Art as an activist tool

The main aim of Art being used as an activist tool is to fight back any political and social injustice by challenge them.  These injustices can vary from raising awareness about the people living in poor living condition in underdeveloped countries, environmental concerns, immigration issues and so on and so forth, in simple terms an Art Activist seeks to address the collapsing states that construct an ideal modern society. There are many opinions regarding Activist Art, some Critics state that Activist Art in not an artistically high level due to the reason that the message behind the Activist Artwork is replaced with artistic quality, while others Critics state that high aesthetics quality can deviate from the political and activist aims of Activist Art, turning it into a spectical which defeats the purpose (Boris Groys, 2014).

Activist Art is highly associated with Feminist Art due to its activist nature against social and political injustices. Feminist Art flourished with the second wave Feminism in the late 1960s mostly in the United States and United Kingdom. The Feminist Art Movement began producing art around that time, tackling themes such as the female body, life experiences as a women, and the female’s domestic role, themes tackled by female artists such as Eva Hesse and Louise Bourgeois, who did not self-identify with Feminist Art. The Feminist Artists of the second wave later started to abandon these themes, focusing more on proto-feminist art, producing art that asked for gender equality (Tracy DiTolla, 2016. a .).

In 1972, Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro created the installation titled “Womanhouse” which consisted of an actual house in Hollywood, as the result of the “Feminist Art Program (FAP) at California Institute for the Arts”. The project also involved  a 21 year old female student who renovated the house, as it was listed for demolition, before being taken by the project. Then they installed a sculpture of a woman stuck inside a closet full of linen sheets and fried eggs that looked like beasts on the walls and ceiling of the kitchen. The project wanted to address the indoctrinated relationship between the woman and the house, challenging the idea of the female out of traditional domestic roles (Tracy DiTolla, 2016. b .)

kiJudy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, 1972, Womanhouse. [Photograph].

Jumping to 1989, we see the emergence of the famous Feminist Artist Group the Gorilla Girls. The poster titled “THE ADVANTAGES OF BEING A WOMAN ARTIST” was one of the group’s earliest work with their typical use of humour to address the more serious issues, such as discrimination in the art world itself, addressing the disadvantages that woman artists still had to face in the 1980s in a tongue-in-cheek way. The poster displays a list of “advantages” which in reality are disadvantages, to point out the bias of the art world against the female artists, as Lee Krasner better stated;

 “The world of High Art, the kind that gets into Museums and history books, is run by a very small group of people. Our posters have proved over and over again that these people, no matter how smart or good-intentioned, have been biased against women and artists of colour.”  (Tracy DiTolla, 2016. b .).

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Gorilla Girls, 1989, The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist. [Digital Art].

In the more Contemporary scene of Activist Art, we see the political artist Ai Wei Wei who is mostly known for his political artworks questioning the actions of the Chinese Government. In 2008 Ai Wei Wei blamed the Chinese Government, regarding the collapsed Government constructed schools during the Sichuan earthquake, which killed over 5,000 students. His installation listed the names of the children killed, demanding the Government to take accountability regarding the tragedy. This caused him to be arrested for 81 days, as well as his passport being held for 4 years, making him unable to leave the country (Dominique Bonessi, 2016).

Having moved to Berlin in 2016, Ai Wei Wei witnessed the refugee crisis that hit Germany as well as the rest of Europe. He addressed this issue by hanging up to 14,000 life jackets , that were left on the shores of Greece by the refugees, on the columns of the German Concert Hall in Berlin (Dominique Bonessi, 2016).

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Stefanie Loos/Reuters, 2016, Workers build up an installation by Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei with life jackets left by migrants on Greek beaches on columns at the Konzerthaus Concert Hall during the 66th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin on Feb. 13, 2016. [Photograph].

In another attempt to address the refugee crisis the Artist wrapped thermal blankets ,which are given to refugees the moment they entered any shore, to warm up, around his 12 sculptures, representing the 12 Chinese Zodiac animals that where exhibited in front of the National Gallery’s Trade and Fair Palace. There was no direct connection between the statues and wrapping them in thermal blankets, as it was more of a solidarity symbol towards the victims, as the Artist himself stated;

“A Gesture in defending the dignity of refugees.” (Dominique Bonessi, 2016).

