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Elsa and Johanna, 2nd PICTO Fashion Photography Award 2017


The photographer duo Johanna Benaïnous and Elsa Parra won this year the second PICTO Fashion Photography Award for two series: A Couple of Them and Los Ojos Vendados.

Johanna Benaïnous and Elsa Parra met as students in New York. They quickly discovered a shared, seemingly banal passion: people watching. But while for most of us the exercise ends in the expansive pleasure of sharing a drink with friends at a street-side café, the two young women decided to turn their pastime into a film and photography project of rare intensity.

The series A Couple of Them (2014–2016) forms a sort of journey that plumbs the depths of alterity through nearly a hundred photographic portraits and 23 video portraits, which take us into the heart of a generation of teenagers and young adults, men and women who appear to be dating, or friends, siblings, perhaps cousins…

The most striking aspect of these portraits is that they are all enacted by the artists themselves, each frame sometimes requiring entire days of work until they have fully entered into their fictional characters and until every detail of their faces and their bodies, the clothes they wear, and their surroundings are able withstand our capacity to dismantle these images. Rather, each image functions like a personal story told through every minute detail that enters into the frame, as if George Pérec’s meticulousness when he states The Things had found an extension in photography. And yet the images revel in banality: a couple in the bushes, a young woman on a bench, a girl jogging next to a soccer goal, a teenager wearing fatigues in the middle of a corn field…

We assume the setting is somewhere in the United States, but there are no spectacular landmarks, no movement or situation that would, a priori, appeal to our Instagram-weary eyes. Yet through some effect of light or composition, by doing just enough rather than too much, a sort of tension emerges that makes us convinced of the reality of what we’re seeing even though we know we are confronted with artifice.

And then, there is the gaze: their eyes seem full of melancholy lassitude. Nearly all the faces possess that paradoxical gravity, worn down with the self-assurance and awkwardness of adolescence. They are filled with that impossible innocence of a struggling body.


Gaël Charbau

Gaël Charbau is an independent curator and art critic. In 2003 he founded the journal Particules.


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