Photo project uncovers the hunger, fear and mental scarring of Shanghai’s harsh lockdowns

Kay © Johnny Man

The Covid era hasn’t just been about physical suffering. Chinese photographer Johnny Man‘s project focuses on the mental side-effects of prolonged lockdowns in his home city.

Even when lockdowns are officially over, some people still feel trapped in a mental lockdown that can be brutally restricting. One artist addressing this concern is Johnny Man, a Chinese documentary photographer based in Shanghai.

His project Trapped after Lockdown documents the mental statuses of people who have difficulty moving on, following the strict two-month long lockdown imposed in Shanghai this year.

First, some background. “On 1 April 2022, given the widespread Omicron infections, Shanghai decided to launch a citywide lockdown,” Johnny explains. “The megacity stopped functioning in no time.”

After two months of the harshest lockdown in history, Shanghai started to reopen on 1 June. “Now, all aspects of life are slowly returning to normal,” says Johnny. “Yet some people still suffer from anxiety and stress caused by what happened in the last two months and are having difficulty moving on.”

And that’s perhaps not surprising. Given the Chinese government’s strict zero-Covid policy, everyone knows the city could be thrust into lockdown again should new cases be reported.

Consequently, Johnny believes, “Many citizens are in a subtle status of being set free physically, yet still trapped psychologically, in some sort of mental lockdown. This photo project presents the stories of people in Shanghai who share these feelings.”

Getting people to participate, however, was anything but easy. “Not many people were willing to get photographed and talk about their feelings or what happened to them,” he explains. “So it wasn’t smooth making this at all. I really appreciate those who did agree to take part.”

Looking at the portraits and stories of some of the people Johnny photographed, we begin with RenXiong, who has a pretty decent house with a large living room, well lit by the sun. With a breeze running through from time to time, it’s downright cosy. It was bought around the end of last year. “I’d never have made this deal if I’d have known about this lockdown,” he says.

RenXiong is a freelance photographer, so he barely had any income during the two-month lockdown. Tremendous anxiety overwhelmed him, especially when thinking about the pricey mortgage.

RenXiong © Johnny Man

RenXiong © Johnny Man

RenXiong’s mother and niece travelled to Shanghai in early March. This was followed by the rapid outbreak of Omicron, which led them to get stuck with RenXiong. And as his pregnant wife had a due date of August, RenXiong couldn’t take his chance, like some of his friends, to escape to other cities. “In my friend’s words, I have been sealed to this place,” he says.

Three weeks after the citywide lockdown, RenXiong suffered from a high fever for several days. He was afraid that he’d somehow got infected with Omicron, so he had no choice but to isolate himself in the corner of the living room from the rest of his family and make everyone wear masks at home.

RenXiong tried not to make contact with anyone in the house, especially his pregnant wife. Fortunately, the results of a stream of Covid tests appeared negative.

However, RenXiong remains highly anxious after the reopening on 1 June because the amount of commissioned shoots declined significantly due to the worry that any given street or compound would be back to lockdown again if a positive case was found. Uncertainty continues, and so does the problem of lost income. “The next step is to wait for jobs,” he says.

When Johnny came to Ginny’s apartment, she’d already packed most of her luggage. Being confined at home for nearly three months, she’d quit her job, intending to return to her hometown in Henan for a break.

Omicron cases were found in Ginny’s compound as early as March, so she’d been forced to stay home since then. She said she didn’t feel too anxious psychologically, but her body language told a different story. She was losing larger amounts of hair than ever and couldn’t sleep beyond 4am, even if she went to bed late.

Ginny © Johnny Man

Ginny © Johnny Man

She was kept company by two cats during lockdown, Huzi and Taobao. While there was a food shortage in Shanghai, Huzi and Taobao also suffered from a cat food shortage. Ginny would share her chicken breast with them, but she was not that lucky herself. The food supplies she received from the government included rotten vegetables, mouldy canned food and the infamous pork with pig nipples.

As soon as the city reopened on 1 June, Ginny went out wishing for a decent meal in a restaurant with friends. Yet after walking for two kilometres, she found none that were open. Disappointedly, she returned home and ordered takeout. Ginny says she’ll return to Shanghai when the pandemic goes away, “There are more opportunities here, after all.”