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Anon, 2016, People walk past the ‘Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads’ sculptures by Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei in front of the Trade Fair Palace run by the National Gallery on Feb. 5, 2016 in Prague, Czech Republic. [Photograph].

 

In conclusion, I do believe that Art has the power to affect culture and therefore can be used as a powerful tool by activist artists to address the injustices around us, to aim for a better society that delivers equality to all minorities. If culture affects Art, then Art should have the same impact on culture, raising questions in a striking visual manner that might be easier for the viewer to relate to and change their views.

Bibliography:

 

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The Last up-date

In a few blog posts I have talked about the development of my dissertation project work, as a way to making sense of what I’m doing through writing about it. I also thought it would be interesting to share with you how I go about creating my art. On Sunday 9th I finally finished taking all the photos I had planned, and after 4 months I can finally announce this project as officially done…well with just the editing left to do but let’s go along with the delusion that I’m completely done.

Being the first time that I have a created a whole body of work in just digital photography, it  has allowed me to learn quite a bit about how to use my camera efficiently, as well as learning more about my own identity as a photographer. Along with several realisations, I have also learned a few lessons, such as never have just one battery when going out for a long photoshoot,  how lighting is able to transform ambiance and don’t be such a control freak, it’s ok to let things flow once in a while.

To recap, in a previous blog I have discussed how I had to start from scratch after admitting to myself that the house I was using simply wasn’t harmonizing with the detached ambiance I wanted to create.  As it was a highly decorated house, it was creating a type of identity, hence a feeling of attachment to the place. Luckily for me, one of the other models offered his apartment, which happened to be more minimalistic with plain furnishing, that created nice sharp geometric shapes. This by itself helped me to better establish a cold disconnected mood which I was aiming for, making me feel more comfortable in the direction I had taken. I kept using the house along with direct light, the direct light aided to emphasise that I’m not documenting life but rather staging it, in a theatrical or rather cinematographic manner.

Progressing with the series, I kept three rules in my head; think in shapes, don’t over stage scenarios and use a light source. The first rule revolved around creating a composition in terms of shapes, I tried to integrate as many geometric elements to that to also unify the images all together. The second one… which maybe is the most important, was not to over direct the models, most of the time I got better Images when they started feeling comfortable in the scenes and adding their own character in them, while the third is for the reason mentioned above.  The last step is now to edit them, title them, print them, frame them, and then upload the series onto my Instagram for everyone to see. Until then, here is another sneak peak of what is to come, so stay tuned.

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Collage, The misunderstood medium

The medium of collage has gained an important role in the process of my 2D works, especially paintings. Some people draw their composition, I on the other hand collage it, for the process of collaging a composition is more relatable to a 3D process, as pieces of paper become components.

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In this blog I wanted to explain how I go about creating my collages, which will hopefully change your idea about the medium. The collage above was part of an exploratory body of work that would later be turned into paintings.  At first glance you might think that it’s one whole image, but it’s actually made up of individual images, namely; the three girls, the little boy, the skirt he’s wearing, the table, the floor, the wall and the picture frame. My first step is to source the images I need, from the Internet, starting with the environment, in order to have an image that acts as a special grounding for whatever I will be putting in it. In the case of this collage, the environment happened to be the blue wall and the wooden floor labelled as 1 and 2. Before I glue the images together I edit the image if need be and then scale it to the size I need. So far the best program I found is Picassa, as it allows you to quickly scale the image before printing it, to the last mm, with the use of a border, you also definitely need to have a printer at home. I have to admit that this process is not the most eco-friendly as I so end up wasting a lot of paper and ink, which I recycle.  After, I glued the two images together and cut them with a craft knife to the size I desired. Now that I have something I can scale against, I can start putting my subject matter within the environment. I started with the main subject matter, which are the four figures.  In order to have a believable relationship between them, I usually set one of the figures as the “main” figure so that everything is scaled against that figure. For example in this collage, the boy labelled number 5, is the main subject matter, so it made sense to set him as the main figure to scale against. The tricky part is to then scale the three girls, labelled number 3, 4 and 7, against him and this is why I use Picassa. Even if Picassa makes it easier to scale, don’t expect that you won’t waste paper and ink, as sometime it can take a few tries until you scale everything accordingly.  As a visual learner I thought it would be best to visually explain how I use Picassa to scale my images.  Basically the border in red can be increased or decreased as much as you want and in combination with the print layout you can achieve a large number of scale options. For the sake of explanation I used the colour red for the border but its colour can be changed to any colour, I recommend a light tint or a grey in order to not waste to much ink.

