Romina Ressia is an Argentinian-born photographer whose work is influenced by a lifelong appreciation for classical art and a fascination with modern-day behaviour. Driven to explore the ways in which the human disposition has evolved throughout the ages, she’s known for blending contemporary societal themes with Renaissance-style imagery. The end result is a portfolio of strikingly modern photos somehow also reminiscent of classic works of art.
Georgie spoke to Ressia about her series, What Do You Hide?, which explores the human propensity to conceal certain aspects of our true identities in order to play a certain role, avoid judgement or meet others’ expectations. The subjects of these meticulously staged portraits have their faces camouflaged by vibrant, loudly patterned textiles, in what is a metaphorical visualization of the need to fit in – even if it means losing sight of who we really are.
G—Where did the idea for your What Do You Hide? series come from and what is the significance of camouflaging your subjects with mixed patterns?
Romina Ressia—My ideas always come from the same place: society and the modern world. I love to analyze and represent how I see society nowadays…its behaviours.
And, regarding camouflaging, I thought it was an interesting way to show hiddenness. I found it interesting to show something that can be considered a dark feature from human beings with a colorful or bright aesthetic.
G—Do you think there is a difference between the identity roles that women play in society versus men?
RR—I think the roles we play in society are different from one person to another – not [because of] gender but for a personality matter.
G—The costumes and staging in your work often evoke classical painting. Can you tell me how the history of art enters into and shapes your work?
RR—I have been an art lover since I was a child. I used to enroll in all the drawing and painting courses, and when I was around eight I asked my mom to start photography classes but [at that time] they had no courses for children.
And always what I was more attracted to was classical art. I love their perpetual beauty, their palette, the details, the stories behind them… I love the fact that you don’t need to know any concept behind them to appreciate their beauty.
My ideas come always from the same place: society & the modern world. I love to analyze and represent how I see society nowadays. I thought camouflaging was an interesting way to show hiddenness. Something that can be considered a dark feature in humans with a colorful or bright aesthetic.
G—How have you found the response to your work? Are you ever surprised to discover people interpreting your work in ways you had not anticipated?
RR—Responses are always great! Even when people get angry about some pictures (like my Not About Death series), I love their interaction. They are never neutral and that is the best thing we, as artists, can look forward to happening.
And regarding the interpretation, of course it surprises me every day. I don’t want to limit people’s interpretation about my photographs; just a little idea of what inspired me to do it is enough. The idea is they can create their own links with the pictures… that is what art is about.
G—Is the distinction between painting and photography something you are deliberately questioning or playing with in your art?
RR—Well, my work is a reflection of our contemporary art.
I get inspiration from real people, the world and some contemporary issues. In that way, I think my work has a strong sociological content… I like to show people’s behaviours and reactions in front of the modern world. Then I represent those ideas with my personal style, which is very influenced by art. I am an art lover, in all its forms, and I am mainly passionate about classical art.
G—Can you tell me how you find your models, and how your collaboration with them typically proceeds? Are they generally familiar with your work beforehand?
RR—It depends on the project and the special needs. Sometimes my models are real models from agencies and other times I shoot with people that I know (friends or friends of a friend). And yes, in general they know my work beforehand.they know my work beforehand.
G—What can you tell me about your interest in incorporating elements of contemporary pop culture and consumer culture within a classical context?
RR—Those projects were inspired by the fact that, despite the advances and technology humanity has today, there is a longing [for the past], when things were more natural and handmade. Things used to be made with great materials [intended to last] for a long time, while today everything seems to be disposable. Then I asked myself how Renaissance people would have done it today and I showed it by mixing those periods through the images.
At first glance, Paul Kaptein’s collection of hand-carved wooden sculptures might appear as though it was conceived in the deepest recesses of his unconscious mind. But in fact, his warped creations were born out of a very deliberate and conscious desire to depict an unstable realism – one that represents the dynamic relationship between form and emptiness. We spoke to Kaptein about his inspiration, the role of symbolism in his work and the relationship with his medium. G—Wood is a dominant medium in your work. What type of narrative do you think it creates? PK—I think it assumes a narrative that predates the work, and commences a commentary around time and timelessness. Wood has a universal presence that speaks to everything from wooden spoons and chopping boards, to alter prices, totems and architecture – it’s like the backbone of culture in a way. It acknowledges that change is an inherent part of the work – that it may one day become something else. For now it is sculpture. Hopefully. G—Much of your work is sculpture based. What are the advantages and limitations of sculpture? PK—I’m interested in being in the world and therefore tend to have a very visceral response
Kip Omolade is an American artist from Harlem, New York, with a background in graffiti art and a BFA from Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts. His latest series, Diovadiova Chrome, is a sequence of hyperrealistic oil paintings depicting massive chrome masks. Omolade casts these masks himself, which he then uses as a model for his paintings. The end result is a fascinating hybrid of African tradition and contemporary materials. We spoke to Omolade about Benin masks, Paris Hilton, and the meaning of chrome, “the poor man’s silver.” G—In your series, Diovadiova Chrome, you explore immortality and contemporary notions of beauty and luxury. What prompted your interest in these themes? Kip Omolade—Paris Hilton. During the early phenomenon of reality TV stars, I became fascinated with the idea of the instant celebrity in mainstream media. I wondered if art could participate in this star-making machine. So, I ironically spent ten years developing the Diovadiova using one model as a muse. I drew, painted, printed and sculpted over 100 images of a single person. By confining myself to one model, Diovadiova also allowed me to stretch my imagination as an artist. I developed different styles including the current technique used in Diovadiova
Since 2008 the Finnish photographer Juha Arvid Helminen has been exploring humanity’s literal and metaphorical dark side with a photo series entitled The Invisible Empire, which explores the ways in which power, authority, and violence express themselves through fashion and visual iconography. Helminen dresses his subjects in uniforms and accessories which suggest fascist and authoritarian political movements, conservative religion and contemporary policing. “I have always been fascinated by uniforms, and when I had studied arts and photography for a few years in 2008 I wanted to create photos with a meaning. To be honest, at first I was only intrigued by the aesthetics, but a bit later I started to think about human behaviour and how we convey different ideologies and professions by our clothes – how traditions and beliefs dictate our behaviour. How we hide our true persona and create walls around us.” This name, ‘Invisible Empire’, was on my mind for many years. Little by little just a few photographs grew into a whole narrative of humans’ incapability to learn from its mistakes throughout many centuries. The title, Invisible Empire, refers to an alternative name used by the Ku Klux Klan, an organization “known for violence, racism and