“Like going to war.” This is how one of the wrestlers in photographer Ken Hermann and art director Gem Fletcher‘s project Bökh, describes Mongolian wrestling. Shot in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, the resulting portraits and short film pay respect to this ancient tradition. It’s a traditional that is still very much alive in the nomadic communities that account for 30% of the country’s population.
Digital artist Stefano Bonazzi is fascinated and consumed by realms of otherworldly fantasy—where dreams are intensely overpowering and nightmares possess the mind. In his recent White Sky series, feelings of levity and airiness are at the center of unconstrained reality as well as imagined imprisonment. Together, they evoke moments of soundless isolation fused with beautifully eerie visuals that invite our curiosity.
Bonazzi lives and works in the small town of Ferrara, Italy and is a self-taught photographer and graphic designer. In his spare time, he creates photo manipulations like White Sky, incorporating aspects of contemporary art and minimalist design. Here, archetypal figures are poised in immense contemplation, with the dramatic and extreme landscapes speaking for these masked subjects. Each vignette is intended as “a sort of limbo, the people are disoriented, and often blind, perhaps seeking peace—all within a white cold place of half dreams-half reality.”
Throughout his portfolio, Bonazzi prefers to explore the less idealized side of life. “Beauty,” he says, “is in the imperfections, in the diversity and individual characteristics of each. I cannot stand the beauty of glossy fashion magazines or commercial environments. Often I start with images and distort and change them into something new, which at times can also disturb or scare. Beauty is a subjective factor and can not be assessed with a universal rule.”
We had the wonderful opportunity to ask Bonazzi about his unique vision and the inspirations behind White Sky, as well as his distinct artistic style. Scroll down to read our exclusive interview.
Your photos are surreal and mystical. Are there other works of art that serve as inspirations behind these photographs?
I try to draw inspiration from all forms of creativity that comes close to my personal feeling, from cursed French poets such as Rimbaud and Baudelaire to the dreamlike visions of the psychedelic and experimental music. I am totally fascinated by the atmosphere of Roman Polanski movies, the visual searching and sick nightmares of the short films of David Lynch, the surrealism of Magritte and Dali, and the constant sense of anxiety which is reflected in the huge young faces of Gottfried Helnwein’s works. I feel very close to the human distress of the protagonists in the shots of Nan Goldin, the early claustrophobic videos of Floria Sigismondi, and many other artists such as Marina Abramović and Sophie Calle who constantly investigate the individual as ongoing research projects.
Can you share the process behind the photo manipulations? Typically how much of the photos have been altered?
I work mainly in post-production, and my photo equipment is minimal. I have a couple of Nikon SLRs, three objectives that allow me to cover most of the focal lengths, a tripod and some light panels. If I need to take pictures in the studio, I typically rent because I do not have a photo studio staff at the moment. Because of my method of working, the emphasis is on the great graphics resolution of the monitor, and the power of the processor for elaborate images.
In general, each work takes me 10 to 12 hours of post-production. At first it is like building a puzzle or a collage. I spend hours and days tyring to assemble pieces of pictures or photographs that may be suitable to reproduce the idea I have in my head. Then with digital composition software such as Photoshop or Poser, I assemble all the various elements and help them conform with the graphic tablet as if I am painting on a traditional canvas.
The landscapes and environments in your photography are often extreme and convey emotions of their own. How do you select which locations to photograph in?
The location is not a simple stage but an active element of the composition. In the series Mad Parade, the places are always internal, often claustrophobic and cramped. They are like prisons that contain the depravity of the characters. In the White Sky series, places are often huge open spaces with clouds and skies seemingly limitless but still hostile. In Nightmare, the background is predominantly black and hides the evanescent elements. This helps to suggest the context that is taking place in every single nightmare.
How do you integrate the subjects you’ve photographed in your White Sky series into these environments, whether they are people or animals?
Each shot requires a different subject, but often each subject is linked by a common thread that binds the whole series. Typically my subjects have static poses, more similar to the mannequins or statues. I like to think that their static nature can be integrated with the environment. I spend hours trying to figure out different subjects for each shot, and always discard at least 30 to 40 before finding the right one. I cannot tell you how it works: sometimes I have the image defined in the head, and other times it is only completed through trial and error. It can often be frustrating but once I find the right person, I feel a “click” in my mind that makes me say, “Here, he’s the right one!”
What are the reoccurring themes that intrigue you the most, and what message(s) do you hope to convey?
I hide all the faces to convey emotions with the body and its postures. Body and ambient need to work together to present the final messages. I think it’s too easy to use a tearful face to convey sadness or a smile to convey happiness. It is much more difficult to express emotions using only the postures and elements of scenery. The face may be false, hypocritical. The body and the nature instead are not able to lie.
I am also attracted to human relationships, and all my works are focused on the individual and on their interactions with social and environmental surroundings. This is often the main factor in contexts of anxieties, insecurities and attitudes of self-defense.
Finally, I like to leave much space to the observer. My shots are just the beginnings to stories, indications that provide initial input to start and build your own personal history. Whether it will be a nightmare or a story with a happy ending, the observer will be the one to decide.
What other projects do you have coming up?
I still have many shots of previous series to finish and publish but I will focus on a new series dedicated to portraits of half-length. Again, I will cover all the faces of my subjects. But in this case I will realize my own mask as a true tailor: cutting and sewing the pieces in Photoshop! It will be funny!