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July 9, 2017

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Belin transgresses between reality and illusion

FRENCH photographer Valerie Belin is famed for her skills and sensitivity harnessing light and processing details when taking photos, which always explores the boundaries between reality and illusion.

More than 30 of Belin’s signature photo works, spanning from 2002 to 2016, are now on display at Shanghai Center of Photography. Titled “Valerie Belin: Meta-cliches,” the exhibition demonstrates the photographer’s introspection on the artificiality of life, as well as the erosion of nature.

The “Engines,” the earliest series on show, featured a set of old car engines in black and white still-life shots.

Light reflects off the dusty surface of the motors, and endows the machines with the internal dynamics of a living being.

“I always fell driven by a natural desire to have non-live objects and living human beings demonstrate a certain similarity,” Belin told Shanghai Daily.

By setting the motors upon a piece of dark cloth, and using a long focus length, she managed to give the objects some characteristics of human life, treating the automobile parts as if they substitute human organs.

“I believe that even the inorganic mechanical parts in a car can bring about an organic feeling,” Belin added, just like how a piece of meat in those 17th-century paintings reminds one of natural life.

She tried her hands at color photography in 2006 when digital post-production technologies such as Photoshop came out. The series “Model II” features portraits of six female and six male models. Despite the gender difference, the models resemble each other in a subtle way.

When shooting the series, Belin infused the photos with an artificial atmosphere, which makes the models “looking like avatars in the game ‘Second Life’.”

The set of works reflects Belin’s observation of a surging trend of unisex led by the globalization.

Adjacent to the “Model II” is a set of photos taken in 2008 that feature real flowers, though looking quite unreal. A strong contrast is conceived by the juxtaposition of human-like object photos and object-like human portraits, which insinuates the photographer’s concerns about the meaning of life in the modern age.

Belin’s Pictet-Prize-winning series “Still Life” is also exhibited. Focusing her lens on a composition of plastic objects, she condemns the loss of values in the surging consumerism.

In her recent “All Star” series, she overlays covers of 1960s American superhero comic books onto the portraits of young girls that are very often seen in black-and-white Hitchcock movies. The intention is “to deconstruct social stereotypes,” Belin said.

“Women are often the first to fall victim to social stereotypes and injustice ... (yet) they are sometimes filled with a spirit of resistance and vengeance toward such bias,” she added.

As part of the Croisements Festival, orchestrated by Embassy of France in China, the exhibition runs through August 24.


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