Photographer Lois Cohen and stylist Indiana Roma Voss’ project Metamorphosis deals with female archetypes (and stereotypes): from religion to pop culture, familiar female figures are visually reimagined, thus imbuing them with a complete new meaning, with a result that is equally powerful and witty.
Metamorphosis is a revolution through images that manages to create contemporary, empowered icons for a new generation of women. We caught up with the artists to talk about politics, censorship and the power of photography. Here’s our Q&A.
How did you conceive the Metamorphosis project?
Lois: The first big project Indiana & I collaborated on was Local Angels, a celebration of eccentricity. This was mostly about extravagant style and character casting. Through this we found out we creatively clicked in many ways. It triggered us to collaborate more and dig deeper into not only our creative visions, but also our shared thought processes concerning certain issues around a.o. women. This resulted in working on Metamorphosis.
Indiana: Originally, when we started working on the piece we wanted to create a series based upon a re-framing of the female warrior. As we moved forward, the concept changed trajectories as we wanted to add relatable symbolism to each image – reimagining already existing archetypes.
Do you think the female body has been historically stereotyped in its representation?
Indiana: Absolutely. Historically, the human body has always been stereotyped and sexualised. I think the culture of stereotyping is a large part of why there is so much body dysmorphia within people and especially within women.
What kind of impact do you hope to have with your images?
Lois: Of course I’d like to empower. And secondly to tweak people’s ideas about the classic/vintage female icons and figures they value so much, just because they’re nostalgic (and don’t want to acknowledge how they could be different). It’s still relevant to reflect upon because for a large part representation of women now are still based on these outdated concepts. I think the reason icons and heroes exist is because people like to create alter ego’s for themselves. Why not give them (in this case femmes) different and fund options of “the ideal woman” they can “choose” from… archetypes who are actually inclusive and enjoyable to relate to/identity with.
Indiana: I hope the series will resonate with people and give them pause. I hope the series will start conversation about women and stereotypes. Right now, we are living in a historical period for women and men around the world regarding women and what they represent; I hope our work can play a part in this narrative and I hope that the viewer receives that the narrative of this series should be the new norm – and that’s pretty cool if they do.
Is there something like a “male gaze” we are still subject to?
Indiana: My opinion is the “male gaze” is one of the plethora of problems we fight in society today. The tentacles of the “male gaze” hark so far back into history that I feel a lot of women don’t even realize they are being influenced by societal concepts that originate from the “male gaze”.
Lois: That’s true, the male gaze is problematic in many was. I think especially young girls are exposed to it now even more than ever at vulnerable age. Although I feel like people sometimes people can abuse these type of terms just for the sake of criticising. Some people believe for example you can’t possibly be a feminist and at the same time express your sexuality in a way that seems seductive to men, because by doing so your feeding in to the ’male gaze’. If you immediately draw everything a woman does back to men, you’re part of the problem.
What is your relationship with sexuality and the nude in your photos?
Lois: . With this particular work: Some of the examples we recreated are obviously sex symbols. We don’t want to take away their sexappeal/make them sexless, but want to show that sexappeal and nudity is not bound to one type of woman/appearance of what’s considered to be sexy in society’s norms.
Indiana: Sexuality and nudity is not something I run away from within my work; however, they are not subjects I necessarily look for either. I believe sexuality is a beautiful form of expression – that said, I am not the type of artist who feels the need to put it front and center in my work. In Metamorphosis, there are a few images that contain nudity which expresses female sexuality more strongly than others.
How do you choose your subjects?
Indiana: For Metamorphosis, we tried to think of women that had been historically misrepresented. For instance, the cartoon Betty Boop was derived from the aesthetics of an African-American blues singer Baby Esther. The cartoon creator took not only Esther’s aesthetic and signature tune, but then he turned her into a white sex symbol!
Lois: We also tried to find women that were known for their exceptional beauty and recreate them to match modern beauty standards e.g., a hairy Marilyn Monroe, full- figured Bond Girl and a masculine Venus.
What do you look for in an image?
Indiana: As a stylist, I approach fashion as an art form, an architectural tool which expresses my imagination, while telling a story. As a conceptualist and art director, I’m always looking to find a narrative within an image that tells a new story.
Lois: Same! And something that makes the image stick instead of forgetting about in a second. For me an image should be visually satisfying and trigger a thought or emotion at the same time.
Do you think social media changed something in the perception of your work?
