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Carlijn Jacobs, Eyes (2023)
Carlijn Jacobs, Eyes (2023)Photography Carlijn Jacobs

In pictures: photographer Carlijn Jacobs’s surrealist ode to eyes

In mesmerising images that exist in between fantasy and reality, the photographer explores her obsession with eyes

As both transmitters and receivers of information, eyes are the intriguing dual thresholds between our interior and exterior worlds. As Anne Sexton once wrote, eyes are “full of language,” but how fluently we are able to read them is sometimes less certain. They have mystified and fascinated us throughout the ages, appearing as hieroglyphs and recurring motifs across the artefacts of civilisations, religions and belief systems since records began. 

Considering why eyes are such potent symbols and what they signify, photographer Carlijn Jacobs says, “Eyes are the truth of a person, the mirror of the soul. As an illustration or drawing, it’s simple and effective. As physical objects, they are transparent and you can see many things in the iris.”

Accordingly, when the Paris-based photographer was approached by Note Note Éditions with journalist Sophie Pinet to create their inaugural edition of the Note Note Collection – a unique publication, somewhere between a zine and a book – she chose to dedicate the project to the “drama and theatre” of eyes. “It’s an ongoing obsession to shoot close-ups of eyes,” she tells Dazed. “I’ve always had a fascination with them. So, when Sophie Pinet and Note Note asked me what my obsession was, I had no doubt.”

Jacobs’ imagery is permeated by the abiding influence of the surrealists – for whom the eye was also a recurring motif. “For me, surrealism is a form of escapism, it’s between reality and a dream, life and art,” explains the photographer. “I feel the need to create something with my work that isn’t reality as I have seen it. I love to create dreams because it’s different from reality. The reason why I started this job is to escape reality.”

The mesmerising make-up looks throughout the book reflect the artist’s desire for something otherworldly and strange. Gathered from different shoots across Jacobs’ career, the book encompasses her previous collaborations with various incredible make-up artists, but many of the images feature looks created by Masea Ito. “She is a great artist, very creative,” says Jacobs. “And you can see there are a lot of Japanese influences. We are both attracted by dramatic, cinematic looks to give new dimensions and shapes to the eyes.”

People have long debated whether makeup is a tool of self-expression or self-erasure. “This question remains unsolved for me,” reflects the photographer. “It’s a form of expression so it also reveals your true self but, in some cases, I would say it’s hiding your true self by putting on this mask. It’s complicated, it’s both.” Eyes reflects this ambiguity, accentuating the beguiling sense of artifice and theatricality conjured by the elaborate and conceptual make-up looks, while also allowing free reign to such distinct and unique expressions of beauty.

Eyes is published by Note Note Éditions and is available here now.

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