Elsewhere is HaiJun. The compound she stays in with her friends is located in the bustling city centre. But this didn’t guarantee them better supplies from the government during lockdown. During the first two weeks, she got supplies only once, which contained a cucumber and nothing more.

What’s worst came after. Staff from the neighbourhood committee, whose office is located inside the compound, were the first ones who tested positive.

Several residents had come to them for consulting before. Photos showed that they hadn’t worn masks while talking to people, violating the pandemic prevention protocols. Fury broke out within the compound, followed by panic that the virus might spread between neighbours. “It’s just ridiculous. It really is.”

Attempting to avoid infection clusters, HaiJun refused to participate in the Covid test held daily in the compound. HaiJun is a university student. She has been taking online courses all this time and intends to go to Ireland for further study after the lockdown. But the lockdown situation continues.

When Johnny left HaiJun’s house, fences were being put back up in streets and compounds where new cases had been found.

Kang, meanwhile, has been addicted to sleep, on which he spent most of the time every day since lockdown. He walked out of his compound for the first time in two months on the reopening day on 1 June. He passed by the streets where he walked every day to work, somehow struck with unfamiliarity, “Like I don’t know this place anymore.”

Kang © Johnny Man

Kang © Johnny Man

A similar sense of unfamiliarity also occurred in March, when the citywide lockdown had not yet become an option, though case numbers were rising and more compounds were coming under lockdown. Kang’s was one of them. Residents were not allowed to leave their own buildings; all packages or takeouts would be delivered by volunteers.

Kang ordered takeout, but nothing was delivered to him, even two hours after the food had arrived at his compound. He was so hungry he couldn’t stand it anymore, so he left the building to fetch the food at the entrance. But he was stopped by a volunteer and got scolded. When Kang explained the situation, the response shocked him: “You can’t leave your building. I don’t care if you starve to death.” Kang froze in dizziness without knowing where he really was. In his memory, Shanghai was never like this.

Kang works in a photo studio. He’d intended to open his own studio before the lockdown disrupted his plan completely. With the ever-strict zero Covid policy, the abrupt lockdown has become the new normal in China. To Kang, the future is too unpredictable to keep him motivated, “I can’t see anything ahead, just muddle through the days.”

One week before the reopening on 1 June, one positive case was found in the compound where Johnny’s next subject, Samuel, stays. While the infectious person was being transferred to the quarantine centre, the rest of the residents were sent to a designated hotel for a five-day quarantine, despite all of them testing negative for Omicron.

In the quarantine hotel, Covid tests were arranged in the very early morning every day. Samuel said he often suffered panic attacks after the test, worrying that something might go wrong. He found it difficult to fall asleep until the result came out after midnight.

Samuel © Johnny Man

Samuel © Johnny Man

Soaking in panic attacks for five days drained Samuel and amplified his disgust at quarantine hotels. He intended to return to his hometown in Guangdong for a rest until he found out the local CDC would have him stay in a quarantine hotel for days before he could reach home, so he gave up the idea instantly. As a freelance makeup artist, Samuel has been out of work for nearly three months, yet he seems unnaturally indifferent. “I don’t feel like doing anything. I’ve become numb.”

Then there’s Roxanne, who served as a volunteer barber in her compound at the early stage of lockdown. Even though she had no experience cutting hair before and therefore ruined a few haircuts, neighbours still adored this shy yet warm-hearted girl. So when the news about Roxanne getting arrested circulated in the compound, everyone was shocked.

It all started with a poster. At the time, deliveries were almost shut down entirely. Food supplies that were supposed to be sent by the government had been absent for quite a long time, resulting in severe food shortages for many families.

Roxanne © Johnny Man

Roxanne © Johnny Man

At this time, some people started to draw posters, encouraging others to protest about the situation at home by clanking pots and pans to ask for supplies. Creative posters started to circulate in different compound group chats on WeChat. Roxanne was inspired and drew a poster as well, then sent it in her compound group chat. Many people responded actively, which led the police to quickly bring her into custody.

