Documentary portrait photographer Probal Rashid captures the dark side of labor in his recent series Innocence Lost. Profiling the underage workforce in Bangladesh, his candid snaps focus on children who must earn what little money they can in order to provide for their families. The jobs range from brick-chipping, construction and refuse collecting, and are all low-paid jobs. The minimum age for employment is 14 years of age, but because a majority of the work is carried out in small factories, workshops and on the street, laws and guidelines are almost impossible to enforce. This means that some labor is even unpaid. Rashid explains more about the situation:
Children are paid less than adults, with many working up to twelve hours a day. Full-time work frequently prevents children from attending school. Long hours, low or no wages, poor food, isolation and hazards in the working environment can severely affect children’s physical and mental health. (Source)
The portraits of the children are simple, stark and striking images situated in their place of work. Surrounded by the objects they manufacture, you can get an accurate sense of just how long the children labor away for. All framed similarly, and as close ups, the hardships they experience are evident in their faces.
Rashid is a long time advocate of the people of Bangladesh, India, and Nepal. He captures the unspoken side of local life, spirituality and economy in those countries. His past series include Faces In Black Oxide (a further exploration into the workforce, this time in the iron oxide manufacturing industry); Life, Death and Salvation in Varanasi (about the pilgrimage to the Ganges); and Faces of Climate Survivors (portraits of some of the 154 million Bangladeshi who have been affected by natural disasters between 1990 and 2009).
Using abstract expressionism as muse, Brooklyn painter Andy Piedilato plays off visceral emotion. With unyielding imagination, he reaches a place between here and another, a type of painter’s purgatory, where ship wrecks float in brick shaped waves on huge panoramic canvases. Intertwined with vast metaphors, the ship motif was first inspired when a friend built his own boat. The idea stayed with Piedilato and he started thinking about how a handmade vessel would fare at sea. Soon he was painting parts of boats with a technique he had already acquired using bricks. This completely changed his purely abstract canvases. Paintings that were once finished in a day were now taking a month to complete. Before, the focus was not so much on a thing but a moment. This produced dozens of messy works which concentrated on sole mark making.
Today, his painstakingly tedious process uses a technique which paints around hand taped sections of canvas, allowing the tiny brick shapes to form into pictures. The results are flatter and less heavily impastoed. There’s a translucency present, especially in two recent works called “Red Sail” and “Sea Snail.” Both over 10′ wide, they exude a Japanese scroll effect making them slightly more watercolorish. This might account for the large amount of white in the background, thus opening up a new path for Piedilato. His present state of mind, is that of an artist who’s been asked to paint ‘smaller’ by potential dealers to encourage more salability. His refusal has allowed the paintings to get bigger and weirder, adding more aura to his increasing cult hero status.
I Must Be Dead (Mckay Jaffe) is a Pheonix-based photographer who challenges conventional representations of identity through experimental portraiture. Rich with narrative and exploding with color, his works are consistently enrapturing and unsettling, in that they collide sensuality with horror, beauty with death. The faces of his bizarre models are intensely expressive, and usually obscured in some way, such as with paint, masks, and/or deep shadows. Breaching the line between fantasy and reality, his works are evocative yet alien, begging the question: “is this real?” Some of Jaffe’s work comes from the Burning Man festival, where he captures subjects befitting to his oeuvre: people actively inhabiting alternative identities and lifestyles.
On the I Must Be Dead Facebook page, Jaffe’s tongue-in-check biography reveals his counter-cultural approach to art and societal expectations. He claims that he has excelled in “unprofessional photography since 1845” and has won “5 Nobel peace prizes,” poking fun at conventional understandings of “success” and thereby marking his work as subversive. “Being human is a program,” Jaffe wrote to me, when I inquired about the social commentary present in his work. “You are designed to act and feel relative to the life you are given.”
For him, the “way out” of repressive structures is to test the possibilities of identity. Life is an evolving, experimental process; as Jaffe writes, “[You must] learn to learn, learn to grow, learn to accept, learn to see things from the other side, learn to laugh, learn to love, learn to live your life.” His photographic ventures into the realms of beauty, intensity, and absurdity are very much part of a learning process — one in which the limits of selfhood are explored in the development of an open self-understanding. (Via Beautiful.Bizarre)
18-year-old Izumi Miyazaki arranges her daydreams into surreal photographs that are filled with deadpan humor. Each photo is manipulated so that the mundane becomes a little more magical. From levitating candy hearts to snow made of rice, Miyazaki ups the mystique with a wink of the eye.
By putting herself in the spotlight as the main subject, Miyazaki frees herself to being able to play with subtle changes in expression. Her photographs also call upon themes of identity and coming of age purely based on context. Because most of her artwork is staged in everday locations, they can almost be read as a visual diary of emotions.