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Once you have all your items in proportion to each other it’s only a matter of cutting and gluing everything together. Do not forget about depth, the things you want to look as father back obviously get glued first, as can be seen from the table behind the children. If you think this is the medium for you I would invest in a good craft knife and a cutting pad.  As a craft knife I used Swann-Morton for four reasons, it is completely made of metal, the blades are interchangeable, they have a large range of blades from round ended to pointed and you can buy the blades in bulk. If you liked the featured collage don’t forget to visit my Instagram, attached to the blog, where I have many more.  Happy cutting and gluing.

Another up-date

In my 2nd titled “A good Decision” and 6th titled “An Up-date” Blog post, I blogged about my progress in relation to this project work in which I used digital photography as my main medium. These blogs serve more as a way for me to analyse and document my process which you can read if you are interested in the way I work. From that last blog I had some reflections to do so I was not convinced with what I was producing. My main problems where two, the aesthetic of the house I was using and the sense of “authenticity” I was not managing to achieve.

The problem I was having with that house, was about how the house was elaborately decorated which gave it a lot of character or rather, a sense of identity. Also the physical structure of the house, which was decorated with beautiful patterned tiles, columns, decorated doors etc, and certain features couldn’t be cropped out of the photograph resulting in a poor composition. To resolve this issue I had to find another house which had a cold aesthetic with minimum or very geometric décor, this would create a mutual mood with the scenes that would be happening within the house, as so far most of the scenes revolved around a sense of tension, quarrel and betrayal. Luckily enough, the third model I was working with suggested that I would go over to his house and see if his apartment would do the trick. On visiting the block of apartments, I could already tell that it could work, as that block was relatively new and had a minimalistic and clean outer aesthetic. The inside of the apartment was the same, with plain walls, doors and windows with minimum decoration. After a quick inspection I decided to work with only one of the model and see what happens.

Another problem was that I wasn’t managing to achieve a sense of “authenticity”, what I mean by that is, that as digital photography is very commonly used for commercial purposes it can easily make a Fine Art project look commercial as well.  As was previously suggested by my tutor, I though off maybe shifting to analogue photography, hoping this would help as it has a more authentic aesthetic, but due to the time constraints and not really believing that it solved my problem, I disregarded the option. As a plan B, I had done a course of how to develop your own film in the dark room, which was really interesting, so if I changed my mind and switched to analogue at least I would know how to develop my own photographs. The solution was less drastic, I decided to use a direct light source, which was suggested to me by a previous Lecturer, to create a more dramatic and theatrical effect and also increase contrasts in the photos. Also I’m now using Adobe Lightroom instead of Photoshop, which I personally found gives a larger range of options that can help you lift your image. For example, Lightroom gives you the option to control how white you want your white areas to be and how black you want your black areas to be. For me this was enough to increase further the contrast I wanted, which in turn added a more dramatic effect.

To give you, the readers, a more solid idea of how the project is evolving I added some photos, which if you like, you can compare with the ones in the other two blogs;

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A thing or two I know about oil painting Part 1: Materials

During my years studying in an Art School, painting in oils was one of the mediums I explored the most, this allowed me to gain some experience and knowledge in regard to the medium. So I thought it would be nice to share some of that basic knowledge, especially for people who would like to start painting in oils but don’t know where to start. In saying that, I’m talking from a personal point of view of what works best for me and might not necessarily work so well for you, but to get a better Idea of how I use oils you can always check my Instagram *Wink Wink*. I’m also planning to divide this topic into two, in Part 1 I’ll be discussing Materials while in Part 2 I’ll be discussing  Methods and Techniques.