Roxanne was interrogated by more than ten police officers with harsh threats and had her phone checked thoroughly.
“Why did you draw the poster?”
“To ask for food.”
“Why did you call on people to protest together?”
“So that we can ask for food together.”
The police kept laughing afterwards.

Roxanne was kept in the police station for 24 hours before she was released. Two meals were given to her, which consisted of fried chicken, shrimp and green vegetables. She said they were way better than what she’d had at home at that time. Roxanne received many gifts after returning home from neighbours who called her “hero” in the group chat and appreciated her bravery. “I might not have drawn the poster if I knew I’d get arrested,” Roxanne said with a bitter laugh.

After reopening, Roxanne felt tired all the time. She had to halt the plan to change her job because of lockdown. She didn’t find any excitement in the reopening. “Don’t feel like cheering at all, not to mention some people are still in lockdown.”

Then there was Echo. It’s been seven years since she first came to Shanghai. She loves the city from the bottom of her heart. Shanghai, in her opinion, is the most civilised and free city in mainland China. But she’s deeply disillusioned after witnessing how, in the strictly two-month-long lockdown, the government trampled its own citizens’ human rights which, in some cases, resulted in costs of lives.

She’s pretty annoyed by the self-consolation statements some people posted online. “Life will nevertheless return to normal again sooner or later. Just put up with it in peace.” She can’t relate to this ignorance and self-deception at all.

Echo © Johnny Man

Echo © Johnny Man

She thinks the fear and anxiety people feel inside during this lockdown can’t be driven away. “You’d probably forget about this if it lasts only for two days. But the truth is, you felt like you were getting beaten up every day for the last two months. How are you gonna forget about this?”

Echo will leave for Europe to study by the end of this year. The decision was made before the lockdown, but her determination has been reinforced by all this. “For now, since it’s my last year in Shanghai, my mind is like being an outsider, witnessing history with everybody here, having experiences that others might never have in their whole lives.”

Kay was another one Johnny photographed. She didn’t feel too unpleasant when the lockdown first occurred. Home is a place where she feels comfortable and allows her mind to flow, which leads to her inner peace. So she stayed home most of the time, even before the lockdown. However, as the lockdown kept expanding its days, and with no one having a clue when the reopening would come, Kay felt a strong sense of loss of freedom, both physical and mental.

Shanghai used to give Kay an impression of inclusiveness and encouraging people to express themselves fully. Yet the strict censorship against online criticism of the government contradicts the image it used to present.

Kay © Johnny Man

Kay © Johnny Man

The discrepancy puts Kay under great anxiety. Even after reopening, she couldn’t get rid of this anxiety, especially when she saw things were gradually getting back to normal. At least that’s how the facade appears. She feels like what happened in the last two months didn’t really happen. Yet it did. This ambiguity leads Kay into a sense of unease, if not nihilism.

Kay started her own business at the end of 2019, but it collapsed soon after the pandemic broke out. Kay pulled herself together this year, starting a new company in the advertising industry with friends. Not long after they rented an office in March, Shanghai started its harshest two-month long citywide lockdown in history.

Superunion’s Scott Lambert celebrates the erratic nature of creativity in fun flipbook

This side project by Superunion pays homage to those special moments that make creatives “irrationally happy”. We find out more about HappyMess, the illustrated book of brilliant messiness.

When the first lockdown began, the pressure was on creativity to use the enforced time at home productively. But what many of us found was that creativity isn’t something you can meticulously plan and schedule: it’s far more random and serendipitous than that. And that’s a concept that’s embraced and celebrated in a new side project by Superunion’s creative director Scott Lambert.

HappyMess
is a playful, illustrated book capturing the brilliant messiness of creativity and the fleeting moments of joy we experience in our everyday lives. Created in partnership with speciality paper producer Fedrigoni, the dual-segmented flip-book features dynamic sketches of objects and moments from daily life in a joyous celebration of life’s distractions.

Drawing with Indian black ink on Fedrigoni’s newly-named Arena Extra White range (previously known as Arcoprint), in various weights and the textures ‘Smooth’ and ‘Rough’, Scott reflected on the little moments of joy that daily life brings and celebrated the messy by-product of physical creation.

