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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Taking eight years to complete, a new stop-motion short by Suresh Eriyat and his production company Studio Eeksaurus tells a heartrending story about family, mistakes, and forgiveness. “Tokri” features a young girl’s attempts to remedy breaking a precious heirloom by weaving and selling baskets to passersby. Chronicling her travails, the claymation winds through the busy streets of Mumbai, featuring an impressively large band of characters.
Part class commentary, “Tokri” was inspired by Eriyat’s own experience in the Indian city, after he dismissed a child who approached him while stopped at a traffic light. “As he drove off, he was hit with guilt, wondering what circumstance made the little girl sell baskets, and what if his brashness had done little but drag her situation for longer,” a statement from the studio says.
A behind-the-scenes video chronicling the creation process reveals a massive set replete with constructed shops and buses, cars, and other vehicles lining the streets. It shows animators constantly moving the dozens of clay characters who walk down the sidewalk and ride on public transit. “For the details of the ambiance, we photographed various little shops on the streets for references, as well as interiors of slum houses,” the studio said. “We tried to get every detail right, from the props inside the house to the model and make of the automobiles on the road.” The result is a lively, crowded cityscape with incredibly particular elements, like the old family photograph, patterned textiles stacked in the home, and the stray animals and refuse occupying alleyways. Expansive shots capture the magnitude of the miniature scenes.
Studio Eeksaurus is headed by both Suresh and Nilima Eriyat, the company’s executive producer. The prolific animator has created hundreds of films that have garnered him an Annecy Cristal, in addition to recognition from Clios and Cannes Lions. To dive further into the making of “Tokri,” multiple videos showing the pre-production, music, and sound processes are available on Vimeo. Find more of Eriyat and the studio’s award-winning work on Instagram. (via Short of the Week)
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Like most romances, penguins’ relationships aren’t black and white. The aquatic birds’ are known for their scandalous affairs, messy heartbreaks, and frequent kidnappings of each others’ chicks. To keep track of their complicated relationship statuses, caretakers at the Tokyo’s Sumida Aquarium and Kyoto Aquarium have created a complex network documenting 2020’s romances.
The two flowcharts are replete with color-coded lines and symbols: Red hearts denote couples. Purple lines with question marks signify more complicated relationships with the potential of romance. A blue, broken heart indicates an ended affair. Yellow lines mean friendship, while green marks an enemy. Each penguin’s name is written underneath its photo.
In an interview with CNN Travel, Shoko Okuda, a spokeswoman for the aquariums, said the caretakers have included the dramatic birds’ flirtatious tactics, too, which includes wing flapping and shaking their necks left to right. Heartbroken birds—one female in Kyoto (shown below) ended six relationships last year alone—often refuse to eat their rice as they cope with the loss. The caretakers included have formed strong bonds with the penguins, sometimes even coming between same-species connections.
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Sydney-based artist Mechelle Bounpraseuth crafts life-sized ceramics that explore her identity as a first-generation daughter of Laotian refugees. Her small and glossy ceramic artwork, which ranges from drink cans to widely known sauces, explores her connection with her past and how branded ingredients are rooted in culinary culture and rituals.
Bounpraseuth was raised a Jehovah’s Witness, and despite many fond memories of her family and childhood, her religion discouraged her from pursuing artistic pursuits. She left the religion in her 20s and got married, realizing that her dream of becoming an artist was possible and that she didn’t have to succumb to the person her religion had wanted her to be.
Her creativity initially began from drawing and creating zines, before Bounpraseuth enrolled in a ceramics course and began crafting functional objects. Noticing her talent for the medium, her tutor encouraged her to pursue work with more artistic flair. She began to expand on her drawings of household objects by recreating them in clay and glossy bright colors.
One of Bounpraseuth’s ceramics is a Heinz Ketchup bottle, a condiment found in many family fridges and cupboards throughout the world. For the artist, the sauce represents the memory of her family eating pho together, a ritual in which they would come together and make the recipe from scratch with a dollop of ketchup. These sculptural forms are meaningful symbols to Bounpraseuth as the pho was a labor of love and would take her family all day to make.
Through the creation of these domestic objects from her past, Bounpraseuth uses her artwork as a way to reflect upon and process her childhood memories and as a way to navigate her old and new identities. These pieces illustrate how some values remain passed down from generations, like Bounparseuth’s reference to her family’s shared domesticity, while some core aspects of family, like religion, are not always.
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Animator Siqi Song explores the deeply personal implications of China’s One Child Policy in her powerful animated short, SISTER. The film uses felt stop-motion animation to tell the story of a family that conceived two children during the years—1979 to 2015—that the Chinese government controlled the number of children families could raise. An adult man, the film’s protagonist, looks back on his youth and the complicated family dynamics among siblings and parents.
“Growing up with my brother has been a privilege and a bittersweet experience for me,” Song explains. She shares that, being an exception to the rule, she has been the subject of many questions from friends about the experience of growing up with a sibling. “I also want to tell the stories of my friends, who would’ve had a different life if their siblings were born,” says Song. “This film is dedicated to this group memory.”
The Los Angeles-based director and animator has worked on several of her own highly lauded shorts, as well as on the feature film Missing Link. Watch more of Song’s films on her website (where she also shares behind-the-scenes shots), and follow along with new projects on Instagram. (via Short of the Week)
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Two, three, and four dimensions commingle in “The Full Story” by filmmaker Daisy Jacobs and animator Chris Wilder. In their previous, highly lauded short, “The Bigger Picture”, the duo painted animations on walls, combined with sculpture components like moveable papier maché limbs, and regular ‘real world’ objects.
In their newest film, “The Full Story,” Jacobs and Wilder tell Colossal that they “really wanted to push [themselves] creatively and try new ideas.” In addition to all the elements the duo used in “The Bigger Picture,” the newer film also incorporates human actors to tell the story of two siblings’ experience of their parents acrimonious marriage.
In order to merge the real and imagined, Jacobs and Wilder explain that they made the sets more realistic and the actors more ‘painterly’ to find a stylistic middle ground. “To make the sets more realistic we emphasized textures and brought out shine with lighting and varnish. With the real people we did the opposite–painting their clothes, minimizing shadows on their faces with make-up and making them more graphic with wigs.”
Jacobs and Wilder only animate as a pair, and explain that their work is done “straight-ahead”. Each image is painted over as they animate, which allows no room for error or second takes. To complete the film, Huw Bradford created the soundtrack and a slate of random objects worked as Foley.
You can see Jacobs in action working on “The Full Story” in the time-lapse below, and see more on her Vimeo page.
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