Lois: I try to avoid thinking of my work in terms of social media as much as possible. Or else I would end up only being focused on making images that please people visually in an instant, because I know how quickly people scroll through their Instagram feed, etc. They usually don’t take the time to really study an image. I do like to make images that are catchy, but I think it’s also really important to focus on content and originality.
Indiana: I think Social Media has changed the perception of all art in many ways. The reach of each image has become much larger as well has the variety of people that view the work. Social media is an open platform where all walks of life are able to intentionally or unintentionally find your work. Social media is truly an amazing thing that enables anyone from any country can view your work and vice-versa. The downside to social media is that because of the fact that there is so much content constantly coming at us, the content itself becomes something easily disposable and less impressive.
Most Community Guidelines attempt to control and censor nudity: do you feel that this is changing the public perception and meaning of the naked body in art as well?
Indiana: I have yet to experience social media censorship, though I am quite curious as to what will happen once Metamorphosis is published. I really feel that nudity censorship creates a barrier for people to view the naked body as something normal and natural.
Lois: Also the selective censorship is just of a level sexism and hypocrisy that is just too ridiculous.
What about censorship in general?
Lois: It’s really contractive and cynical. Everything that’s being shamed and labeled as wrong and harmful by media, is also being used to sell by the same institutions.
Indiana: I am a staunch believer in freedom of the press — which is an important corner stone for any society. In my opinion any type of censorship could basically be considered a threat to this imperative institution.
What is provocative now?
Lois: something that is politically incorrect.
Indiana: Sexuality and nudity are no longer the great provocateurs, we have become less shocked to these former taboo subjects. Body hair, full figures, the gender spectrum, feminism, these are all polarizing subjects — people are either drawn or infuriated by.
We are living in a difficult political time with the rise of populism and far right extremism. What is the role of artists in these circumstances?
Indiana: As content creators, I believe it is our responsibility to tackle social and political issues head on, Especially in this unpredictable and frightening climate. By doing so, we keep pushing the conversation until there is some palpable change.
Lois: Photography is literally everywhere, it definitely has a social impact weather it’s positive or negative. The casting in my photography has been always very diverse and unconventional. This in just how my casting usually end to be, it’s not even a conscious statement in my work most of the time. Though diversity is something I do really strive for in the long run, as representation in for example in fashion photography really effects people. As a photographer you’re responsible for that.
How important is the political and social undercurrent in your work?
Indiana: Seeing how we live in a very high pressure political time I think it would be hard not to have a political undercurrent within my work. As a political person I find it to be my responsibility to voice social and political issue on the platform that I have. That being said not all my work could necessarily be filed under political but I try to incorporate the social issue of breaking the vast homogenization within in all my work.
Lois: It’s important, but I don’t really dare to say how present it is for the viewer in my work. I think I just want to show how I would love to see the world, how I would like to see things differently. But the fantasy element in my work is just as important to be honest.
What is the most thought-provoking and challenging picture you took?
Lois: I think the modernized ‘odalisque’ is probably the most layered photo. We took the odalisque because of the iconic examples of historical paintings that represent the objectified female body. The idea was to give her more identity and authority to half-dress her in a business suit. In contradiction to all paintings of women from that time she’s not only a woman’s body being looked at, but she’s also objectifying the other sex herself.
Indiana: I would say that depending on the person who sees the photos, responses will vary. For Christians, the photo to provoke ire or conversation could be the depiction of Mary. For others, it might be our full-figured nude Bond girl.
Which artists inspire you?
Lois: Most of my all time inspirators are film directors Tarantino, Stanley Kubrick, John Waters, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Tim Burton. I love artists Grayson Perry and Mike Kelley (RIP) and comic book character Tank Girl is one of my faves as well.
Indiana: I go in and out of artist obsessions but the two unfaltering inspirations are and always will be: The Filmmaker John Waters and the photographer David LaChapelle.
Any young artist you admire in particular?
Lois: illustrator and animator Mickey Cohen.
Indiana: London-based stylist Ib Kamara who on a consistent basis flips the script on styling, not just deconstructing styling, but creating authentic art. He is someone I would love to meet and collaborate with one day.
What are you currently working on?
We are both working individually on a new projects as well as brainstorming on our next big series so stay tuned!
Photography & concept by Lois Cohen
Styling & concept by Indiana Roma Voss
Photography assistance Joe Viola & Kamila Lozinska
Styling assistance Maxime Orleans Voss & Chiara Mannarino
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