Exploring identity through the bodies of others

By photographing her peers dressed up as her, this artist aims to discover an idealised self

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Vivian FuPhotography Laurence Philomene

Developing your aesthetic and artistic identity on the internet is a strange thing. On the one hand, an infinite library of resources and references are there for the taking. But on the other hand, with a whole generation pulling from the same pool of inspiration, there's bound to be some crossover. After always considering herself a self portrait artist, photographer and co-founder of The Coven collective Laurence Philomene started, for the first time, feeling uncomforable online. But despite removing herself from her work as a subject, Philomene still saw herself in every image she produced. A culmination of her own self-consciousness on the web decided to push this idea further, exploring the limits of her own photographic practices and personal identity through shooting her friends and peers as if they were herself.

Starting by making each model don her signature orange wig and pastel clothing, Philomene quickly become dissatisfied with a purely physical manifestation of herself, I was looking to recreate more than just my pink clothes and orange hair, and get a sense of my ideal self - who would that be and can I photograph her? So I walked around LA with Arvida and ate some Cheetos in the sun. It’s an idealised self on a somewhat superficial level of– if I could be anywhere in the world doing whatever I want, what would that be?’’

“A lot of my work stems from this idea Wolfgang Tillmans talked about of being ‘post-authentic’ – as an artist I’m all about photographing things in a candid or documentary manner, but the moments I’m documenting are purely invented, they exist just to be photographed. But they exist nonetheless. So the documentation of these moments is real, but the moments themselves are invented. I’ve been working with this idea for a while, and this shoot specifically was the idealised post-authentic moment for me.”

Another driving inspiration for this series, entitled “Me vs Others”, was to tackle the conversation of artists influencing each other head one. Shooting members of her collective, as well as artists closely associated with her and personal friends, did any singular individual uncover anything about herself she didn't already know?

“There hasn’t been a ‘aha! moment’ of ’wow this is who I am and what I’m all about!’ in a very defined sense. Identity is fluid, that is something I know for certain. I think what I have learned though through taking these pictures is how I wish to portray myself, both intentionally and subconsciously. The intentional part is the physicality of it: the colours, the clothes I choose to make my models wear, the wig. It’s artificial, but then what’s so wrong about artificiality?”

Check out more of Laurence Philomene's work here

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