London-based photographer Natalie Dybisz, better known as Miss Aniela, has amassed a wide collection of images that present a cohesive collaboration of fashion and fine art, blurring the lines between the two. Taking inspiration from a variety of art forms, the photographer tells us, “I always listen to the aesthetic feel of an image and never like to force an aspect that I simply fancy sticking into a picture.”
Each shot has its own narrative, rich with surreal qualities that allow every element of the image to complement one another. From the model and fashion design to the architecture and props, Miss Aniela is conscious of it all. The photographer says, “I have an idea in my head of parts of the location that most appeal to me and which models, when dressed, might have the most impact for a particular type of image. The more I work on my productions, the more refined I want the styling to be; the more perfection that can be achieved with the costume and hair, the easier it is to be inspired when you look at the images afterwards.”
We had the fortunate opportunity to ask Miss Aniela a few questions about her process and the inspiration behind her work. Be sure to check out that interview, below.
Away with the Canaries
Your images are so grandeur that I understand you have a whole team of creatives you work with (stylists, hair and makeup artists, etc). Could you please explain your process going into each elaborate shoot?
I create my Surreal Fashion series whilst shooting on our international fashion events. The first task is selecting a location that excites us and appeals to us for its decor, architecture and scale. Since we first started our productions in 2011, we find that our appetite for grandiose locations grows increasingly. We also have to select locations that will allow for a large team.
With the stylist, we develop a moodboard based on the vibe we feel from the location. The style might be elegant and romantic, or edgy and modernistic. A lot of our shoots have had a classical edge but in 2013 for example, we did a sci-fi-styled shoot at a mansion in Bel Air which took on futuristic outfits and accessories.
After the styling is set, we then select models whom we feel will suit the looks that the stylist has planned. We also choose make-up artists and hair stylists who might produce hair pieces in advance. Then, we can be assured of working quickly on the morning of the shoot to dress all the models for the day.
Portrait with a Pigeon & Poultry
How did your process vary with these set of images?
With ‘Away with the Canaries’, I knew I wanted to shoot on the spiral staircase, and we had planned in advance that the dress would be long and flowing. So, I placed the model Annabelle in position and shot a wide panned frame, later adding in a canary (duplicated many times!) from an 18th-century painting ‘Girl with Canary and Open Cage’ by Jean-Baptiste Greuze.
However, sometimes the images are not so planned. In ‘Trussed Trophies’, I worked in aspects from paintings by Dirck de Bray and Andreas Lack, allowing the birds and rabbit to fall into place where they felt they worked best. Whimsy is very important, I feel it is necessary not to force a composite in a way that feels like it would logically work, but to allow the image to grow organically, if something just doesn’t ‘feel’ right in the composite then I reject it.
The Fisherman’s Daughter
Last time we shared your work, you had just shot some exquisite images in a French chateau.Your portfolio boasts a range of ornate settings. How does each location influence your final image?
We love to choose inspiring locations with great scale, quirky aspects like props and decor, and sometimes with good natural lighting. The location generally does play a large part in my Surreal Fashion images, and often the image will be a wider, panned shot to show more of a scene, as in ‘The Fisherman’s Daughter’, ‘Mothership’, and ‘Legerdemain’. Those images are all shot in old locations with texture, scale and history, upon which I inscribe additional aspects in Photoshop which bring about a multi-layered dimension to their connotations.
Other images are shot in more modern locations; ‘Toucan’ in a swanky Hamptons mansion for example, or ‘Scarlet Song’ where the model has been transposed onto the Pacific coast, but with echoes of the past coming through the use of the boat in the distance, from ‘Ships in a Fresh Breeze’, by Hermanus Koekkoek (1778-1851). And other images don’t intimate much of the location at all, such as ‘Melchior’s Medley’ where the subject is close-up with an anonymous black background; this is a rare case where the subject, though shot on location, could have simply been shot in a studio.
Locations are, otherwise, very important to me. Unlike a studio, locations inspire me during the shoot, and usually, play a key part in the character of the piece – even if it does not, it still fed into the inspiration that drove me to make the piece that way.
You have been incorporating animals (particularly birds) into your surreal images. How would you describe their significance (both visually and figuratively) in your images?
I save images of paintings that I am drawn to, knowing I will use them somewhere, but they have to find their right place. For example, I had the dog from ‘The Dance’ saved, in a painting by Alexandre-Francois Desportes (1719). It suited this image because the dog’s legs echoed the model Aga’s leg positioning and the pale colour palette, too. The matching I make between paintings and photographs has to, on the first level, work technically. It is crucial for any composite to have synergy.
Of course, all art has subconscious intent, even if the artist is not quite sure of an exact definition. I look at my art and it speaks to me, it is as though it has a message for me. So when I look at ‘Lair Love’ I see a woman withstanding the weight of fear. Her face is dreamy whilst a tiger kisses her, who could be about to maul her. She is evidently strong enough, too, to hold him on her back. This image speaks to me at a time in my life when I have also had to brace fear and trust that I can withstand the heaviness of a difficult task. Birds and butterflies are strong symbols of freedom, and yet these creatures are also vulnerable and open to the elements.
I am not one to dictate what the meanings are of my images; I am all too aware there are many readings and personal interpretations to be had, and I welcome that. I just know that I enjoy re-animating old works of art, where painters have made fascinating depictions of animals and creatures, which are often more interesting sometimes than real photographs of animals. I like the weirdness of a painting of an animal interacting with a photograph of a real woman; it is as if to say, this interaction is not pretending to be real – the point is about bringing art forms together, my modern-day fashion photo and the brushstrokes made by a hand that is hundreds of years deceased.