I thought this would be a wonderful way to create a connection between an image and the surface, to kind of soften the painted illusion, but play into it at the same time.”
Likewise, on a similar note, his “Technology Series” (second, above) further investigates “the atmosphere of the glitter bomb and interpreting atmosphere as paint material.”
For both, what emerges is an airy quote lifted from mainstream media, translated with imagery that avoids the weight of celebrity by embracing another more elusive aura: how everyday abstraction beautifully haunts these spaces we build or share together.
A self-taught painter, Fatima Ronquillo layers her portraits with the traditional symbols and charms of classic-style portraiture — objects that meant different things in different times and have to be studied to be completely understood. Ronquillo’s subjects similarly face the viewer decorated with blindfolds, eye patches, fauns, flowers — and by pulling them into the contemporary, we are reminded us of the aesthetic value of these objects that we are free to attach our own significance to.