Whether it's via extensive post-production work or unusual compositions, some photographers manage to make us doubt if what we are looking at is real, creating universes bordering on sci-fi and strangeness. Blind takes a look at three different alternative worlds.
"I (...) suffered for many years with extreme anxiety and intrusive thoughts, which was a darkness inside of me that I had to find a way to express," explains young architectural photographer Tom Blachford, noted for his mysterious photographs of California villas in the moonlight. This beautiful "darkness" is something he expresses particularly well in Tokyo, where, photographing the emblematic architectures of the city, he plunges us into a divine neo-noir universe.
In seemingly realistic contexts, unexpected elements can immediately create alternate realities. Neon lights in the night, bodies that are a little too stiff in public, or clever ways to play with color can be enough to create a strange shift, a departure towards the realm of science fiction or fantasy, two increasingly trendy genres in the world of pop culture.
Whether lovers of sci-fi or aesthetes of nature, the following three photographers that Blind has selected favor an approach that distorts reality and subtly take us into worlds where our imagination can run rampant.
Tom Blachford: Neo-noir as a signature
A lone wolf in the night, whether he's in Palm Beach or Tokyo, photographer Tom Blachford documents the astonishing buildings of the Japanese capital in his "Nihon Noir" series. Here, the young Australian specializing in architectural and design photography signs his shots with blue light tinged with neon lights. A cyberpunk and fantasy atmosphere where the silence and the absence of silhouettes are in turn disturbing and fascinating.
Drawing his influence from films from the neo-noir genre and the palette of Nicholas Winding-Refn, to whom, among others, we owe the film Drive, the photographer focuses on architectural icons, such as the Nakagin Tower and its capsule housing units, or the imposing Fuji Broadcasting Center with its aerial walkways and monumental titanium globe. But also dark alleys, lit only by signs or mysterious pink lights emanating from tiny restaurants. "I love the fantastical worlds of sci-fi (...) Blade Runner is an amazing example of this. That movie totally changed the way I see the built environment, which I had already been exploring for years," says the young photographer.
To illustrate this point, he tells the story behind his shot of the Nakagin Capsule Tower: "I headed there my first night in Tokyo on that trip but was frustrated to find I could not get a good vantage point from anywhere on ground level around the building." After trying to photograph the iconic building from various bridges and other light towers, he resorted to approaching a group of men working on a nearby construction site with a crane.
"Using Google translate and a lot of begging gestures, I convinced them at 2:00 a.m. to stop their work, move their truck and harness me up in order to take me 20 meters into the air to capture my own unique angle."
Mischelle Moy: Worlds of wonder
"I am inspired by infrared photography and I use various methods to recreate that feeling of looking at something differently," explains American photographer Mischelle Moy, who creates images in a vibrant, almost psychedelic color palette.
To create these lush, dreamlike places, the young Brooklyn-based artist uses photographs from her road trips across the United States. "Most of these photos were taken (...) from hikes through Arizona, California, Hawaii, and New York," she says, and goes on to add that she is fascinated by nature and in particular by the sun. "When the five minutes of golden light appear as the sun sets, it illuminates everything in pink and warm yellow, and as soon as it is gone, everything turns purple and blue. The sunset palette inspires a lot of my work, in that it evokes a certain emotion (...)," explains the photographer.
With the pandemic, Mischelle Moy changed her strategy to call into question her gaze and technique, and began swapping her photos for photos taken by others, often interiors, such as this window overlooking a landscape. "It's like making a subtle reminder to stay inside but still make it feel surreal –– some people have said it reminds them of Lovecraft Country (an excellent sci-fi show) but that was not my intention and I love that others are able to see something else in them."
Wei Chang: Bodies behind the scenes of urbanity
The cityscapes of Taiwanese photographer and director Wei Chang give off a subtle sense of strangeness. Is it because of the outstretched bodies of the young girls with their windbreakers pulled tightly around their faces as they stare off into the distance? Or is it because of those humid, empty, run-down spaces, made of overlapping straight lines and squares, where the vegetation hasn't quite reclaimed its territory and where the sky is absent?
A disturbing atmosphere, in which reality seems about to topple over into something else. Dystopia, perhaps, or the beginning of a science fiction movie. For her "Portraits in Space" series, the photographer chose locations that made her think of "the behind-the-scenes of a city," which she shot under natural light. She likes to photograph dancers: "My work relies very much on the performance of my dancers. I ask them to feel and play in the buildings," she explains.
Her next project will take her to Germany to photograph the collective unconscious of former East Germany: "Balls, dance clubs, vacation resorts and other entertainment spaces during the Soviet era." Forgotten architectural structures, which, as always, she will investigate with dancers, in an exploration of the relationship between body and space that will no doubt once again fuel our imagination.
By Charlotte Jean
Charlotte Jean is a journalist and author. A former contributor to Beaux Arts Magazine and the founder of Darwin Nutrition, she graduated from the École du Louvre, where she majored in contemporary art.