Printed and binded, the book features sketches of winning snapshots in sports, popular indoor plants, barbecues and animals amongst nature. Through these disparate subjects, it spotlights the precious few seconds of euphoria that comes from enjoying life’s distractions.

The idea came about during a time when creatives faced inspirational obstacles because of multiple lockdowns, and Scott discovered how surprisingly cathartic the day-to-day could be.

Superunion's Scott Lambert celebrates the erratic nature of creativity in fun flipbook

Superunion's Scott Lambert celebrates the erratic nature of creativity in fun flipbook

“I wanted to highlight that moment in a creator’s process by taking characters and objects that typically make us irrationally happy – and what artists draw inspiration from – to make a book that mixes and matches them to showcase the erratic approach artists explore,” he explains.

“Happiness is a messy thing, and I particularly enjoyed working with Fedrigoni’s Arena Extra White Rough paper for its robust texture, reminding me of the wonders of tactility.”

Fedrigoni suggested Arena Extra White for its intricate contours, making it similar to a canvas. “It personifies the art of tangibility, and our customers love it for its versatility,” explains Ambra Fridegotto, marketing manager at Fedrigoni UK.

“Scott’s line drawings all differ and share no running theme other than prompting artistic inspiration and moments of happiness, a concept mirrored in the deliberate choice of the same range and shade – Arena and Extra White – in two contrasting textures, Smooth and Rough,” adds Ambra. “We’re thrilled to have partnered with Superunion for its initiative and particularly enjoy Scott’s sketches that epitomise the messy nature of a craftsperson.”

You find out more about the project at www.superunion.com.

Superunion's Scott Lambert celebrates the erratic nature of creativity in fun flipbook

Tyrrell Winston Presents ‘Tiger Stripes’ at Cranbrook Art Museum

Tyrrell Winston Presents 'Tiger Stripes' at Cranbrook Art Museum

Tyrrell Winston has been quietly perfecting his game. Well-known for his gridded assemblages made of found basketballs, the Detroit-based artist has ventured across a number of new studies, including collectible editions, large-scale paintings, along with a custom Reebok Question Mid and Club C 85.

Following his Hail Mary solo exhibition at Library Street Collective, Winston concurrently is showcasing his first museum solo show at Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. “I’ve been a lifelong sports fan, but when I started making art, seriously, I never really envisioned that I would treat sport as a medium,” said Winston in an interview.

The latest show, Tiger Stripes, takes its name from the fact that every tiger has its own unique set of stripes, which for the artist, has been used as a metaphor to describe the unique identity, pride, and legacy many feel about their favorite sports team.

The exhibition presents a series of new Protection Paintings, which juxtapose lacquered panels of metallic automotive paint and found discarded tarps. Several of the paintings serve as a homage to Michigan sports through colors that evoke the Detroit Lions, University of Michigan and their bitter rivals, Michigan State University.

Tiger Stripes is on view at Cranbrook Art Museum until September 25.

For more on art, we spoke to Nadia Lee Cohen for the latest Through the Lens.

Cranbrook Art Museum
39221 Woodward Ave,
Bloomfield Hills, MI 48304

Click here to view full gallery at HYPEBEAST

Tyrrell Winston Presents 'Tiger Stripes' at Cranbrook Art Museum

Curiouser and Curiouser: conceptual photo series brings Alice to modern-day Vegas

From the series, Curiouser and Curiouser © Vicky Martin

Fine art photographer Vicky Martin explains the thinking behind her new series, a thoroughly modern interpretation of the Victorian children’s classic.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland may have been written 157 years ago, but it’s the gift that keeps on giving. The fantastical story has inspired countless artists through three centuries and continues to do so today.

Finding a new take on the girl who falls through a rabbit hole into a magical world isn’t exactly easy. But Vicky Martin, a fine art photographer from Staffordshire, has nailed it with Curiouser and Curiouser; a conceptual series of photographs influenced by the much-loved Lewis Carroll novel.

Vicky’s series is inspired by the notion of ‘not belonging’, pinpointing the novel’s appeal to generations of children and aligning it with contemporary discussions around mental health.