Oil paints:

Well…this one is pretty obvious, you can’t paint in oils…..If you don’t have oil paints. The first thing I want  to advise about oil paints is to try and avoid the cheap ones or brands that aren’t the well-known, for two reasons, cheap pigment (the colour) and cheap binder (the medium which holds the pigment together). This will result in your paintings starting to fade with time. I suggest the brand I use, which is Winsor & Newton for a number of reasons, the first reason is the fact they divide their paints into series 1 and series 2. Series 1 is known as the student range which is cheaper and of a lesser quality but still of a very good quality and best for beginners. Series 2 is the Artist range which means the paint has a larger percentage of pigment then binder. This also means that their permanence is also better which is also graded from AA, A and B, AA being the most permanent.

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Series 2
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Another good thing to know is if your paint is Transparent or Opaque, on the Winsor and Newton paints this is indicated by a little square, I have attached a table below to make it easier to understand what I’m actually talking about. What these boxes mean is pretty simple, the Transparent paints….well are more transparent, this allows for the colour underneath them to still show while opaque ones don’t…or don’t as much. You can also make an opaque transparent by adding more oil to it, but this will take longer to oxidate. This will make more sense when I discuss methods and techniques in Part 2, but for the time being, just keep this in mind.

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Turpentine:

To dilute oils paint you need turpentine and I find this the worse part of  painting in oils. Turpentine has a very strong smell and can easily cause bad headaches for people who aren’t used to the smell. Even if I have been working with oil for a while now, I still use and suggest odourless turpentine, You can also get scented ones……which I really don’t suggest. You can buy turpentine from an Ironmonger or from a household hardware store. Always make sure you work in a well-ventilated room when using turpentine, this stuff can leave your hair, clothes and skin reeking of it. If you’re like me and turpentine magically affects you more than others, I would also give wearing an air mask a try, but in all honesty its pretty uncomfortable trying to work with one….so just make your life easier and buy the odourless.

 

Liquin:

I’m not going to even try and talk about adding oils to your paints as I never really bothered with them, on the other hand, I do use Liquin. Liquin is not a must have, nor is it commonly used, but what it does is speeds drying time, adds fluidity and gives you paint a slight semi-gloss. As you might know, or not, oils take a bit of time to dry depending on the climate of where you live. This is due to the fact that oils don’t dry by evaporation but by oxidation, which is a fancy word that means a chemical reaction caused by oxygen that makes the paint solidify and dry. A fun fact to know is that a painting in oils can take up to a year to completely dry, I’m not referring to touch dry here, but the layers of paint underneath the top one….again this will make more sense once I post Part 2. Going back to Liquin, I do find this medium great as it does actually help with the drying time as well as allowing for a smoother surface, which I must admit I love. 
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Brushes:  

Brushes come in different sizes and shapes, but the most common ones are the round and the flat brushes. Below I attached an image to show the various styles of brushes so that you can get a better idea.

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In my set of brushes, you’ll  find a lot of pointed round brushes which I find great for detail, flat and bright brushes which allow you to cover a larger area but still having an amount of control by using the brush at an angle.  For some reason, the most suggested paintbrushes to go with oil paints are always hog brushes……but I hate them. In fairness, they are pretty great if you want a brush that holds a good amount of paint as well as applying the paint in a thick manner, but as I said before I like my surface to stay smooth so I never really used them.

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To be completely honest with you, I never stay buying recommended brushes, so much so that my favorite brush for when I’m painting in oils, are actually watercolour brushes. The best advice I can give is this, brushes are like mediums, you need to try them out and find what you like best, no blog or someone else’s experience can find that out for you. On the other hand, the brushes which I constantly buy, and work best for me, are synthetic brushes that look like the ones below

The reason why I use these brushes is this, they can hold a good amount of paint, they are great to blend with as they aren’t to hard or too soft, they are cheaper but still do what I need them to do and if you know how to take good care of them they can actually last for a long time, contrary to popular belief (I’ll explain how later).

