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Challenge yourself to define your limits: Mary Katrantzou at TEDxAthens 2012

www.tedxathens.com 1080p HD mode available. About speaker: Mary Katrantzou was born in Athens in 1983, to an interior designer mother and a father who trained in textile design. She moved to America for a BA in Architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, before transferring to Central Saint Martins to complete her BA degree in Textile Design. During this time, Katrantzou worked on a freelance basis as a print designer for Bill Blass. Graduating from her BA in 2005, Katrantzou shifted her direction from textile design to womenswear with a focus on print. She then went on to graduate in MA Fashion from Central Saint Martins with distinction. Katrantzou's graduating show in 2008 mapped out her signature style. It was themed around trompe l'oeil prints of oversized jewellery featured on jersey-bonded dresses. These pieces created the illusion of wearing giant neckpieces that would be too heavy in reality. She also designed real jewellery made out of wood and metal that were exact replicas of the prints. Mary Katrantzou's first ready-to-wear collection debuted at London fashion week in spring/summer 2009, with the support of the bfc and the NEWGEN scheme. Despite a small collection of nine dresses, Katrantzou picked up 15 prestigious stockists including browns, joyce and colette. The designer achieved show status the following season, in autumn/winter 2009. Her thematic collections revolve around an icon of luxury, an object from art or design that a woman would not be <b>...</b>
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Viviane Sassen’s gorgeous, inscrutable fine art images from Africa have earned her acclaim and a place in the Museum of Modern Art. But recently, her surreal and equally beautiful fashion photography has been garnering attention, too: in 2011, Sassen won the prestigious International Center of Photography’s Infinity Award for Applied/Fashion/Advertising Photography, and more than 300 of her fashion images are on view at Amsterdam’s Huis Marseille Museum for Photography through mid-March 2013 in a show titled, Viviane Sassen / In and Out of Fashion.

Born in Amsterdam, Sassen lived in Kenya — where her father worked in a polio clinic — between the ages of 2 and 5. Because the continent looms so large in her work, I asked her to describe her earliest memories from Africa.

“I remember,” she told me, “how Rispa, our nanny, woke me up one early morning and took me to a deserted football field to pick small white mushrooms. I remember the taste of sugarcane and ugali [a dish similar to polenta], orange Fanta and the bloody goat heads in the market in Kisumu.”

Returning to the Netherlands was difficult for her: “I didn’t feel I belonged in Europe, yet I knew I was a foreigner in Africa.”

As a young woman, Sassen enrolled in a university fashion design program and also modeled. Recalling her modeling work, she says that she “can relate to how a girl might feel in front of a camera: sometimes bored, tired or simply stressed or insecure. And then the shoes … three sizes too small but with killer heels. It’s not always fun to be a model.”

Nevertheless, she says she “got to know a lot of photographers; they made me aware that they controlled the image. That’s what I wanted, too; I wanted to be in control of the image … to create it.”

Viviane Sassen

Viviane Sassen

Sassen made the leap into photography. She recalls that “in the beginning, [photographers] like Nan Goldin and Nobuyoshi Araki [were] very important for my work because of their formal language, but also because they depicted their own lives in a way that appealed to me.”

A turning point in her own photography came in 2002 when she returned to Africa with her husband. The fine art photography she has made there in the past decade shines as some of the most original, unexpected work to emerge from the continent by a Western photographer. But one finds no victims of war or famine here; instead, the viewer confronts contemporary Africans engaged in sophisticated, if mysterious, dream performances.

“Working in Africa opens doors of my subconscious,” Sassen explains. “Sometimes, when I wake up in the morning after very vivid dreams or if I just suddenly have an idea, I sketch. My photographs are sometimes almost literal pictures of these sketches.” At other times, she says, “I might just find something on the street that excites me.”

Her images are somehow primal and hallucinatory at once: two youths embrace in the dark, a giant banana leaf sprouting between them; a figure lies nestled in the diaphanous green cloud of a fishing net; a boy lounges on the ground, his limbs painted bright turquoise. Critic Vince Aletti says that Sassen “tends to treat the body as a sculptural element—a malleable shape that combines with blocks of shadow and bright color in arrangements that sometimes read like cut-paper collages, bold and abstract but full of vibrant life.”

One key part of the body that is often missing or obscured is the human face, as models turn away from the camera or appear with their faces cloaked in shadow. As Aaron Schuman noted in Aperture, the images might thus “appear to ignore the individuals they portray and instead inherently possess—maybe even propagate—the problematic histories, legacies, and relationships between Africa and the West. But perhaps in Sassen’s case this is the point, at least in part, and where the power of her photographs lies.”

Viviane Sassen

Viviane Sassen

Within these mirror-like voids, Sassen allows the viewer to reflect on the clichés and prejudices Westerners so often fall back on when engaging the vast continent and its inhabitants.

“I want to seduce the viewer with a beautiful formal approach,” says Sassen, “and at the same time, leave something disturbing.”

Sassen’s fashion work borrows much from her fine art—obscured faces, extraordinary color. The acute graphic sensibility of Sassen’s fine art, meanwhile, works wonders in magazine spreads. In an elemental way, though, the museum show and Sassen’s images (made for magazines like Wallpaper, Purple and Dazed & Confused, and for brands like Levi’s and Stella McCartney) don’t make sense at all.

