Austrian Bela Borsodi does still life photography in a very special way. Instead of just showing us products for fashion magazines, he plays with our perception, giving each one a personality. He glues together art and fashion photography; being part of the commercial entertainment and questioning it at the same time. His recent Foot Fetish series for V Magazine #48 got a whole lot of attention. And you can still spot Bela’s pics for LeSportsac all over their Harajuku building. PingMag got curious and talked to the New York-based photographer:
Written by Verena
Eye eye – it’s Bela Borsodi.
For you, one kind of beauty seems to lie in still life – why?
In still life photography, every thing can be investigated in so many more and different ways. There are endless possibilities and each one of them has the potential to eventually change our perspective.
So this is about playing with how many variations are possible with one object: Where does it end, or when do you feel finished with it?
It’s about playing with lots of objects all the time and trying things out, as long as it’s fun and worthwhile. I’m finished with a project when I’m happy with it and that’s when it all falls together and makes sense. The only purpose to reach an end is to finish a project – but it is really not that important to find all the answers. What is really interesting are the questions because they make you try things out, make you think and investigate. The process is what’s interesting and that can lead you to situations and possibilities that you couldn’t have anticipated. The results are then also a documentation of that process.
“Inflated Egos” for City #36: not your common or garden fashion spread… Published by City magazine.
Another “Inflated Ego” published by City magazine in 2005.
Give an example, please.
If you look at an object, such as a Zippo lighter, that has a chrome surface and is reflecting like a mirror: Although you might know this object really well, you actually never really see it itself. You mostly see the reflection of the environment around it including yourself watching it. That could be very interesting for me to explore. Still, you understand and perceive it like any other firm object whose shape you can see very clearly. That’s only because you understand how it works. What interests me is that I want to forget for a moment that I actually understand an object and try to explore it in a way as if I have never seen it before. Doing this I often find alternate qualities in objects.
The “Bagmen” series – literally giving personality to your luggage for Details magazine, published 2005.
Another Bagman for Details.
You can use this Zippo chrome lighter as a mirror to put your make-up on – and so it’s not only a lighter any longer. In that spirit, some things can also have other qualities than they were originally made for: That lighter can also turn out to be a great bottle opener, or a door stopper, or a paper weight. This is endless, just think about all the different pens that you already have used to stir your coffee or all those things that you put under the leg of a shaky table to make it more stable.
“Spalmati:” a sun lotion series…
…using only the lotion itself. Published in Numéro #2, Italy 2007.
So, it is about taking objects out of their usual context…
But other than such obvious and functional aspects it can also lead to more psychological aspects of perception: Often when you only change the context of things you can find new meaning. Or you add something to an object or you take something away from it. Or you put it upside down. All this can change it – a glass put upside down loses all its original function and becomes just a “thing”. Maybe you spotted the posters for HSBC on American airports – this campaign works with this as its main principle. In fashion you can also explore what really makes a shoe elegant or trashy, cool or ugly, expensive or cheap, sexy or vulgar, functional or decadent. Also, I find it interesting to take very ugly photos of very delicious food, or to shoot trash so that it looks very elegant and luscious.
Also, association is very interesting: Why do certain things suggest certain connotations and make you feel in certain ways? That deals with psychology and culture and touches the very personality of the each individual. This perhaps might sound speculative and controlling – it’s more about detecting the humour in things and being playful.
Meat sauce hand! For Swiss chain Migros, 2000 – “Ugly” photos of very delicious foods…
…can have their own poetic charms. Steak face! For Migros, 2000. Design: Studio Achermann.
Interestingly you started exploring this with your special still photography in 2000 when, for two months, you were taking pictures of garbage for the Swiss market chain Migros. What happened during these trash sessions?
Garbage is truly beautiful. It is an aesthetic material that results out of objects that are already removed from its original purpose and appearance. Often, they still keep changing their structure. These bits and pieces of remains sometimes also carry a complex layer of further meaning – very poetic and truthful. At that stage objects often have developed more personality than when they were still new and unused. Sometimes, things become an alternate reality to the one originally intended.
Garbage for Swiss Swiss chain Migros, 2000,…
…turns to elegant objects! For Migros, 2000. Design: Studio Achermann.
In addition to your background in fine arts and graphic design, you obviously have an interest in psychology. You said in another interview:
“He who said that he does everything in the name of love I find very inspiring because this really touches the very base of the motivation to do anything … in the end all relates to love … or to feeling the lack of it – having desires – to share and to communicate desires is often what an artist does and what intrigues people because it is a direct link to a person’s psychology.”
So, humankind is basically driven by the need to be loved?