“I personally identify with the theme of ‘not belonging’ that features prominently in Alice’s narrative,” Vicky explains. “Immersed in a world of make-believe, Alice shows her courage and strength by being able to successfully navigate through a fantasy land, appearing more at home in this wonderland than that in Victorian society.

“In my series, the modern-day wonderland of Las Vegas provides the backdrop for the protagonist to discover, struggle with, and eventually come to terms with her feelings of not fitting in.”

© Vicky Martin

© Vicky Martin

© Vicky Martin

© Vicky Martin

Joining Alice on her Vegas adventure is another character from the novel, the White Rabbit. Here, Vicky was inspired by the following passage, when Alice has just fallen down the rabbit hole and is contemplating how to cope with the frightening, bewildering situation she finds herself in.

The narrator describes how ‘this curious child was very fond of pretending to be two people. “But it’s no use now,” thought poor Alice, “to pretend to be two people! Why, there’s hardly enough of me left to make one respectable person!’.

“The idea here of Alice projecting some of her own thoughts and feelings into another person was the inspiration for the relationship I created between my own Alice and White Rabbit,” Vicky explains. “The figure of the White Rabbit is a manifestation of the grown-up thoughts and attitude that my protagonist is struggling to adopt and claim as her own.”

She adds that: “The White Rabbit encourages Alice to accept herself for who she is and to adapt to the daunting transition from child to adult: the calming influence to Alice’s angst and anxiety, the friend who dissipates her sense of loneliness and the ‘one respectable person’ that Alice finds the courage to become at the end of the series.”

© Vicky Martin

© Vicky Martin

These themes fit well with Vicky’s wider body of work, which has been widely published, exhibited nationally and internationally, in solo and group shows across the US and Europe, and won her several awards and nominations.

The photographer is best known for her conceptual portraits depicting the conflict between themes of fantasy and reality and strength and vulnerability, especially concerning the female experience.

“I intertwine my created characters with staged realities, which seek to convey the tension and conflicts found within the self,” she explains. “Throughout my work, I like to explore, through strong female characters, recurring themes that I am drawn to, such as conformity to the stereotypical, individual and societal expectations of femininity, vulnerability and self-doubt.

“Whilst all my works contribute to the narrative framework developed across my series’, they also each depict an element of ambiguity that the viewer is invited to interpret in relation to themselves and their unique perception of the world.”

© Vicky Martin

© Vicky Martin

© Vicky Martin

© Vicky Martin

She adds that Alice is typical of the strong female characters Vicky likes to feature. “However, behind her strength lies doubts and insecurities about who she is and who other people think she is, which I sought to convey in this series.

“The childhood character placed into an adult world depicts the tension I wanted to create around the idea of growing up and becoming an adult. The push-pull relationship symbolised by Alice and the White Rabbit mirrors the conflict an individual feels when leaving behind the safety and comfort of childhood for the pressure and anxiety of growing up.”

Jaime Muñoz Releases ‘Self Portrait’ via Avant Arte

Jaime Muñoz Releases 'Self Portrait' via Avant Arte

Jaime Muñoz is a Pomona-based artist who creates multi-layered compositions that reflect the Southern California iconography that raised him. Car culture, which is ever-present across the state, is of particular interest to Muñoz, who uses the vehicle to examine class, race and identity.

Made in conjunction with Avant Arte, the artist has released a new limited-edition print dubbed Self Portrait. Prominently centered in the middle of the work is a gold chromatic pickup truck that is overlaid with distorted facial features in a monochromatic color palette. “Some of the themes that I’m interested in are involved with labor, specifically how those values influenced the worker experience — coming from my personal experience on the other end of that hierarchy, I always felt obligated in some way to make those narratives more visible,” said Muñoz in an interview.

Based on an original painting, Self Portrait is an edition of 35 and comes with added features, such as velvet flocking and glitter details applied by hand. The print will be available to purchase via Avant Arte for $1,259 USD on September 7 at 9am ET.

Elsewhere, we spoke with Nadia Lee Cohen for the latest Through the Lens.

