Born Out Of Exhibition
For this exhibition, I picked three specific bodies of work all focussing on the idea of identity and individuality. Each piece showcased presents a different approach to my practise, all focussing on the act of telling people’s stories through an appreciative, tolerate lens.
‘The Exchange’ serves as a documentation of the act of first encounters. With each of the subjects being shot on different days, every picture becomes an individual piece highlighting the subjects’ very own character. Accompanied by a recorded conversation about a variety of topics, and stripped of colour, the photographed subjects individuality becomes the focus of the image. In relation to the other pieces of the exhibition, ‘The Exchange’ marks the most casual, uncontrived side of my work. Every single one of these sessions is a process entered without having any expectations or ideas on the possible outcome, and it is here where my artistic voice has formed its base.
‘The Invitation’ offers a different layer to this practise. Born out of an emotional response to travelling to abandoned outskirts of the world, the series aims to bring these places to the viewer. It creates a space of my own nostalgia where each individual is represented as an important, self-sufficient element of this world. The warm and soft lighting, used to create an approachable safe-space for the viewer, invites the audience to create an interest in these subjects.
‘Alice’ is the final centerpiece of this exhibition. As the model and I have collaborated on multiple occasions prior to the creation of this series, we are familiar with our work flow. A certain level of familiarity and trust has been created. In contrast to both ‘The Exchange’ and ‘The Invitation’, ‘Alice’ the subject’s individuality serves as the inspiration of creation for this series. The colour scheme, the added elements, the details, all serve come together to tell the story of one individual. An elevation of character. It is these three series that all inform each others’ journey of creation, and hence have been picked as the focus of my exhibition with Reform The Funk.
The ongoing series ‘The Exchange’ represents a more spontaneous, and intimate side of my work.
In my mid-twenties a good friend of mine asked me about my own identity. It was a question I wasn’t prepared to answer at the time having never truly engaged with the idea myself, a question that forced me to stop and reflect. This moment unlocked a new chapter within my art: the exploration of identity.
Up until that point my photographic practice evolved mainly around the artificial, the spectacle. Although the drive of telling stories around identity, psychology, and unconsciousness was always visible, the execution was heavy relying on dramatic effects, and eclectic colours.
This new fascination around identity forced me to reject all of my old tricks, and instead, demanded simplicity and honesty. The first decision for this new approach was to cast people whose stories I was interested in hearing, rather than choose attractive faces suitable to fulfil a brief. I abandoned the ideas of what was expected of me within the fashion industry, and focused on my own decisions of who I wanted to invest in, centering my decisions on how I wanted to engage with people. People of colour, often with biracial backgrounds, become a focus of the series. Subconsciously done but rather organically, considering a personal struggle of mine has always been my self-identification as mixed Cape Verdean Luxembourgish.
Another important element to ‘The Exchange’ is the complete rejection of colour. The visuals are designed to be timeless, focusing on the moment and the person is key, therefore I decided to not distract by colours.
There is a routine attached to the production of this series. The majority of photographs were taken in the area of Holloway, during short session, rarely exceeding a timeframe of 90 minutes. During this hour and a half, the subject and I would go for a walk around the area. Although always having the camera to hand, I only take a few uncontrived shots. The sessions then break down to a recorded chat to get to know the subject’s interests, views and thoughts. This is a casual chat, and although the questions often are similar, the answers are never pushed for or predetermined. The key is to get to know them, not to force a reaction or answer out of them. The session then ends with another, longer walk. By that time, I have an insight into these individuals characters, how they perceive themselves and their surroundings. The action of taking photographs hence becomes much more proactive.
What initially started as an experiment has now become an ongoing project, spanning a couple of years. The images chosen from a series of hundreds of pictures, represent the moments of honesty during each of these encounters.
The thought and aim behind the piece is to invite the viewer to share in the experience of getting to know an individual. The act of listening to each story becomes a process of expanding personal empathy, bettering an ability of self-identification and a sense of understanding that exceeds our own horizons. The importance does not lie within the gathering of right or wrong facts, and literal knowledge but on the act of understanding. The images hence become less of a documentation driven by my own judgement, but a story about someone told through my editing lens.
The series ‘The Invitation’ was born out of a collection of journeys to places and communities often neglected by society.
Since 2016, travelling to what I’d describe as hidden gems (destinations that are ignored and rejected) has become a prominent passion of mine. Visiting the often frowned upon, heavily conflicted, deeply-southern state of Louisiana marked the beginning of this new interest. What I fell in love with was the beauty that rose from the years of governmental neglect, the conflict between modernity and tradition, the aggressive approach towards race. This dark and controversial environment is situated within a place where nature appears in its most beautiful raw form, and life proceeded at a much slower and peaceful speed.