 

Brush Washer with Screen and Holder:

Trust me, you need one of these but not to use it to wash your brushes but rather as the container that you will pour you turpentine into. The reason why I use this instead of a glass jar is because the screen that comes with it, allows me to properly remove the paint from my brush and completely avoid contaminating my colours on my palette and on my painting. Before I bought one of these, I only used an old piece of cloth but this usually meant that I would waste a lot of time making sure that I cleaned my brush properly before applying a different colour, which used to effect my flow. Constantly rubbing the brush against the screen can also damage your brush, to avoid this I usually make sure to rub the brush against the screen in one direction. By doing this it reduces the chance of opening up the bristles and ruining the shape of your brush.

 

Taking care of your brushes:
I discovered the soap above while I was working in Austraila and it has made clean up a lot easier. This soap can remove oil paint from any surface, as a matter of fact, I use it to wash the paint off my hands and also from my bushes and it makes them look brand new. To wash my brushes I don’t use the screen but the palm of my hand  with a bit of the above-mentioned soap, like its shown in the image below, and repeat the processes until no colour comes out of the brush. The next step is just as important, I then take a normal soap bar and rub some of the soap into the brush, then using my finger, I try to compact the hairs together and remove the extra soap . Once the soap dries, the bush hairs become stuck together and frozen in place, and tada, good as when bought. Instead of soap one can also use gum arabic diluted in some water, the only thing to remember in both cases is to wash the brush before using it.

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Palette and palette knives:

When using oil paints, finding the right palette can be difficult but the best material I found out which works best is …..a piece of glass, yep a piece of glass. I own two pieces of glass, one around the size of an A3 piece of paper, while the other around the size of A2  which I alternate depending on the number of colours I’m using. The reason I use glass is because it is easy to clean after each use as well as providing a smooth surface on which to mix the paint. Palette knives, you need them! And don’t bother with the plastic ones which I used to constantly break. I understand they might be a little expensive but a good pair of metal palette knives are an investment. As they are made of metal, and they give you enough flexibility to properly mix the paint, especially when colour matching (which I will explain what that is in the next blog). Also, the pointed end allows you to add paint to the mixture in small quantities, which you’ll probably need to do for every colour you mixing.

Where my interest towards ambiguity in art started

The theme of ambiguity wasn’t something that I was immediately drawn to when I started studying for my B.A in Fine Arts, but I was rather completely infatuated by anything that had to do with gender, especially anything male related……..and as you can see from my previous blogs…that obsession hasn’t left yet. Around the Second year, we had a specific unit that was completely dedicated to finding a sense of artistic identity. As a starting point we had to choose one theme from the themes of Contemporary Art, namely; Identity, The body, Time, Memory, Place, Language, Science ,Spirituality. As paranoia, doubt and an obsessive need for control weren’t an option, I chose Memory.

The unit also composed of another task which comprised of researching artists that we identify with. It was during this research that I came across the artist that really changed my views about what art I want to produce, he was the American figurative Artist Eric Fischl. When you search Fischl online the probability is that you’ll come across his famous Bad boy series, but it was actually another series titled the “Krefeld Project” that really caught my attention.

In the “Krefeld Project” Fischl used a method where he hired two actors, asking them to act out problems which were given to them by the Artist himself, in a house which he had refurnished. He kept going with this method for around 4 days constantly capturing moments from the acted scenes that mostly interested him. He then started to digitally cut, paste and manipulate these photographs to recreate new scenes from them. As an example, the first picture below is the actual digital manipulation that Fischl created which he then reproduced as a painting, titled “Krefeld Project: Living Room, Scene #4” (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), 2012).

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Eric Fischl, 2002 (image Online). Krefeld Project: Living Room, Scene #4. [Oil on Linen].