Click here to view full gallery at HYPEBEAST

Jaime Muñoz Releases 'Self Portrait' via Avant Arte

Louis De Guzman Releases an Ambient Lamp Sculpture

Louis De Guzman Releases an Ambient Lamp Sculpture

Louis De Guzman has shown a steady interest in sculpture as of late. Having recently partnered with his hometown Chicago Cubs on a permanent statue at Wrigley Field, Guzman follows up with a new limited-edition sculpture titled DETACHED.

The new work is more than just a standalone art piece and serves as fully-functioning lamp that emits ambient light that you can control via remote. “This piece was created with the intention to allow an individual to have direct curated and functional control of their personal space and environment,” said De Guzman in a statement. “To grasp the depicted moods and disruptive chaos that surrounds the unison of the elevated sphere, each ambient light setting balances both a still life with depicted emotion based on the atmosphere that the work presently sits in. To control your own chaos and detach from what used to be, to make room for what’s to come.”

Standing at 11-inches tall, the sculpture is made from metal alloy, polyethylene, and PVC — with geometric shards wrapping around an etched orb. DETACHED is an edition of 500 and will be available to purchase for $450 USD on August 13 at 5:30pm PT.

Click here to view full gallery at HYPEBEAST

Louis De Guzman Releases an Ambient Lamp Sculpture

Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen

Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen

Through The Lens spotlights emerging and established photographers from around the world. The ongoing series is dedicated to offering unique insights in varying areas of photographic expertise including portrait, landscape, fine art, fashion, documentary and more.

Nadia Lee Cohen is not a pragmatist, nor does she use words like ‘magic’ when describing her own work. But there is something clearly surreal in the way she’s able to frame the ordinary.

In the past decade, the London-born, Los Angeles-based artist has ascended up the art world like few have in recent memory — directing music videos for A$AP Rocky and Kali Uchis, global shoots for Gucci and Balenciaga, releasing several books with IDEA and more.

Seeing the hyper-stylized scenes she creates, it would surprise many to learn that Cohen grew up on a rural farm in the U.K. In hindsight, it allowed her “to be a child for longer,” as her imagination “wasn’t interrupted,” she told HYPEBEAST.

Having attended the London College of Fashion, Cohen cites Martin Parr, Cindy Sherman and Larry Sultan as some of the many inspirations who opened her eyes to the humor within the seemingly mundane occurrences of daily life. Similarly, Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch show influence on Cohen, whose work is at once eerie, voyeuristic and spellbinding.

Although she states that there are “no overt messages” she’s trying to convey — the questioning of beauty and identity show to be a constant throughout her career.

Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen

Cohen finds glamour in the mundane and socially ‘ugly’ corners of the world — real or fictitious. She takes it one step further by injecting a sense of surrealism in her subjects — from four-armed sunbathers to a three-breasted bodybuilder who’s clearly spent too much time at the tanning salon.

Back on the topic of books, Cohen released Women in 2020 — a six-year survey of contemporary womanhood as shown through 100 nudist portraits. Last year, she worked with IDEA on another title, HELLO, My Name Is…, which presents a series of 33 characters that Cohen created from the nametags of unknown people. The inspiration for the book came from an In-N-Out badge that a teenage boy named Jesus gave to her on Easter.

At first, she didn’t really know what to do with the tags, but upon collecting more and more at charity shops and flea markets, Cohen started to imagine the life of these characters by connecting them to the obejects she’d collect.

There is, for example, Teena, the Marlboro Red-smoking Jane Birkin fan; Ivett, the melancholic casino dealer and Cohen’s personal favorite, Jeff, the self-assured bolo-tie wearing cowboy.

In short, HELLO, My Name Is… is a masterclass in photography and styling, as it is in storytelling and transformation. Housed at Jeffrey Deitch Gallery in Los Angeles, the British artist brought both her last two books to life through an incredibly immersive exhibition featuring video and film installations, along with blown-up portraits of the characters she’d imagined and the conveyer belt of objects that formed them.

For those in LA, be sure to check out the show as it ends tomorrow, August 13. Meanwhile, check out the full Through The Lens interview with Cohen below.

Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen

“I remember the first time I saw an episode of Ren & Stimpy in the early 90’s and it completely blew my mind.”

How would you describe your childhood?

