Inspired by ancient Japanese art of Kintsugi, photographer Roger Weiss pieces together hundreds of photograph fragments to break down beauty ideals
After finding himself increasingly disassociating with imagery depicting the female form and viewing anatomy as devoid of all meaning, reduced to a set of codes and combinations as opposed to the curves and flaws that make us human, Swiss photographer Roger Weiss became increasingly frustrated with the lack of humanity throughout imagery that represents what makes us human.
Aiming to expose the lack of meaning in our contemporary visual representations of the female body, his series “Human Dilatations” (which originally appeared on Fotografia) aims to remove this indifference, pushing our physical forms to the extreme through distortion, embracing the so-called ‘imperfections’ that have lead to our exaggerated beauty ideals within modern society. Inspired by Kintsugi, (a Japanese reparation technique that uses gold to fill cracks), Weiss fragments his subjects into multiple images – assembling hundreds of fragments of photographs of the same subject that are taken from different perspectives to ensure every facet of the model is depicted in focus. Below we sit down with the photographer to discuss hypocritical beauty, aesthetic functions and the woman as a modern day totem.
When did you first pick up a camera?
Roger Weiss: My first camera was a black Nikkormat that my father gave me for a photography class at school. I immediately felt a sense of freedom linked to the object itself and to the idea that through this box I would be able to better understand my own thoughts by putting it down on paper. However, after producing the first prints I was so disappointed that I abandoned it and only resumed using it many years later at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts.
How did you get the idea for “Human Dilatations”, and what is the series all about?
Roger Weiss: Modern life is rooted in a telematics dimension of which the head has become the undisputed symbol, and the body is superfluous unless it is so perfect that it can be put on display to perform an aesthetic function alone. “Human Dilatations” eliminates these two elements to show us a body with parts of exasperated proportions and a head that wanes without trace, to create a rift between the vulnerability of the human and the two pillars that distinguish the contemporary man: physical perfection and the power/role of the mind.
What inspires you so much about the female figure?
Roger Weiss: The comparison with women, my companion piece, originates from the desire to nurture a personal awareness that becomes wider and richer each time, through a dialectic vision. In this process, photography is the medium that more than any other allows me to log details that would otherwise get lost. In the beginning, it was all about storing information that I freely acquired, letting the subject become a hero of himself. Nowadays, through a more structured work, I try to go beyond one’s own identity.
Thereby changing it to a figure that can be ascribed to all women and none in particular. In “Human Dilatations”, I gave substance to my vision of the woman while maintaining a certain level of detachment from the beauty stereotypes of our times. Initially, I drew inspiration from primordial figures like the Venus figurines dating back to the Palaeolithic period and their symbolic meaning, to then initiate a broader and freer journey, which I embarked on in search for my idea of perfection – my contemporary totem.
“Each period has its own standards and I believe that this is necessary to evolution, to define limits that are in turns demolished in order to create new and broader ones” – Roger Weiss
You've previously mentioned the idea of the modern totem- how does the idea of this come into play throughout the series?
Roger Weiss: My work is based on transformation. I change from the individual to shapes which do not only represent their group but are more the container of our feelings formed by taboos – the most ancient prohibitions – by desire, and by fears as if they are embodied in a totem and its laws. There are two ways of creating: the first is to eliminate the superfluous to free the work of art that is contained in the raw material, the second is to add to the raw material until we reach to the limit that we imposed upon ourselves. Like a sculptor, I have found in the woman the raw material from which I have eliminated what I considered unnecessary to extract my modern totem. The totem forges thoughts and represents the whole around which rituals can be created. It encloses everything that people can think or desire, it represents the relationships between men and women, thus becoming a taboo. A taboo with its most ancient prohibitions, which remains intact because it may not be touched.
Do you wish for the series to make a wider comment on the way we view the female body as a society?
Roger Weiss: Everyone is responsible for what they spread. In my case I give form to, and reveal, my images. Everything that this entails is subject to who decides to confront it, and to what extent they do so. My wish is to be able to transmit my signal, among the infinite existing ones, that may provide an additional basis for reflection.
Why do you choose to create short films to accompany the series?
Roger Weiss: One of the challenges I encounter in my work is how to display pieces that should be enjoyed in real life on the internet. They are loaded with information and are designed for large-scale viewing. That is why I have decided to create short videos that enable the viewer to approach the detail and perceive the otherwise hidden nature.
You've said desire is important to your practise, but how does this manifest itself in your imagery?
Roger Weiss: I believe that I am an aesthete and naturally susceptible to what is currently thought of as beauty. Each period has its own standards and I believe that this is necessary to evolution, to define limits that are in turns demolished in order to create new and broader ones. The question of beauty is is rooted in our deepest self, in our most primeval sphere – in determining what triggers our desire: the driving engine behind the achievement of everything that requires effort. In my mind, the direction for an artist is the one synonymous with dedication to the search for alternatives to the dominant thoughts in our society while remaining loyal to those same existential questions that have accompanied us since the day of reason – who we are, what is the sense of our lives, where are we going.
“The dehumanisation and commodification of women belongs to a specific cultural heritage, which is difficult to eradicate”– Roger Weiss
How do we move away from sexual objectification of the female form?
Roger Weiss: The dehumanisation and commodification of women belongs to a specific cultural heritage, which is difficult to eradicate. Though one cannot give up such a position from one day to the next I still believe that, even in their smallness, great things may gradually change. Breaking these cycles that take us rationally back to before the experience took place could be the first step to create new scales of values. Before the image of the woman as an object I have placed my wish to create images that are born from the incompleteness with which men share their lives. I focused on the reinterpretation of the body through the assistance of perspectives and distortions for which we have less experience, and through the obsessive collection of hidden information that is related to the photographic detail of the captured surface. From this process I have created a rift between what we know through our daily stereotype-based experience, and things against which we build defences
This video below was made over 14 hours and shows the process of creating Weiss’s works