The pure fun of Miyazaki’s photos is that they can be interpreted any number of ways: As a teenager’s creative way to express herself — or the product of a quirky overactive imagination. (via Juxtapoz)
New York painter Monica Cook depicts absurd, messy scenes in these paintings of women playing and posing with food and sea creatures. Often referred to as “absurd,” her work tells of women, sometimes not naked, covered in liquids and slime, fruit pulp, and cradling octopi. There is no arguing her painterly talent at narrating the viscosity of the elements in the frame, but she leaves it up to the viewer as to how they will interpret the contents of the scene. Meaning, she has no implied meaning:
“When I’m painting, it’s more about my relationship with the object than it is about me. It’s hard for me to separate myself from the experience. It could be a fish or an octopus. I handle it until it becomes unfamiliar to me so I can see it in a new way. People might want to read into those paintings but for me, it’s just about finding magic in the mundane and exploring further. I’m sure if I stumbled upon the work I’d see it differently.” (Excerpt from Source)
In artist Eleanor Davies’ piece titled Over 200 Beautiful Colors, she crafts a traditional yarn pom pom (like something you’d see on a beanie), but on steroids. Using wool, newspaper, and rope, Davies wraps donut-shaped discs with yarn and stacks them on top of one another. They become a mountain of wound wool, and finally she cuts the edges of every disc. This releases the fibers around the cardboard, and they form a larger-than-life ball of fringe.
The result of this tedious effort is something that you want to touch and maybe even hug. And, that’s Davies’ intention. She wants the viewer to desire an interaction with it. But, at the same time, she also wants to you to feel some sort of repulsion to it. Even though it’s a magnificent and incredible piece, you compare it to what other smaller, more perky-looking pom poms look like. This, in all its glory, droops as gravity has got the best of it. “The oscillation between attraction and repulsion is experienced through the disruption of taste values,” Davies writes in an artist statement. “Sculptures seek attention and flaunt themselves in such a way that they ask for it.”
The slow and meticulous construction of Over 200 Beautiful Colors is akin to a beautiful regime. Davies goes on to say:
In appropriating the sculpting techniques of hairdressing; extensions and highlights are added to slowly modify and enhance a sculpture’s look. The compulsive desire to reconfigure, reinvent, re-cut and re-colour is due to the satisfaction gained through succumbing to the lure of the surface. The process of overworking the sculptural surface is self indulgent and my practice embraces and revels in this.
Sculptor Jeff Zimmerman has coaxed yet another dimension out of the seemingly infinite pliability of glass. Zimmerman’s glass sculptures look like home decor from alien planets, alternating between a gleaming metallic finish and subtle tinges of celadon. Others look like they’re undergoing the process of mitosis, round and reminiscent of amoeba.
Zimmerman creates fantastic texture on his pieces, crumpling them and molding them into vaguely amorphous shapes. He uses bright colors and mirrorized finishes to create gradient effects that make his sculptures look in a way naturalistic. Others are neon, glow-in-the-dark green, embracing their lava lamp heritage.
In a statement about Zimmerman’s art, R & Company says, “Jeff Zimmerman’s designs reinterpret and redefine centuries old ways of working with glass, opening an entirely new chapter on this familiar medium.” (via Artsy)
In 2011, photographer Colby Vincent Edwards (in collaboration with William Franevsky and Jarrett Scherff) created The 8th Day, an incredible exhibition that “documents” a post-apocalyptic future. In addition to black and white photography, the artists designed costumes made of leather, cloth, feathers, twine, and bone. Dusty, ripped, and layered, the outfits integrate brilliantly with the wasted environment. The weapons the models carry seem ancient, but upon closer inspection betray the remnants of the present-day world: shattered metal and protruding nails.
The photographs themselves are stark and intimate, composed of “high contrasts with rich blacks, and blank white collodion skies” (Source). We see human figures traversing barren plains, salvaging debris, and collapsing in what could be sorrow, exhaustion, or near-death. With their faces masked, the characters’ physical anonymity makes it possible to imagine oneself in their place, navigating the devastated world. Here, the artists have drawn on the appeal of our childhood fantasies, but have troubled them by infusing such imaginative stories with the tragedy and finality of a cataclysmic event. Step back from the beautiful details and you perceive the vast emptiness of the world.
Even though the exhibition is a few years old, the images are still intensely relevant. Depictions of post-apocalyptic worlds weigh heavily on our social consciousness. In this way, The 8th Day captivates us while making us quietly thankful that such a universe exists only in our imaginations — for now. Visit their Tumblr page for a fuller narrative of these stunning photographs. You can view the rest of Edwards’ work here.