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Traces_Untitled #5
“Untitled #5”, 2015, From The Series Traces, 2015-2017 © Weronika GesickaCourtesy of © Weronika Gesicka

Using creepy stock imagery of American suburbia to question the truth

Foam Talent winner Weronika Gesicka’s surrealist images question how much we rely on photos to tell the truth

Art has had a long time obsession with the creepy, cookie-cutter perfectionism of American suburbia, yet always with an absurdist twist. Edward and his scissor hands sculpted perfectly shaped love heart trees in Edward Scissorhands, while housewives in Stepford Wives were creepily computer programmed to perfection. All in all, the absurd is used by art as a satirical way to highlight the morbid issues at the heart of suburbian ‘normalcy’. Polish photographer and Foam Talent 2017-18 winner, Weronika Gesika, follows the same vein and translates these themes into photography with her Traces (2015) series: a set of surrealist images that uses stock imagery of 1950s-60s creepily manicured American families to address the role visual art plays in rendering the truth.

Traces is a modern take on the art form of surrealist collage, once done by hand in the works of Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst. Using Photoshop, Gesika digitally manipulates stock photos of Americana families: bodies become headless, faces float as masks, and floral patterns jump from objects onto people. All of a sudden, things aren’t so perfected anymore as viewers enter a nightmarish distortion of reality. “All of the stock images used are very specific: they present an ideal pastel world, which today seems inaccessible,” explains Gesika. “Introducing strange and at times absurd components creates a completely different approach to those images.”

By creating works that stand between fiction and reality, Traces makes a bold statement about the role photography plays in the manipulation of perception, and thus how we see and remember the world. “Memory is not just a record of what happened, but how the past is portrayed now. It is constantly modified, affected by various external events and our own experiences. Memory is as malleable as plastic: it can be manipulated easily.” For Gesika, photography is one of the strongest mediums that impacts upon our perception of memory and truth. “Photography is a medium that seems to be associated with memory to the highest extent,” explains Gesika. “It was created to record reality, so we often believe photographs because we believe in what we see with our own eyes.”

Seeing the originals of Gesika's stock imagery with our own eyes is dangerous because these images are meant to represent the banality of life itself, yet the subjects are 100 per cent white, cis families. In a country of incredible ethnic, gender, and sexual diversity, how representative are these photos of reality itself? It is Gesika's disruption of this manufactured state of reality that shows us that what we see is not always true, thus illuminating the scary impact photos can have on people’s understanding of the world, and questioning the overall morality of photography as a whole. It's a sentiment picked up by many photographers, for example, Campbell Addy partnering with Getty Images in 2017 to diversify white-washed stock imagery with a cast of black subjects. “While believing in the objectivity of photography,” Gesika says, “we forget that it has to come with a choice: the frame, place, or moment when we take the photo. This approach is always more or less subjective. On the one hand, photos help us in reminiscing the past, but on the other, they may somehow distort its image in our memory.”

Foam Talent London is on between May 16 – June 10 2018 at Beaconsfield Gallery Vauxhall. You can find out more information here