Into the Subconscious

Into the Subconscious

Experimental fashion and fine art photographer Elizaveta Porodina (b. 1987) creates striking images that speak to the photomontages left behind by Dora Maar (1907-1997), a pioneering surrealist image-maker. In Untitled (Hand-Shell) (1934), a hand emerges from a shell on a sandy beach. Elsewhere, in Untitled (Fashion photograph) (1935), a woman draws a set of curtains closed. We catch her in the middle of shutting out a nighttime sky made up of sparkly cut-out stars – which match the one covering her head.The Years Lie in Wait (1935) is a portrait of the performer Nusch Éluard (1906-1946) covered by a spiderweb. Almost 30 years after Maar’s death, Porodina continues her legacy by using the lens to unmask the subconscious and delver deeper into the worlds strange hidden within us. Both women also share a connection to fashion photography, with Maar publishing advertising and fashion studies under the name “Kéfer-Dora Maar” whilst Porodina is known for pieces that have graced the covers of GQ, Vogue and Vanity Fair. Now, Fotografiska Berlin unveils Un/Masked, an exhibition celebrating the work of this contemporary surrealist photographer. Born in Moscow and based in Munich, Porodina is known for instantly eye-catching visuals where expressive use colour, light and shadow intermingle to result in stunningly surreal images. In this show, the image-maker holds a mirror up to the audience and invites us to peer behind the masks we wear.

Porodina’s work seeks to convey the mysteries that hide beneath a person’s exterior. In the late 1990s, the artist fled from Russia to Germany as a refugee. Displaced and isolated in this foreign setting, painting became her creative outlet for self-expression. Inspired by Henri Matisse, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Mikhail Vrubel and Pablo Picasso, she developed an interest in bold colours and expressive faces and poses – a focus that still shines through her photography today. We see this in Julia Banas (2020), where a red-haired woman dressed in green silk poses in front of the camera. The subjects’s arms and hands, which she holds in front of her face, are doubled so that we see four in the composition. Despite the obstruction, parts of her eyes and mouth show through, giving her body a ghostly, translucent quality. Porodina invites the viewer into a surreal game of peek-a-boo and challenges the trust we place into what is before our eyes.

Emotions are also at the heart of her work. As a young girl, art was a way for Porodina to process her emotions and express herself despite feeling so alone in a different country. Discussing her experiences of isolation, she says: “You start subliming all of those angry feelings that are created inside of you.” Porodina studied Pschology and trained as a clinical psychologist, working for two years at an acute public state of psychiatry in Munich. She continued her photographic practice at this time but credits the creative outlet, as opposed to her professional training, for her interest in bringing people together and sparking connection. In an interview for Developments, she weighs up both careers and states: “I am obviously very appreciative of what I learned during my psychology studies, but what really set me off being a better person, being a more social person and being open to other people is definitely photography.”

“I grant my audience a window into my subconscious with my work.” Porodina exhibition at Fotografiska Berlin is a glimpse into her inner world. This, in turn, gives us permission to look within ourselves and, going one step beyond that, appreciate the complexity within the people around us. Surrealism is a way for the artist to dig deeper than the surface and examine the subconscious. After all, art is a way to connect with ourselves on a deeper level, which allows us to forge deeper, more honest relationships with the people we let in. Porodina’s photography invites viewers to reflect on the complexity of the human experience.

Fotografiska Berlin, Elizaveta Porodina: Un/Masked | Until 18 August

Words: Diana Bestwish Tetteh

Image Credits:

  1. Julia Banas, 2021 © Elizaveta Porodina.
  2. Fallon Havanna, 2021 © Elizaveta Porodina.
  3. Jana Julius, 2021 © Elizaveta Porodina.
  4. Vivien Solari, 2021 © Elizaveta Porodina.