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Bara Prasilova

Jul 16/2015
WORDS Kris Samraj

 

The first image is arresting. A young girl stands before a woman. Both stare at the camera with ice blue eyes. Both wear the same shade of dress. Their skin is white and pale. Their light blue clothes almost the same shade as the wall behind them. Both subjects are in perfect focus, yet also blur together. The central feature of this stark and unsettling photograph is the hair of the two subjects. Blonde and braided into a thick rope it flows up and down from the left and right connecting the woman and the girl. But whose hair is it? The sturdy loop of hair streams over and behind both of their heads with no discernable break. It could be the young girl’s or the woman’s or half and half. Hair – such a natural part of one’s body here seems alien and unnatural. Hair is always our own, but here each person lays claim to the same hair like inseparable conjoined twins.

Scrolling through Bara Prasilova’s 2014 series, Evolve, causes so many adjectives to spring to mind. Absurd. Disturbing. Playful. Precise. Stark. Frozen. Each photograph reveals hair as the common thread. “The braids are about addictions, dependence on others and on our own old habits and programs. It can also remind you of synapses – the more often we use them, the stronger they are. Sometimes we just decide to cut them away and set ourselves free,” says Prasilova.

Photographs freeze a moment in time, but Prasilova’s photography goes beyond this. Even though some images depict hair blown sideways, the effect is of an immobile object. A contrast to the soft reality of hair. The world that each subject inhabits is unnatural. It’s too sharp, too precise, too exaggerated to be mistaken for reality.

This, of course, is not by accident. Prasilova has described her process in this interview and others as industrially precise and militaristically disciplined. “I almost never improvise,” says Prasilova. “Each shot is carefully prepared and sketched out beforehand. In the case of a magazine editorial, I work with a storyboard. To fulfill my artistic ideas I often create or order specific tailor-made props. My shots are very static and calm. The shots are often prepared for several hours. Clothes, hair and makeup are arranged within one millimeter accuracy. When the scene is ready, I make a couple of identical shots, mostly options of light and exposure. What I value is perfect lighting, focus and technical perfection. But that’s not all. Some shots combine multiple shots. That means that if the shots are taken at the exterior background, there is even more importance put into the perspective, distance, height and angle of the main object. I don’t work much with emotions, my models don’t move in front of the camera and there is usually total quiet on set.”

This description of her artistic process is revealing. The models, like the other objects, are simply props that have been chosen and positioned with exquisite care by Prasilova. They figure more like dolls in a playhouse than living people.

Prasilova’s control extends beyond the photograph. She isn’t shy about how much postproduction she applies to her photographs. “A lot,” she says, smiling. “Photography, for me, means creating pictures. Not making photographs. My camera and Photoshop are just tools that help me to build my own world, my own reality.”

Her work is interesting and unsettling because it’s not immediately clear what Prasilova is saying. Although her images are beautiful, they aren’t just pretty pictures. Each photograph is a contradiction. Even her process is at odds with the content of the images. The content of her work is playful, but the means by which she creates these images are anything but.

The dark side of my work is from the back entrance of my house that led into the wilderness, which was very dark, like a fairytale, unknown and scary.

The two sides of Prasilova can perhaps be traced to her childhood. Free-range parenting is a popular topic these days, but her childhood could best be described as open-ranged. Her mother worked a lot in the psychiatric ward of a nearby hospital. Consequently Prasilova and her brother had a lot of freedom. “It was common that we would forget to go to school,” says Prasilova. “From the age of three I grew up in a block of apartments on the outskirts of Prague. In the Czech Republic during the ‘80s, there was a big baby boom and a demand for new housing, which they solved by constructing massive concrete blocks of flats. These were almost always close to nature. The block where I lived had two entrances – the front one led to a store and the back one led to a protected natural park. This block with two entrances was a bridge between two parallel worlds. I would say that the dark side of my work is from the back entrance of my house that led into the wilderness, which was very dark, like a fairytale, unknown and scary.”

Prasilova explains that in one sense she never really grew up. That playing for her is a kind of talk – her “mother tongue.” “The best benefit of my childhood is that both my mother and the school couldn’t influence me as much as they probably wanted to, and so I was given a huge space to create my own inner world.”

The child and the meticulous craftsman. The two sides of Prasilova make for an interesting combination.  Her work in fashion photography follows her purely artistic work both stylistically and in substance – another extension of her aesthetic. Prasilova explains: “I can only follow my signature style. If someone asks me [to make] a pure commercial I will always imprint my style on those photos even without wishing to do it. This is the little Bara inside of me – I can only play games I really enjoy and I’m still convinced that all these games will be interesting for all the children in the playground.”

It’s a great lesson for artists in the 21st century. Commercial work doesn’t have to be any less artistic or thought-provoking. If there’s any lesson from Prasilova’s work it’s that you can say two contradictory things and still be intelligible.

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