Chiaroscuro, 2015: model: Fabian Roschy; photography, post production and make up: KyprisAthina
Chiaroscuro, 2015: model: Fabian Roschy; photography, post production and make up: KyprisAthina
Imagine you are a photographer or movie director, and are looking for the right cast:
If you want someone to play the role of a fairy tale princess, who are you most likely to pick? What is more likely, that your model or actress will be White, or that she will be Black?
If you want someone to play the role of a proud tribal queen, who are you most likely to pick? What is more likely, that your model or actress will be Black, or that she will be White?
Now imagine you are this actress or model, who will be taken or not be taken. Imagine that you are a little kid who watches these movies or sees these photos. What do you think, will it make a difference to your life, if all childhood heroes or heroines either have or have not the same skin color as you do?
When planning or working on my project “Break the Roles”, I want you to ask questions to yourself:
When do we label someone as Black or White? How much are skin color and origin (place of birth, parents, social status …) related in our mind? How strongly are our expectations influenced by skin color? How important is skin color in our daily life?
If you are White among White people, you might not have thought much about this before. But it’s time to give it a thought. Racism is not dead, neither is Exoticism.
My project not only wants to show which roles Black artists often do NOT get, but also which roles they usually are asked to play in movies or as a model, such as the role of the exotic beauty, of poor people or roles inspired by the Hip Hop genre. It felt wrong to me to cast Black models for these photos, especially as this would just be what people would expect anyway; so now guess what I did? Exactly – next to my Black princesses, Black Hollywood divas, Black Greek goddesses etc. you will find White tribal queens and White “gangsta girls” – and some of them do not even look White at all.
Many thanks to all my models who took part in this project!
In 2013 I planned a photo series inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s movies with Grace Kelly. Who should be my model? The first one who came into my mind was Rabea, because she would just be the perfect cast. In almost the same moment, two contradictory (are they really?) thoughts came to me: “Won’t a Black ‘Grace Kelly’ confuse my audience?”, and: “Does, or better: should, skin color really matter here?” This whole experience then led way to a project, a series of photo shoots depicting various Black models in typically White people’s roles, such as fairy tale princesses, Greek goddesses, pin-up girls and classical Hollywood actresses. Change and normality often start with the little things – and they can and should be started from more than one side only.
It was a turning point in my development as a photographer, because this idea had given a deeper sense to my work, and I had found a serious message to deliver through my photos. Often having experienced their dangerous power myself, role expectations and prejudices, not only concerning skin color, became the most prominent subject, the playground of my work.
I am no photo journalist – maybe I am kind of the opposite of it. I do not want to depict things how they are, but I aim to show
how they could or should be, without completely leaving reality. So I did with this project: I am somehow tired of seeing dark-skinned, or better: actually, any group of people in photography almost exclusively in “typical” (or better: as expected by the majority of people) roles. Not that I would criticize these strong photos of people living in shocking poverty or other sad situations in any other parts of the world – they are very important to raise awareness and to cause change on a long term. And of course one might enjoy the beautiful, colorful traditional outfits of tribal people from all around the world. (Actually I am a huge fan of Jimmy Nelson’s impressive work.) But what I dislike is this dangerous exclusiveness in photography in general, the limitation of a group of people to these roles in public perception, because this restriction is also responsible for prejudice, discrimination and wrong role expectations: It is the problem of knowing just a “single story”, as writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called it in a speech I came across a few days ago, the problem of knowing just one side always, which causes trouble for everyone concerned, no matter if it is because of outer appearance, birth, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or for other reasons.
Each of the series of my project has its own meaning, its own story, but the question behind all of these series strongly links them all to each other: Does, or better: should, it really matter?
Models: Rabea, Jenny, Aisha, Tekisha, Miss Florence, Michelle R. (White) and Melissa P. (White); concept, styling, photography and post-production: KyprisAthina; make up and hair were usually done by the models (partly instructed or also partly done by me), except for Tekisha and Melissa P. (make up and hair-do by me, foundation for Melissa: Tien Tien; princess dresses custom-made by KyprisAthina). Tribal Queen photos inspired by Jimmy Nelson’s beautiful photos of the Karo tribe (Ethiopia) and Maasai (Tanzania); fairy tale princesses inspired by Disney’s movies Pocahontas, the Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White; formation photo shoot (street) inspired by Christina Aguilera (stripped album/music videos), Beyoncé (lemonade album) and the Pussycat Dolls (original visual idea Michelle, final concept and black-or-white context KyprisAthina; high fashion outfits custom-made by KyprisAthina)
One series of this project (Amazing Grace) was awarded at the ipa International Photography Awards 2016 in the category “deeper perspective” (2nd place, students):
The 2016 International Photography Awards received nearly 15,000 submissions from 103 countries across the globe. IPA is a sister-effort of the Lucie Foundation, where the top three winners are announced at the annual Lucie Awards gala ceremony. The Foundation’s mission is to honor master photographers, to discover new and emerging talent and to promote the appreciation of photography. Since 2003, IPA has had the privilege and opportunity to acknowledge and recognize contemporary photographers’ accomplishments in this specialized and highly visible competition. Visit www.photoawards.com for more details.
