Emancipated from their bodily context, and framed in unusual settings, Luisa Opalesky's surreal photographs capture fragments of beauty
Photographing the world around her has played an important part in Luisa Opalesky’s life. “I landed on photography at the age of eight because my mom had been manically taking photos of me since I was born,” she says. Growing up in Philadelphia, Luisa spent her teenage years staging photoshoots with friends, always searching for something interesting to capture or a story to tell. “Capturing the unseen, creating an alternate view and universe through a tiny window is heavenly and medicine for me,” she says. Since graduating from a BFA in photography from Parsons New School of Design in 2010, Luisa has turned her lens on beauty. She’s recently completed a project on the subject, culminating in a three-part series: WIG (2017), HEEL (2018), and NAIL (2019). Shot on film, the Beauty Trilogy explores the confusing and conflicted complexities of beauty, and the role it plays in forming a person’s identity and the many alter egos that person may inhabit. Emancipated from their bodily context, and framed in unusual settings, her surreal photographs capture fragments of beauty; colourful wigs hanging on a washing line or tumbling through the air, a pair of stripper heels lying discarded on the ground.
Following from two exhibitions, WIG and Heel respectively, NAIL is the last chapter in the Beauty Trilogy, and documents the artist's fascination with notions of excess, and the contrast between synthetic beauty and the natural world. Picture a pair of lurid green nails running through grass, a neon tipped hand spilling out of a sunbed. It’s the first time in the series that we’re seeing a human presence, adding a completely different perspective to the whole project. Ahead of the launch, we caught up with Luisa to talk
Your work focuses on the notion of beauty, how would you describe your personal relationship with beauty? How has it evolved over time?
Luisa Opalesky: Beauty will always intrigue me. It’s confusing, pleasurable, weird, funny, sexy, enhancing, troubled, and unavoidable - it's a loaded topic for humans, and especially for women. Transformation is the key to my relationship with beauty. I'm interested in how something so inexpensive and easy to find can transform one's exterior. Isn't it fascinating that you can go to a pharmacy with $20 and adopt a new visual persona? Experimentation and adventure have been the foundation of my interest in the theme. I've been dressing up and wearing wigs and heels since I could walk.
What is it about beauty that you seek to challenge in your work?
Luisa Opalesky: I'm interested in challenging the conventional way we see beauty advertised and plastered all over the place. Pushing elements of feminine power in the details, pairing nature with the power of a gesture or colour.
Can you tell us a bit about your series WIG, HEEL, and NAIL. How did the idea come about?
Luisa Opalesky: It sprang out of curiosity, fascination, and the confusion that surrounds the subject matter of all things beauty and happened naturally by playing around with characters. The project began after graduating from Parsons New School of Design, I was seeking images to create in exploration with notions of identity and alter egos. The trilogy is a way to examine and escape. Intrigued and somewhat isolated into alien energy, the photographs are a portal for my sanity.
What do you want viewers to take away from these series?
Luisa Opalesky: I’m hoping to empower humans with the series, as well as raise questions about what they think is beautiful and why. I want to encourage acceptance of imperfections. So far the series has been well received. Nothing brings joy like seeing one of my photographs in someone's bedroom.
How does NAIL depart from the other two?
Luisa Opalesky: Nail is the first time in the series there is a human present. I wanted to challenge myself while giving the work elements and perspective of the living. It's much more collaborative with a model, which has been a lovely and satisfying last leg of the trilogy.
In your work you compare elements of the natural world with the synthetic, what is the significance of this?
Luisa Opalesky: Juxtaposition and layered themes empower the image, deepen the story, and excite me when looking through the viewfinder. It's important to show how many sides there are to anything but in this case beauty and identity. The images can be busy or quite simple, but will most likely all have a contrast to question its existence and the space it's in.
What else are you working on?
Luisa Opalesky: I'm currently working on writing songs, keeping track of all my ideas, making videos in the rain, and a book on The Beauty Trilogy.
What is the future of beauty?
Luisa Opalesky: The future of beauty is all up to the way you want to challenge and change. Do what makes you happy and don't forget to question why it has the effect. I can't wait to see more confidence and creativity in those who want to push the standards of beauty.
NAIL opens at the Advent Gallery in the Lower East Side from 21st May.