Through stunning renderings of Black children and women, Jamaican-American artist Jessica Spence explores the beauty of finished braids, twists held in place with plastic barrettes, and perfectly laid edges. Her acrylic paintings generally depict a single subject, who often is turned away from the viewer, centering the hair and how it’s presented rather than the person’s face. Spence focuses on the intricacies of each lock, comparing the styling process to that of painting. “I nurtured each brushstroke like I would a strand of hair, a two-strand twist, or a braid,” she shares with Colossal.
Based in New York, the artist imbues her paintings with social commentary derived from her own experiences and from those around her. She considers the impossibility of beauty standards, by saying:
I was inspired to create my current body of work on Black hair in response to the discrimination and chastising experience of many Black women and girls in spaces such as the workplace or schools… The paintings show the beauty and versatility of these hairstyles and highlight the significance of hair in Black culture, while also highlighting these intimate experiences and routines of daily life.
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To prepare for a recent portrait, Shannon LaNier pulled a black coat over his head and wrapped a thick, layered collar around his neck, a costume to match what Thomas Jefferson wore in an iconic 18th-century painting. The Houston news anchor was participating in an ongoing series by British photographer Drew Gardner that recreates photographs, paintings, and other images of historical figures by styling their descendants in similar garb. LaNier’s photograph is particularly significant, though, because he’s the sixth-great grandson of Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, who the third U.S. president enslaved and forced to bear his children, a story that’s long been left out of historical narratives.
Titled The Descendants, the project is a visual excavation of Western history that questions what remains after generations pass. The relatives of historically significant people are, for the most part, out of the spotlight, but as the photographer notes, their ancestors’ “DNA is walking down the street.”
The project began about 15 years ago when Gardner’s mother mentioned that he resembled his grandfather. Although the current project has diverged from simple likeness—the photographer notes that similar features are not a requirement when searching for descendants—he hopes to inspire questions about people’s legacies. “I am not saying they look like their forebears,” he notes. “I’m encouraging a debate. I want to provoke a conversation that makes people curious about history.” Since its inception, he’s photographed relatives of Frederick Douglass, Lisa del Giocondo, Berthe Morisot, and Napoleon.
Gardner’s criteria for choosing subjects is strict: the historical figure must be widely known to the public and have made a significant impact that goes beyond simple celebrity. The next step involves tracking down paintings, photographs, and other realistic representations of the person, which eliminates a considerable number of prospects—originally, Gardner hoped to recreate an image of Pocahontas but soon realized that only a woodcut existed. The photographer then searches for living family members, sometimes working through more than a dozen generations to find someone within 15 years of age of the forebear. Often with the help of museums and other institutions dedicated to historical preservation, he contacts the relative to ask if they’ll pose for a portrait.
To maintain the integrity of the original image, the costumes and props are vintage, when possible. Some elements, though, like the massive, rusted chains forming the backdrop of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s portrait from 1857, don’t exist anymore. When the authentic items aren’t available, Gardner recreates them in physical or digital form.
For LaNier’s portrait, though, the situation was different. While he is dressed similarly to Jefferson, he diverges because he chose to forgo the wig his sixth-great grandfather wore. “I didn’t want to become Jefferson,” he told Smithsonian Magazine. The result is a striking set of portraits that explore historical truths. “Jefferson may have been a founding father, but I am an image of what his family has now become,” LaNier says in an interview about the experience. “You look at my family and you see every color in there, as you will see from many family’s that have come from slavery.”
Although the pandemic has changed his immediate plans for upcoming recreations, Gardner is hoping to release more pieces in 2021, which you can follow on Instagram. For those interested in a behind-the-scenes look at his process, Smithsonian Magazine has released videos of the Douglass, Jefferson, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton shoots.
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A stunning 3D virtual tour from the Egyptian Tourism Authority takes viewers deep into the heavily detailed tomb of Pharaoh Ramesses VI. Named Tomb KV9, the underground structure has a long corridor leading down to the now-broken sarcophagus, and both walls and the ceiling are inscribed with writings from ancient Egyptian texts and astronomical renderings. The fifth ruler of the Twentieth Dynasty of Egypt, Ramesses VI’s reign lasted for about eight years in the 12th century BC. In 1898, his tomb was cleared by Georges Émile Jules Daressy who stole a portion of the sarcophagus, which then was acquired by the British Museum. (via Twisted Sifter)
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Conceptual Photographs by Can Dagarslani and Sophie Bogdan Fall at the Intersection of Joy and Absurdity
A Berlin-based creative duo, photographer Can Dagarslani and model Sophie Bogdan consider the curvature and adaptability of the human body in a series of quirky, spirited photographs. Generally shot outdoors with only natural light, each image employs heavily composed elements of color, space, perspective, and texture, whether captured through a trail of black balloons, a playful shadow figure, or a rigid Bogdan resting on a mossy terrain. The conceptual photographs explore the intersections of social dynamics, relationships, identity, and love.
In a note to Colossal, Dagarslani says his background in architecture influences how he frames the spatial aspects of his works, often considering symmetry, perspective, and the subject’s posture and placement. The photographer derives inspiration for his vivid colors and textural elements from more subtle sources, like attention to the mundane objects and moments of his daily life.
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Berries, Cookies, and Salami Slices Anonymize Vintage Portraits by Digital Artist Harriet Moutsopoulos
Telling someone that there’s an errant herb stuck between their teeth or a dot of sauce just below their lip is likely to spur embarrassment, so noting that they’re covered in egg or raspberry or a gloopy mound of ketchup might be too much to bear. Harriet Moutsopoulos, though, helps her subjects save face by completely masking their distinct features with singular bites of fruit, bowls of ice cream, and slices of salami, ensuring their anonymity.
The Australian artist, who works under the name Lexicon Love, combines found portraits and edibles into strange collages. Although her techniques are digital, Moutsopolous often considers analog practices, preferring basic technologies to programs like Photoshop or Illustrator. She also imposes limits of two or three elements to maintain the integrity of each piece. “The most significant challenge for me is giving each artwork the slight imperfections of hand and the general look and feel of being made entirely from traditional, analog practices,” she says.
Moutsopolous tells Colossal that she’s “drawn to the surreal and unsettling and try to inject that into my work where possible, always seeking out the unexpected connections between humor and tragedy.” At times both comical and unsettling, the bizarre compilations inspire questions about the subjects’ identities. “On the surface, this absurd combination appears to reject any sense of reason (an extension of my own twisted sense of humor). However, obscuring the faces of my portraits with food is designed to not only challenge traditional notions of beauty but also to provoke, tease, and confuse the observer,” the artist says.
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From a hummingbird piercing a water droplet to a roadrunner grasping its lunch to a tiger-heron posing for a portrait, the winners of the 2020 Audubon Photography Awards have captured a striking array of birds across the western hemisphere. Out of more than 6,000 entries, the top ten shots glimpse the transitory moments in avian lives that are otherwise unseen.
New York-based photographer Joanna Lentini secured the grand prize with her stunning photograph of a double-crested cormorant descending into the center of a school of fish in Los Islotes, Mexico. “I watched in awe as the cormorants plunged beak-first into the sea to snap at the sardines swimming by. Although I spent a long time admiring these birds, I didn’t see a single one catch a fish. Adding insult to injury, curious sea lion pups would zip by the hunting birds and nip at them from behind,” Lentini says.
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