Unique portraits with a porcelain style
An award-winning photographer who has been on the rise in the art and photography scene for the past 8 years picking up awards for ‘best young photographer’ and ‘photographer of the year’ on two separate occasions. Oleg Dou certainly has developed an incredibly unique style. The artist’s story starts at the age of 13 with the gift of Adobe Photoshop from his parents, this captivated Dou and he began to experiment with this incredible tool. Its power to manipulate became the real draw as he started to alter images of his classmates and teachers. For the purpose of this article, I will be focusing on two series by the artist ‘Heaven in my Body’ and ‘Reborn’.
Viewing Oleg Dou’s work is a complex and ever so slightly confusing experience. Striking portraiture mixes with muted colour palettes that not only encapsulate the backgrounds and objects in the image but also the models, who appear, whether naturally or through the use of Photoshop, as perfect and delicate forms. This is warped in some photos as the artist adds extra forms on the model, changing them into strange beings that seem both alien and mythological. In all the works in this series, my mind is drawn to the paintings of the 18th and 19th century artists who created fantastical visions of beauty and elaborate scenes of mythical creatures interacting with human subjects. The human subjects in these paintings and the works of Dou both share common features, most distinctively is the complexion of the people. They are conveyed as porcelain-like, with pure blushing pale skin tones and no imperfections. A vision of a perfect specimen of the human form which was the societal aspiration for the 18th and 19th century elite. Dou depicts the models as almost fairy-like with flower garlands and vine leaf headbands much like Shakespearean depictions of the Fairy King and Queen in ‘A Mid Summer Nights Dream’.
18th and 19th century works were seen as fanciful and beautiful portrayals of imagined and perfect worlds. Whereas with the photography of Oleg Dou, there is definitely an air of the peculiar and off-putting. While the artist creates the forms as perfect skinned and pale, they have a much more un-natural feeling about them, as the model is identifiably human but the skin seems plastic. The models have forlorn features and are often depicted crying. Perhaps a comment on our increasing need for creating ourselves as flawless beings with imperfections being hidden or replaced. It is clear from Dou’s work that a flawless human being is actually very unsettling to behold. Many of the models in both ‘Heaven in my Body’ and ‘Reborn’ are not simply unsettling because of this plastic manikin like visage but because the artist has manipulated the form to produce strange alien or mythological beings. Pointed ears, fangs, claw-like fingernails and strange growths on the head are some of the most notable features. These alterations give the viewer the impression of human-animal hybrids or that the models are actually made to look like nymphs or sprites from forgotten myths and folklore. Those that were represented in centuries-old paintings were things of mystery and intrigue but captured in modern photography are bizarre and abhorrent.
In the series ‘Reborn’ we see other imagery and messages conveyed. Increased use of flora and fauna in and around the subjects, with some photos containing only these items. Reminiscent of classical still-life paintings with a sense of immaculate beauty captured in the simple forms of fruits and flowers. Again there is always something not quite right, from the unusual blueing roots of a rose to the sexual connotations suggested in fruit and human interaction with it, to the downright obvious inclusion of a used condom. Each photo captures a beauty which has been artificially created and ruined at the same time by human interaction. The impression of plastic comes through again, much like the fake fruits and flowers that children would play with or the enhanced food used for product photography, these objects look enticing but at the same time, we perceive something fundamentally wrong.
Oleg Dou certainly is a distinctive photographer whose skill in Photoshop cannot be denied, with his beautiful final images a testament to this. Yet, a photographer whose work is more than skin deep and carries with it an incredible amount of questions and interpretations for the viewer. Challenging perceptions of beauty and classical imagery whilst conveying messages about the nature of being human and what it means to be ‘perfect’.
I am looking for something bordering between the beautiful and the repulsive, living and dead. i want to attain the feeling of presence one can get when walking by a plastic manikin…
By: Thomas Jukes