Louisiana marked the beginning of a new chapter within my interest range, and was quickly followed with places like Detroit, Cuba, and finally the outskirts of California; Salton Sea. The latter was where I found my key inspiration regarding this project. The region of Salton Sea is situated in the Californian desert, around a toxic lake. It is a place once known as being a celebrity hotspot for recreational breaks, now shaped by the ghost of abandoned and run-down holiday homes, trailers, and a small community often ignored by the state.
Whilst spending my time in the Salton Sea area working on another project initially, I got to spend a lot of valuable time with the character-strong residents. It was a place where each persona was allowed to be a true individual with a strong and uncompromised expression of self. A melting pot of its very own kind, where ex-convicts, artists, loyal-to-the-areas-old-charm seniors, drug addicts, ex LA gang-members and people betrayed by the US laws and justice system all coexisted. Every individual had their own complex story, told through more than just words. Yet it was a place of conflict.
As someone eager to have his own views and values challenged, yet always aiming to find new answers and understand complexity, the conflict created a place of true beauty. I documented these Californian individuals and their stories through writing, capturing the essence felt from these places and taking it home to London with me. The act of taking the beauty of this place, and adapting it to a London environment, was the driving force behind this body of work.
It was the collaboration between CH-V Agency and Reform The Funk that provided me with a platform. An agency focused on true individuals with a strong character, rather than the conventional classical beauty presented by most other agencies, provided me with this selection of models. Choosing each subject within ‘The Invitation’ and dictating the styling both reflect on this derelict beauty of the place in my memory, whilst complimenting each individual’s persona.
During the process of shooting, there was very little active direction provided by me. What became the guiding force was the conversational exchange between me and the model. Hence why the pictures themselves aren’t entirely set up and staged but rather an exercise of capturing the moment of exchange. Accompanied by each model’s favourite music in the background, this was about creating an environment where they became comfortable to share their story. The photograph’s lighting was an essential key factor to this shoot, echoing that of a sunset at Salton Sea. The lighting for this series became warm and soft to oppose the often harsh, cold and raw representation of charismatic unique individuals.
The portrayed people are approachable and their stories worth listening to. I invite the viewer to step closer, take a longer look and ask questions. There is no barrier between the viewer and the photographic work, but an invitation to be interested.
In the series titled ‘Alice’ I’ve focused my creative eye on retelling the story of one individual’s identity: Alice Hurel. Having worked with Alice multiple times prior to the creation of this body of work, there was a deeper understanding between myself and my subject.
Over the months prior to the shoot I learnt about Alice and how she deals with her condition, Alopecia. Themes of contradiction have always been reoccurring ones within my work so it was of no surprise that Alice’s story inspired me to create; beauty rising from what could have been tragedy, and challenging the expected.
The condition of Alopecia, which causes an individual to experience an abrupt loss of hair with different levels of intensity, was something fairly unfamiliar to me prior to our encounter. However, ‘Alice’ is less about Alopecia itself, and instead focuses on the model’s experience. In most societies, hair, especially long hair, is seen as an important factor of establishing the female being. The lack of it could easily cause someone to break in confidence, or try to hide a side of themselves with wigs and accessories. The way Alice carried herself so confidently; strong, gentle, and proud felt very special.
Another important factor was Alice’s bond with her sphynx cat, Montgomery. A very specific breed of cats, often used to declare a certain status. In this case, however, it appeared as a true companion and perfect extension of the model’s personality, rather than a statement.
Bald women are often underrepresented, and if represented at all mainly come with a statement attached to it. The visuals that come to mind are dark, aggressive, edgy, mysterious. To the other extreme they can become the subject of victimisation. Often seen in a hard, contrasted or dark light, or with a heavy creative concept, very little representation appears to focus on the people and their complex nature. With this series, I take the focus away from this approach and offer something new.
The challenge was to create an organic body of work that looks and feels natural, where the act of using a bald woman becomes unnoticed and the individual becomes primary. The atmosphere created follows the subject’s gentle, intriguing and feminine nature. These elements are mirrored by the minimal usage of styling: pearls, fine jewellery, soft fabrics all used to reinforce the model’s subtle elegance.
The feline and its regal associations, are both strongly complimenting the subject’s delicacy and elevating her dignity. The movements are abstract and smooth, focused on specific details that draw the viewer in and entice them into wanting to see more.