Feral, muddy, rainy, cozy. I grew up on essentially a building site / farm in the English countryside that my parents were doing up. It was sandwiched between masses of green grass, cornfields, haystacks and dense woodland. I spent most days covered in mud searching for fossils, freeing trapped pheasants or helping rabbits blinded with myxomatosis. I think it allowed me to be a child for longer as my imagination wasn’t interrupted.

Can you recall your earliest memories of art?

I don’t think this counts but I remember the first time I saw an episode of Ren & Stimpy in the early 90’s and it completely blew my mind.

Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen
Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen
Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen
Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen
Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen
Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen

“I really suffer with ‘grass is greener’ syndrome when I’m in either place.”

Was photography and film clear to you as a career path when you were younger?

Not at all, I had no clear direction of what I wanted to do even up until around the age of 16. Still confused, I enrolled in a course called ‘fashion portfolio’ at the London College of Fashion; which is essentially a little bit of everything until you whittle away at the career paths you have no hope in. I ended up with ‘styling and photography’ and one day my tutor said ‘you can’t do both, you have to pick one’ so I picked photography and that was that.

Moving from the UK to LA, how would you describe your new home? Does it live up to your expectations or let you down?

I really suffer with ‘grass is greener’ syndrome when I’m in either place. I obviously have a love for both, the UK is my reality and LA is my hyper-reality. I have to leave both often and to travel in order to avoid becoming blind to what they each mean to me.

Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen
Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen
Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen
Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen
Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen
Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen
Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen
Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen

“I am into things that were triggered by those initial inspirations, almost like a spider diagram.”

What would you say some of your biggest inspirations were in your formative years and today?

I had a boyfriend in my teens who taught me a lot about punk culture and underground movies that I would have had no idea about if I hadn’t gotten into that relationship, shoutout to Nick! Now I am into things that were triggered by those initial inspirations, almost like a spider diagram.

Do you have a dream project or film that you would love to star in or direct?

I do, it just doesn’t exist yet, but hopefully it will soon.

Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen
Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen
Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen
Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen
Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen
Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen
Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen

“Objects are so important in my photographs.”

Often times when we watch a film, there’s a clear distinction between what is real and what is fantasy — in terms of the world we live in and the worlds depicted on screen. However, if one were to step back and watch their own lives through a film, we would begin to view our social structure along with the the seemingly mundane phenomena as bizarre. What is your approach to framing the world and what messages do you aim to convey?

I love putting a big bright theatrical spotlight onto the things we may consider as boring or familiar. There’s no overt ‘messages’, it’s just my own sense of humor and point of view.

How about your current exhibition at Jeffrey Deitch. What was the process like from earliest concept to execution?

I have wanted to exhibit for a long time, I’d spent the last seven years creating two photo books that were never intended to be viewed on a small scale. Women was essentially a project of film stills from movies that don’t exist. The specific details within those images like toast popping, a dead plant or a mysterious background character were intentionally placed in the scene and are only really noticeable when being viewed on a larger scale. Similarly with HELLO, My Name Is…, the details such as the texture of the skin, prosthetic hands, individually placed eyebrow hairs or tiny purple thread-veins really only stand out when an 80×60” portrait is looking down at you.

Objects are so important in my photographs, so when I found out the exhibition was going ahead Jeffrey and I had a conversation about the importance of this ‘not feeling like a photo show’. This was exactly the kind of encouragement I needed to consider ways that I could bring physicalities from the photographs to life. These took the form of a piece of breeze block wall from The Valley, a rotating dry cleaning and airport conveyor belt, dirty cinema seats sticky with chewing gum, a miniature motel featuring a tiny male character watching hours of cartoons. Also Carole from the book Women melting on a sun lounger and Jeff, my favorite character from HELLO, My Name is… sitting as a permanent visitor of the gallery.

The execution of this new work was probably the most challenging. It was becoming increasingly stressful and financially intimidating to realize all of the ideas, but once I had them I really didn’t want to compromise and lose anything. I put everything I had into the show and genuinely have no regrets in doing so.

Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen
Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen
Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen
Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen
Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen

“It’s so impressive when something beautiful can be created out of nothing, that’s real talent.”

Is there a particular subject or theme that interests you at the moment?