As Sassen told the British Journal of Photography in its December 2012 issue, “I find exhibitions of fashion photography within the context of a museum rather problematic. Most fashion images aren’t art, they’re fashion photographs—which is fine, but if you put them in a museum, enlarged and in a frame, they become something else…. Art photography doesn’t have to serve any purpose, fashion photography does, and that makes a difference…. [Then] there are images which are really between art and fashion, which I hope I do myself.”

Sassen hit upon a solution to this conundrum: projecting fashion images on museum walls, so the work retains a “kind of disposable feel.” Furthermore, Sassen has said she doesn’t care much about clothes. “My interest is not the interest of the fashion industry. My interest is to make fascinating pictures…. It’s always about desire and fear, about making images that are both appealing and unsettling.”

Viviane Sassen

Viviane Sassen

Nevertheless, Sassen says she loves the “swiftness of fashion” as opposed to the “contemplated process of making art.” I asked her about the difference between shooting for magazines and shooting for advertisements.

“What I like about fashion magazines is that they create a platform to experiment and to work closely with people who can be super inspiring. I call it my laboratory. [It] should be like an adventure; not knowing where your play will lead you. When you’re working on fashion campaigns for a commercial brand it’s often much less experimental, but still creative in the sense that you have to match the pieces of a puzzle.”

Sassen has used a computer to retouch some of her images, but mostly avoids it. “I think that something beautiful is even more charming when it’s not too perfect. You don’t want to feel the artificiality of the image, you want to believe in it. I feel related to reality, while slick images feel exchangeable.”

Sassen’s lifelong interest in Africa — and her ongoing explorations of her own subconscious — have contributed to some of the most riveting fashion photography being made today. For a photographer rooted in (or, as she puts it, “related to”) reality, her magazine work is a revelation.

See more of Sassen’s work at VivianeSassen.com.

Myles Little is an associate photo editor at TIME.

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Playful, sensual and elegant are some of the words that describe Serge Leblon's photographs. His images are anything but harsh, opening up an evocative world of fantasy and desire. In fact, the Belgian's romanticism is somewhat at odds with the aggressive sexiness found in mainstream fashion imagery. Even though he has a spark in his eyes, Leblon comes across as a discreet and humble man.

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Having recently shot campaigns for Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Colors, National Geographic and Dazed & Confused, freelance photographer Tim Georgeson is generally described as a commercial photographer. Last year however, Georgeson returned to a set of images he shot in Kosovo during the war - a striking black-and-white series that he now plans on turning into a film called The Untouchables. We caught up with him to find out more…

Hey Tim, how are you doing
Good, sorry, I just got off a conference call about a shoot I'm doing in the desert early next month.

Which desert are you shooting in?
California, outside Palm Springs.

Nice! So, you're currently in the process of making a film called The Untouchables, could you tell us a little bit about that?
The Untouchables is a film made from stills of the gypsies of Kosovo that I followed when they were being driven out of Kosovo during the war. The series won at the World Press Photo awards, has been exhibited in Perpignan at the Photojournalism festival and in Armenia, New York and Sydney. I was asked by MSF and a few magazines to go and shoot out there because I had been there before. So I hooked up with the same Australian journalist I used to work with and we travelled there together and spent four weeks with these people. This series was published in many magazines in the US, Europe and Australia and was a big breakthrough for me as a documentary photographer.

Wow, did you enjoy the time you spend there?
It was one of the best experiences. I ate, danced and totally immersed myself as much as possible into there way of life. I witnessed first hand the power, courage and determination of these amazing people who are constantly being persecuted. It took two days of meetings with the chief of the clan for them to accept and trust us.

Do you think that's why the photographs turned out so well?
Of course, for me you just can't expect to have any emotion in the images if you don't get involved. I shoot with small lenses, 35mm or 28 mm, so it's confronting but honest, and that's why you need the time to melt into their life and become a fly on the wall as much as possible, you have to speak and observe in a personal way. I hardly shot any images for the first two days, I was just laying with the kids and observing, drinking, dancing, eating and having fun with them. On the third day I really felt at ease and the people carried on as normal, even with me around. The honesty in the images reflects this hopefully.

Have you shown them the resulting images?
Yes, we sent some prints to them via some NGO contacts and they loved them.

Do you think you'll show the film out there as well?
I would love to show them, I'm not sure when that could be through…

Where do you plan to premiere it first?
Probably in Sydney at the Australian Center of Photography and also in Holland, there is some interest out there.

You say in your statement you can be sometimes be found "skateboarding with reindeer herders", is that just a joke or do you skateboard?
I grew up on the northern beaches in Sydney, so surfing, skating and sailing was my life. I'm just getting back into skating, I'm going to let out a little secret - my wife and kids are buying me a new longboard for my birthday to skate the streets of Montreal. I've started snowboarding here with the kids too, it's the next best thing to going for a surf.

We tend to ask people this a lot, but it always seems to be the case - did you get into photography through skateboard culture?
No, not really. My grandfather was a keen amateur photographer and my brother works in film. My parents are artists/designers and my sister is a potter, so visual design is what I grew up on. When I first started out I shot for surf brands a lot, because of the contacts I had. I have to say, I'm lucky to have the most supportive wife in the world and awesome kids that have allowed me to go off and come home with some great stories. This is why I shoot a lot more personal work, so we can all be involved now.

Since being in North America I've seen how influential the skate, youth, film and photography scene is. They're really starting to push new boundaries in commercial work and loosen things up, keeping it raw and real, which is super exciting. The digital age has caused commercial photography to go way too far for my liking, it's so plastic and all the images look the same.

Thanks Tim, good luck with the film and the shoot in the desert!
Thanks Jack!


www.timgeorgeson.com

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