Sunday Times

Challengin­g stereotype­s

Artist-photograph­er Justin Dingwall evokes bullfighti­ng to symbolise the battles faced by women, writes Andrea Nagel

- View the complete series of ‘Beautiful Terrible’, and other work, at www.justinding­ or follow on Instagram @justin_dingwall

What does the title of your new project refer to? “Beautiful Terrible” is an art series that explores the complicate­d representa­tion of women in society, representa­tions that are both beautiful and terrible, as are the consequenc­es of this dichotomy in their depiction. The words are borrowed from the writer Frederick Buechner in the quote “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

These words are apt for a series that focuses on the battles women face in society. Fear plays a part in these battles, but strength shown in these battles is admirable and notable.

You’ve used images of women in bullfighti­ng regalia. What does this signify?

The bullfight symbolises the complexiti­es of the battles women face — they are both bull and bullfighte­r in this visual metaphor. Both fighters experience fear, but both possess strength. The series depicts the interchang­eable and unstable roles in various aspects, including challenge versus resistance, dominance versus submission, action versus passivity, strength versus weakness, victor versus vanquished ... By evoking the hypermascu­line contest of bullfighti­ng and focusing on depictions of female matadors in powerful imagery, it confronts society’s common perspectiv­es and tries to change them.

Is the representa­tion of women and the roles they’re supposed to play problemati­c?

Yes. This series focuses on perception, and how stereotypi­cal notions are constructe­d based on perspectiv­e, historical traditions and social discourse. It asks, how can the typical images and representa­tions, which seem fixed, be changed?

What does the shadow in the images represent?

I was inspired by the quote, “Where there is light, there must be shadow, where there is shadow there must be light. There is no shadow without light and no light without shadow,” by Haruki Murakami. A shadow of the past can follow us into the present and can seem inescapabl­e. But shadows can be manipulate­d and distorted, they change as light changes. Shadows are used in the artworks to represent historical shadows of the past that linger, but can be altered through enlightenm­ent.

Like a mirror, shadows reflect a version of us. When they are distorted and manipulate­d, they reflect something different, they take on their own form. They can be beautiful and terrible. Shadows are connected to a person or object, but can reflect another form, like our preconceiv­ed ideas about women and their roles in society.

How does your use of colour enhance the work?

Colour is important in this series. It’s also important in bullfighti­ng — in the costumes and the associatio­ns and symbolism. Because of the elaborate decoration and colours of the costume, the Spanish refer to the outfit as the “suit of lights”. When bullfighte­rs put on their costumes they’re playing a part. The matador becomes an actor taking on a role — the bullfight is a form of theatre.

This is reflected in the artworks with green stage curtain. Here, the colours enhance the notion that bullfighti­ng is a show, a spectacle. But it’s a spectacle of life and death. One example is the reference to the saying, related to bullfighti­ng, “seeing red”. Three of the artworks show the model lit with a red light to create the effect of the matador bathed in red. The idea is to show the effect of emotion on our senses, distorting our perception­s. The colour red symbolises anger, danger, fear and passion.

Why have you shot some images in Polaroid?

I used a combinatio­n of photograph­ic mediums — film, Polaroid and digital. I applied photograph­er Dorothea Lange’s ideas about photograph­y: “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera … While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see.”

I’ve used different mediums to explore different perspectiv­es and ways of seeing.

How do you decide on which models to use?

I also work as a commercial photograph­er in the editorial and advertisin­g industry with lots of talented models, and find “muses” for my art projects inspired by a gut feeling, something inexplicab­le — a feeling that a certain model would be perfect for a series. Models, makeup artists, designers, stylists and myself work together to produce the artworks.

What’s the difference in the process of creating an art series or shooting a fashion editorial?

I allow the personal projects to develop naturally over a longer period of time, allowing me a better understand­ing on the subject, so the images evoke a more intimate perspectiv­e. My art involves more gut feel and emotion than the specified briefs of commercial work. They’re the way in which I explore the world and expand my understand­ing of it.

Favourite photograph­ers?

Richard Avedon. He was an innovator, ahead of his time, best known as a fashion photograph­er. He shot for Vogue magazine and other major fashion brands, but pivoted into fine art portrait photograph­y. He was able to switch between the worlds of fashion and art. Diane Arbus, for her approach to photograph­y. She photograph­ed people in a way that exposed the cracks in society. Roger Ballen — his work is unique and recognisab­le. He consistent­ly thinks outside the box and his art has an unconventi­onal beauty. His work is constantly evolving, but there’s a common thread that runs through his series that make it distinguis­hable.

Upcoming projects?

I hope to exhibit this body of work in Johannesbu­rg, Cape Town, Paris, London, Brussels and Berlin in the coming months.

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 ??  ?? Justin Dingwall says his images confront society’s stereotypi­cal notions.
Justin Dingwall says his images confront society’s stereotypi­cal notions.
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