Entry Title: “Amazing Grace”
Name: Rebecca Forster , Germany
Category and Expertise: Deeper Perspective, Student
Entry Description: The subjects most prominent in my work have always been prejudices and role expectations. That’s why in 2013 this photo shoot became the beginning of a project: I wanted to realize a photo series inspired by Hitchcock’s movies with Grace Kelly, using low-key-techniques to create a dark and dangerous atmosphere full of tension. The model, who first came to my mind as the perfect cast, was Rabea. I only hesitated one moment, wondering if a dark-skinned “Grace Kelly” would confuse my audience, but immediately realized that this was exactly what I wanted to do: Change often starts with little things. The danger depicted in this story does not come from imminent crime through murder, but from the violence which words and looks can commit, even if not intended. In the following years I would often photograph dark-skinned models in typical white people’s roles, because, after all: Does it really matter?
Story: In 2013 I wanted to realize a photo series inspired by Hitchcock’s movies with Grace Kelly (“Dial M for Murder”, “to Catch a Thief” and “Rear Window”, four image names play with the movies’ titles), focusing on a dark and dangerous atmosphere full of tension. The model, who first came to my mind as the perfect cast, was Rabea. I only hesitated one moment, wondering if a dark-skinned “Grace Kelly” would confuse my audience, but immediately realized that this was exactly what I wanted to do, especially as the subjects most prominent in my work have always been prejudices and role expectations. I wanted to challenge people’s expectations, so they would ask themselves at the end: “Does it really matter?” I strongly believe that change often starts with little things. To create the dark and dangerous night atmosphere, low-key-techniques (strong flash lights, minimal exposure times, low ISO) and strong shadows have been used, created by an external flash system and special light formers attached to them (honeycomb filters and spotlight tubes). High lens aperture values should create a strong depth, so the audience would be possibly able to see any approaching danger first, before its victim. The danger depicted in this story does not come from imminent crime through murder though, but from the violence which words and looks can commit, even if not intended. This is also why my model is kind of exposed by strong lights: People who could possibly become a danger might not appear inside the photo, but in front of it, inside the audience. The first picture, “Dial M”, focuses, helped by the light working as a guide, on the imminent danger expected in the background following the phone call. Then (2), the cheerful atmosphere of “to Catch a thief” (dress and especially jewels as references) experiences a reversal into sadness on the following photo, probably because of a waiting woman’s deceived expectations – or, incomprehensibly, judging from beauty and intelligence (books), because of not meeting expectations? The photo of this dark-skinned woman (3), kind of caught between a white wall and within the strongly cut frame (symbols for restricting role expectations), shows by its claustrophobic narrowness the difficulty to escape from whatever might happen. Again (4), she is waiting, dangerously exposed, and her sad eyes compete for attention with her beauty. On the final picture (5) it is hard to judge between fiction and reality: Being forced to look in a voyeuristic way inside the window (“Rear Window”), the victim, the object of observation, seems to be expecting us already. The reflections in the window glass make it hard to see what is behind and what in front of it. Moving slightly we could probably even see our own reflection: Who is actually threatening her? This photo shoot was the beginning of a project, still going on, focusing on dark-skinned models in typical white people’s roles, so this might hopefully become normality one day, even if it was only for my audience at least.
Current Project: Female Heroes (2012+)
These women are not waiting for any pale prince to save them. They follow their dreams and are their own knights. What about you?
January 4, 2017; model/make up: Michelle R. ; horses: Ostwind and Cinderella; photography and post-production: KyprisAthina; Concept/styling “Rivendell?” – KyprisAthina; concept/styling “soldier”: Michelle; 1000 thanks to Vivian and Sabine (horse owners and the most helpful assistants one could wish for); work in progress.
Con-Fusion, 2016: When Eve seduces the snake and a little girl with a red riding hood tames the bad, bad wolf… Each night a new tale. A fairy tale? CON-FUSION.
EUROPE OR AFRICA? ANIMAL OR HUMAN? BEAUTY OR BEAST? GOOD OR EVIL? HEROINE OR PRINCESS? MALE OR FEMALE? ANIMAL COMPANION OR ALTER EGO? MADONNA OR ORIENTAL BEAUTY? ARABIAN NIGHT OR EUROPEAN FAIRY TALE? DREAM OR REALITY? DOES IT MATTER?
A photo shoot from July 2016. – Model, Make Up, Hair: Michelle R. – Co-Starring as pet, wolf and sultan: Shlomo – Concept, Photography, Styling, Post Production: KyprisAthina © KyprisAthina Pictures 2016. All rights reserved.