While creating each painting of the “Krefeld Project” series, Fischl kept coming up with questions regarding his characters, such as; Whose house is this?, Is it her house or his house?, Are they married? Are they having an affair?, trying to understand who they are and what type of relationship, hoping that his questions will be answered in the next painting (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), 2012). Through the Artist’s Project, I had discovered the element of Ambiguity, and how it can be used in relation to characters to generate it further. The ambiguity in this series is mostly created through how the two characters interact with one another, their body language and how they fit in their surroundings, which in turn gives rise to more questions and hardly any answers.

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Eric Fischl, 2002 (image Online) Krefeld Project: Bedroom, Scene 1. [Oil on Linen].

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Eric Fischl, 2003 (image Online) Krefeld Project: Bathroom, Scene 2. [Oil on Linen].

You might be asking how does the Theme of Memory fit into all this? Basically, after having chosen a theme and doing the research about Artists I mostly related with, I started my brain storming to then progress to my body of work. I did this by putting down all the memories I could remember, in a form of automatic writing, ranging from childhood to more recent ones, including memories that are still very personal. Due to this, I wasn’t confident enough with completely putting these memories on display…..soooo, I said to myself…….why not use the element of ambiguity just as Eric Fischl has done. This would have allowed me to visualise these memories, but at the same time, only hinting suggestions without any actual answers. With that established idea as a foundation, I could then advance to actually creating these memories from paragraphs into actual images. Influenced by Fischl, I did this through the medium of collage, with the only difference being  that I made mine the old fashion way with a craft knife and a glue stick, while Fischl did his digitally, as shown above. Out of various compositions, of varying memories, three collages of three different memories, that have gained significant meaning throughout the years, ended being chosen and  turned into a triptych of paintings;

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The triptych’s title “Via Del Anamnesi, 165, Gzira, Reggio Calabria, 1709” is actually a hybrid address made up from mixture of an Italian and Maltese address, which in a way aided to create more ambiguity . This decision was simply taken as two of the memories have been created in Malta, while the other one in Italy. The primary method in which I created a sense of ambiguity within the paintings was by placing these “characters” within a domestic environment, which represents the “familiar”, while their actions create the contrasting effect of the “peculiar”.  By doing so, this allowed the viewers to create their own assumptions and stories, as I only gave suggestions of what each individual painting, or the three altogether, could possibly narrate. As viewers are not told what the memories are, it allows them to perhaps relate to the works more easily, as any possible narration by them, is as equally valid as another one from a different person, which in a way makes it more personal.

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Bibliography:

An up-date

In my second blog post titled “A good decision”, I discussed how for once, I took the right decision being to use digital Photography, instead of painting, as the main medium for my dissertation project. I also mention how I managed finding three of the most co-orporative guys who have volunteered to pose for me, making my life a little bit easier. Before reading this blog post I would suggest you read the previous blog post so what I’m about to blab about.

Since my second blog post, I managed to pick up momentum and conducted another three individual “photo-shoots” and I though by writing a blog post about it would help to re-evaluate on what the hell I’m actually trying to do. So far things have been going smoothly, but self-doubt appeared again, so I decided to become friends with it and give it a friendly new name, which is Sem, short for “self-evaluation mechanism”. Basically the idea has officially shifted towards creating an ambiguous narrative revolving three males, where their relationship in constantly on edge, making it questionable as I give no conclusions, just subtle hints. The new paranoia my head that is to not create cliché photos which you can easily find plenty of on tumblr and pintrest but rather create unique images that can stand strongly within the context of contemporary photography.

To try and achieve this I went back to an old technique which I commonly use, that being automatic writing, which simply consist of writing whatever comes in your head. In my case I tried to write random sense which would then be reacted by the three models, ranging from “a male standing in a stiff manner on the dinner table” to “a hand can be seen on the floor behind an arch way” and many other pleasant things. I’m also playing with this idea of using object to create more ambiguity, such as placing female object within a scene, but no female character never shows. I also got the idea of adding a child in the mix of the scenes which would question her/his relations with the three main characters.

I still think it’s too early to say where this project might take as I still have the rest of March and all of the month of April to develop it. I want to create a photographic series that has a story and a meaning but will be presented in an encrypted manner that will make you itch to find out…that is my goal. In the meantime, enjoy the three sneak peaks attached below.

 

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