This quote is really very important and personal. When you try to think what motivation really is, you can easily get lost with so many different ideas and endless details or complex constructions. What could really be the most simple and most basic reason for creating art? For me work and life cannot be separated – and then I came up with this thought. How can one possibly argue about the power of love?
True! I also recall you said that the artist is kind of a mouthpiece for other people’s desire – how would you define your artistic language then?
If I can manage to have real joy with my projects this can likely also communicate my excitement to other people and perhaps inspire. That’s what I really want to share: humor, obsession, intelligence, curiosity, making an effort…
…and start a discussion. Your Foot Fetish series for V Magazine #48 was how I came across your work. I thought Wow! You’re really pushing it, but in an intelligent way! These images of naked female bodies say a lot about sexism in our society… please explain a little.
The shoes in these images [see main pic and above] are designed to shape the female body and her posture, not only her foot. They also sexualise the woman who chooses to wear such shoes and I got interested to investigate and to maximise this visually, to explore how the already sexualised female body of a woman would fit with those shoes in a very exaggerated manner: How their shapes would possibly meet and what new proportions they would create on a different scale.
I also wanted to reflect on the already established connection and purpose of such shoes and how they are designed towards the female body. That is why I don’t show the heads of those bodies and they are all nude.
An unusual underwear shoot: “Fingered” published in S Magazine #4, Denmark 2006.
They fit in nicely with the shoes…
And instead of having created only a digital Photoshop fantasy by manipulating and placing actual women into these shoes, I decided to build and cut these female bodies out of prints. I placed these shapes then in the actual shoes to make the process more realistic and physical.
That makes it even more interesting! What did the publishers think?
The magazine was very enthusiastic about these images and then all was getting really crazy: As soon as this story was out it got a very angry reaction by groups of feminists. Only a few days later I found about ten different websites that characterised me as a sexist and misogynist. They were calling for a boycott of the magazine and even of the designers of those shoes. But later I also found some sites that were starting to discuss my images in a more serious manner in relation to sexism in advertising and fashion. If total strangers with different backgrounds discuss my work on the web it gets very interesting as the web is in that way very democratic. I found a lot of feminists’ websites criticising these images – but also some fetish and porno websites liking them.
A devil licking at your new bag – cute! “Out Of This World” series for Kid’s Wear, Germany 2007.
Little creatures recommending a silver sneaker: “Out Of This World” for Kid’s Wear magazine.
That’s why it was so polarising…
I firmly believe that an artwork wants to raise questions and it wants to be discussed. That is its purpose and in that way these images turned out to be really very successful. The position of an artist is not really to judge issues but to raise questions about issues and to explore them. The greatest success of an artwork is if it results in entering a more complex discussion that can eventually change perspectives and inspire thought.
Contemplating this harsh reaction that called me a misogynist, I thought later that the funny paradox of this story is: With these images one could eventually also see a critique to our sexist society. Or one can choose just to share my amazement of exploring this world freely and to find possibilities of a different perspective.
Definitely… But let’s also have a look at your other amazing works, for example Spalmati in Numéro #2: a sun lotion series consisting only of the lotion itself. [see pics above]
The magazine asked me to do a story on sun block lotions with a feeling of “fun in the summer at the beach.” I would have a lot of freedom and, to my amazement, the magazine was even willing to not showing the actual product, the container.
What might that be? “Hidden objects” published in Livraison #2, Sweden 2006.
A fish head on a body of scissors and pliers! “Hidden objects” published in Livraison #2, Sweden 2006.
I wanted to “draw” a narrative story with those creams, and believe me, those lotions are extremely hard to control and to work with. I had to come up with lots of ideas and tricks of how I could actually paint with those lotions. This was really so much fun but also an intense and nerve-wrecking experience.
I also loved your Inflated Ego series for City #36 magazine using balloons as mannequins – somehow they associate vulgar forms grotesquely distorted. I bet you had fun with that! [pictures above]
As you can imagine there were a lot of balloons exploding and changing shapes – often just when I was almost ready to shoot them. This became a process of having one vague shape in mind and then seeing to which final state it will develop. It was about balance and patience because these characters happened to be very lively. I wanted them to find their final shapes by themselves and they have decided to be a bit on the chubby and wobbly side.
“Crazy Art” for Italian Glamour #182, 2007…
Bela’s inspiration came from the “Arte Povera movement, Ready-mades and Pop art.” Published in Glamour #182.
You must be a good observer, as this and all your other series tell accurate stories of the experiences we have in everyday life. Do you like to watch people interacting?
Thank you for this compliment and I do observe very much what is around me. That is the greatest inspiration, one that I will never get tired of and that always intrigues me.
Bela Borsodi, we have to thank you for your inspiring fashion photography and what you taught us today about everyday’s perception!