Night by night, wise Scheherazade completes her web of a thousand and one tales…
Green: Once upon a time a beautiful young woman was quite tired of every day’s life in paradise. After seducing a talking snake to eat a special apple, she finally found her way out… [visual/conceptual inspiration: Eva / Snow White]
Blue: Once upon a time a little mermaid was bored. She, being her own djinn, created herself a pair of legs and shoes to spend her time with humans. Unfortunately she became bored by their company even more very soon, so she threw away her shoes and went back to the beach. Before diving into the water, a beautiful boy followed her, bringing her shoes with him. “Keep them!”, the mermaid said, and left into the sea to swim and sing with the dolphins. [visual/conceptual inspiration: Aladdin / Cinderella / the Little Mermaid]
Pink & Black: Once upon a time a very intelligent and beautiful young princess fell asleep and had wonderful dreams on a flying carpet, after she had decided to prick her finger on the thorn of a lovely beast’s magical rose. Why? To always remain in the company of her beloved beast, which did not look very beautiful, but had the sweetest heart one can imagine (very unlike the beautiful but stupid and heartless prince, whom she was originally supposed to marry). After the beast’s awakening kiss they looked alike, and no one would ever dare (nor find it necessary at all) to separate two beasts. True beauty now lies well hidden inside them, invisible to the majority of people, and they lived happily ever after. [visual/conceptual inspiration: Dracula / the Beauty and the Beast / Sleeping Beauty]
Red: Once upon a time a courageous girl did not need any prince or huntsman to save her, because she was able to cope with beasts herself. After taming the wolves she chose them as her company and followed them into the woods. [visual/conceptual inspiration: Red Riding Hood / Snow White]
… and everyone is still wondering if the princess’ animal companion made it into the fairy tale or if he has found a way out of it. Still, that huge dog was not there in the beginning. By the way, the Sultan has not been seen any more for almost three years now, just like he had vanished into air. What a curious case!
Indian Summer (Pocahontas 2.0)
There are probably a thousand inspiration sources for my photographic work, but talking about my life, most likely nothing was as inspiring as Disney’s Pocahontas. Captions quoted from the lyrics of “Listen to your heart”, “Just around the riverbend” and “Colors of the wind”, Disney’s Pocahontas OST Alan Menken / Stephen Schwartz; As you might now, my photo shoots are usually carefully planned. This was a spontaneous, additional “Mini-Shoot” done at the same day (well, at one of our two shooting days…) as our Black-or-White photo shoot. The idea I got when preparing the clothes in the morning of the regular photo shoot. Photo series from August 13, 2016; concept, photography, styling and post production: KyprisAthina; model & make up: Michelle R. (facebook page)
The Fairy Tales project, 2016-2017: Work in Progress
“But the beauty of the white flowers troubled him, and their odour was sweet in his nostrils, and there came another word into his lips, and he spoke not of the wrath of God, but of the God whose name is Love. And why he so spoke, he knew not.” – Oscar Wilde, The Fisherman and His Soul *** Model: Michelle R.
” “Be happy”, cried the Nightingale. “You shall have your red rose. I’ll build it out of music by moonlight and stain it with my own heart’s blood. All that I ask of you in return is that you will be a true romantic, for love is wiser than philosophy.” ” – Oscar Wilde, The Nightingale and the Rose *** Model: Tekisha
Planned: The Happy Prince, The Young King, The Star-Child and maybe also The Selfish Giant
Studies in Scarlet, 2016: Second edition from 30 November, 2016
Sir Simon actually prefers being an artist and to paint blood-stains instead of biting people. A story, somewhere between laughter and tear, about inner conflicts and homage to my favorite author Oscar Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900).
In February 2016 I felt inspired for a photo shoot by reading Oscar Wilde. My series should mainly be based on “the Canterville Ghost”, with elements from “the Picture of Dorian Gray”. My cast was soon clear: Actor Fabian Roschy, who had modelled for me before, should play the role of the eccentric ghost Sir Simon. But how to visualize him? I wanted to create a more dangerous and serious atmosphere and wanted a less funny ghost figure than in the book, since for the photo shoot I wanted to focus on the sad, salvation aspect of the story. Coming across a photo of actor Christopher Lee as Dracula by chance gave me the immediate solution. But I still needed a counterpart, someone to fight with and to give salvation finally. Firstly thinking about a second model, I soon changed my plans for something completely different: The same model should play both parts, meant to symbolize the inner conflicts between biological impulse and rational mind. As a perfect representative for a cool mind, the figure of Sherlock Holmes was finally chosen.
Technical key elements were strong shadows, dangerous light mostly from below and fog from a little machine.
Quotations from Oscar Wilde, the Canterville Ghost
Starring as Sir Simon and Sherlock Holmes: Fabian Roschy
Photography, make up, styling, post production: KyprisAthina
many thanks to Brauereikeller Walsheim (location) and arkivo fotodesign!