For decades, stiletto heels – which were originally named after the dagger – have been an established cultural trope for female sexuality. In his latest photo series, Les Absents photographer Maxime Ballesteros plays on their deadly etymology. The photographer captures stilettoed legs, seemingly detached from their owners, hanging out of car trunks and impaling eye sockets. His morbid fascination reduces humanity to its basic drives as he explores our shared experience of the world around us.
“Stilettos can be a pedestal, a weapon, the most painful and gracious treasure,” says Ballesteros. “They are an accessoire that can be so empowering, maybe in some ways because of their restraining aspect. If you can’t run you have to use your mind; the power that’s within yourself.”
“Stilettos can be a pedestal, a weapon, the most painful and gracious treasure. They are an accessoire that can be so empowering, maybe in some ways because of their restraining aspect. If you can’t run you have to use your mind; the power that’s within yourself” – Maxime Balesteros
The photographer, who was raised by his mother and sister, credits his upbringing for his fascination with female power. “Truffaut famously said, ‘Women's legs are compasses that roam the earthly globe in all directions giving it its balance and its harmony,’ explains Ballesteros. “I have a lot of fascination and admiration rooted in that since as long as I can remember.”
Ballesteros also employs gravestones and car wreckages as sites of fascination. “Mortality defines us,” he explains. “It’s the main thing we all have in common. Every step we take, every day of our lives, brings us closer to it.” The photographer pairs his own text captions with some of his images, giving the project a personal dimension. “A lot of it is a form of self-portrait, even if I’m rarely physically in the frame.”
Above all, the photographer believes that alienation makes us more similar to each other than anything else. “The title of the book refers to a sense of loneliness that I feel in the photographs and words throughout the pages; something that I think most of us have in common,” he says. “This is a love story with the world and some of its inhabitants; a world of 14 billion human eyes to attest your existence and seven billion pairs of human arms to hold you; yet we are the loneliest species.”
Les Absents is available now and an exhibition of the series is open until 16 July at Johann König, Berlin