Anything that looks great and is cheaply made, grindhouse style. It’s so impressive when something beautiful can be created out of nothing, that’s real talent. Brian De Palma once said in an interview that ‘visual storytelling has gone out of the window’. He was referring to the dark digital movies made today and how the narrative seems to have overridden the visuals. I’m interested in noticing artists who push against this and bring back the importance of visuals to their work.

How would you define beauty?

Having character and not being boring.

What excites and scares you the most about the world today?

I’m excited by the future; what I’m going to make and the people I’m going to meet. I’m scared for the future of the environment. I was on set last week and literally everything was wrapped in plastic, plastic cups, plastic forks, plastic knives, plastic containers, plastic wrapped masks. The sanitary officer was spraying chemicals near the food to make it ‘sanitary’. This over-cautious attempt to deflect us from getting sick is scary to me as it seems like a short-sighted attitude towards the bigger picture that we are totally fucking up our environment.

Photos: Joshua and Charles White. Courtesy of Nadia Lee Cohen and Jeffrey Deitch.

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Through the Lens: Nadia Lee Cohen

Illustrator Elenia Beretta celebrates a culinary classic with new picture book, We Love Pizza

Elenia Beretta’s gouache technique brings Italy’s popular export to glorious life in her first picture book.

Love pizza, or looking for a gift for the pizza lover in your life? Then check out this beautiful picture book from Elenia Beretta, an Italian illustrator based in Berlin.

We Love Pizza: Everything You Want to Know About Your Number One Food gives an entertaining introduction to the dish which connects the world. Many cultures and countries have developed their own interpretations, and this colourful book looks at it from every angle. There’s also a German-language version called Wir Lieben Pizza.

Within this 40-page book, you’ll discover how to make dough from scratch and uncover inspiration for toppings, from classic to the surprisingly strange. You’ll learn about its history, from the beginnings of the dish in Naples to its migration to North America and around the globe, as different cultures added their own spin on it.

Illustrator Elenia Beretta celebrates a culinary classic with new picture book, We Love Pizza

Illustrator Elenia Beretta celebrates a culinary classic with new picture book, We Love Pizza

You’ll encounter different ways of eating a pizza and different places you can eat pizza. Plus, there are oodles of fun pizza facts. Did you know, for example, that the Hawaiian pizza was actually created in Canada?

The book is a real passion project for Elenia, who was born in Bergamo, a small town at the foot of the mountains in the north of Italy. Of her style, she says: “I paint by hand using the gouache technique on 100% cotton paper. In the last few months, I’ve introduced some fluorescent colours to my palette to create more contrast.”

“I like the idea of gouache because of its texture,” she continues. “But also because it’s natural. It’s a media that can be used differently: similar to watercolours but thicker and more compact.”

Elenia finds influences from different fields such as movies, old photographs, art and literature. “My favourite illustrators are Quentin Blake, Maurice Sendak, Alice and Martin Provensen, and Tomi Ungerer,” she says. “And I’m also very inspired by painters such as Matisse, René Magritte, Henri Rousseau and Picasso.”

Illustration hasn’t always been her main focus. “I started my studies as an advertising graphic designer and then worked for six years at Santini Maglificio Sportivo,” she explains. “But after many years, I realised that I wanted to make a change in my career and be able to paint by hand instead of digitally. So initially, I started as a self-taught artist, then went on to study for a Master’s degree in Illustration for Editorial Publishing in Milan.”

Elenia Beretta

Elenia Beretta

She moved to Berlin in 2017 and now works as a freelancer in a small studio near the Neukölln Canal for clients including The New York Times, Vogue Magazine, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Internazionale Magazine, Zeit Magazin, Instagram, HuffPost, the Washington Post and others. She’s also the co-founder of Drawing Nights Berlin, an open drawing event which provides an opportunity to diminish barriers between professionals and non-professionals.

As well as launching We Love Pizza, Elenia has illustrated books and children’s books for Little Gestalten, Éditions Cambourakis, Eli Readers, Rizzoli Editore, Einaudi Editore and Rebel Girls. “In the future, I hope to publish more books and continue to illustrate the world around me,” she says.