Ingrid Baars graduated from the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam in the early 1990s and worked as an independent illustrator and photographer until 2009 when she decided to concentrate solely on her artistic work, which previously coexisted with her commercial activities. Her signature style came into being and grew from collage to full-blown digital treatment of her images as can be traced in previous series like ‘About Face', ‘Inside/Outside’ and ‘Artistlovers’.
‘l’Afrique!’ is a fascinating ongoing project inspired by the rich African cultural heritage in all its diversity incorporating both the human and the non-human. The amalgamation of classical African cult objects and real women enables the artist to transcend the natural and constitute an outerwordly realm that feels near but is, upon closer inspection, quite unsettling; the aestheticism and romanticism of beauty are imbued with a deeper sense of awareness, of consciousness. Her images are beautiful, yes, but powerful as well.
Although very much construed, they create their own reality and seem to possess a life of their own. With her innate aesthetic compass and quintessential style she succeeds in evoking a phantasmagorical universe.
|SOLO EXHIBITIONS||GROUP EXHIBITIONS|
2011, International Color Awards, 5th Annual
Photography Masters Cup, New York, United States,
(Winner 2nd place, Merit of Excellence, category
2011, International Color Awards, 5th Annual
Photography Masters Cup, New York, United States,
(Nominee, category nude photography).
2011, LPA – London Photographic Association,
London, United Kingdom, (Winner, category the nude).
2009, International Color Awards, 3rd Annual
Photography Masters Cup, New York, United States,
(Nominee, categories advertising and nude photography).
2009, NYPH – New York Photo Festival,
The New York Photo Awards, New York, United States,
(Nominee, category fine art).
2008, ADCN – Art Directors Club Netherlands,
the Netherlands, (Winner, category photography).
2008, Screening Award Berlin, Germany, (Nominee).
2005, ADCN – Art Directors Club Netherlands,
the Netherlands, (Nominee, category photography).
1997, Illustration Year Award, the Netherlands,
Vanderlinden, B. ed., 2013. Ingrid Baars,
L’Afrique!.Paris and Brussels: Fine Art Publishing.
Baars, I., 2007. Ingrid Baars. Rotterdam: Artemis.
CATALOGUES AND PUBLICATIONS
—, 2011. Fresh Volume 3. Karlsruhe: MAGMA Brand
—, 2008. The Keywords on Visual Arts in the
Netherlands. Taiwan: IDEAfried Studio, Azoth Books.
—, 2011. Cutting Edges. Berlin: Die Gestalten Verlag.
Coppens, C., 2012. Homework. Brussels: Lido, p. 200.
van Herpen, I., Wilson, M., van der van der Zijpp, S.A.,
2012. Iris van Herpen. Groningen: BAI, cover.
Klanten, R., Hellige, H., 2006. All Allure: Contemporary
Erotic. Berlin: Die Gestalten Verlag.
Klanten, R., Hellige H., 2007. Illusive 2.
Berlin: Die Gestalten Verlag.
Klanten, R., Hellige H., 2009. Illusive 3.
Berlin: Die Gestalten Verlag.
Plisnier, V., 2012. Le Primitivisme dans la
Photographie, Non-Western Art and Modern
Photography from 1918 to the present. Paris:
Éditions Trocadéro, pp. 180-181.
LAYERING OF FACES,
CONSTRUCTIONS OF THE REAL,
PARAMETERS OF THE HUMAN
Photography has always been associated with proof of truth. It has been used, for example, as legal evidence, as a visual supplement to historical narratives and to document the passing of time.
Nevertheless, since its invention, theorists and philosophers have critically questioned the truth of photography (1) and nearly every generation of artists has engaged with photography in terms of interrogating or dismantling its ‘truth claim’ (2). In the context of mass image production and digitally produced images, some believe that photography no longer has the aura of the authentic. But in spite of this, as Jennifer González has pointed out, by the mid 1990s the discussion about digital photography among artists and scholars had shown “that digital photography is no less and no more susceptible to distortion than its analogue counterpart. Similarly, many found that technological or material differences in the new medium do little to change the social effect and cultural function of ‘realist’ images and their ‘truth effect’.” (3)
Today, in an age of digital imagery, a photograph is not only what we consider to be a traditional image, it can be anything that has a photographic impact. The effectiveness of image-editing software applications makes it possible to fabricate or construct images that represent reality, even if these images do not necessarily refer to anything that is empirically verifiable as ‘real’. A digital photograph has the potential to render something that has the effect of a photographic truth.
Dutch artist Ingrid Baars explores this potential of the ‘photographic real’ as she extends the boundaries of portraiture, transforming and superimposing images of various figures, sculptures, and objects through the medium of digital photography, digitally assembling and superimposing literally hundreds of images selected from a staggering archive containing the thousands of photographs she has taken.
The resulting ‘mixed portraits’ do not represent a specific individual the artist might have met in her life, they are best described, perhaps, as brilliant visual representations she has concocted from human and non-human figures, which she overtly manipulates and merges into one, using techniques of assemblage, compressing, compounding, and compositing. Herlaborious and meticulous photographic fabrications have a strong photographic impact, a vivid senseof presence, and astounding humanness. Constructed from a desire to demonstrate the continuity ofhumanity beyond different cultures and conditions, Baars’ portraits go back and forth across human and non-human representations, traversing objects and subjects, and crossing cultures. With her photographic ‘real’ portraits she seeks to bring out what humanity has in common with images that are both real and unreal. To state that Ingrid Baars’ portraits depict alternative realities would not be quite accurate — it would simply be a lazy interpretation of the mixed portrait photography that she has created.
In the series entitled L’Afrique! that she began in 2011, Baars explores the potential of the portrait through the prism of different ethnic groups and classical African art, taking inspiration from cultural references such as ritual Fang (Byeri) sculptures. At first sight, the L’Afrique! works are ontologically complex, challenging our ability to properly categorize them. Baars combines different forms of human representation, including sculptures and ‘real’ photo portraits that merge human and nonhuman elements. The portraits achieve their transformative effects as a result of an advanced digital image editing process and call full attention to the fabrication of the image. The computer and the digital editing program are the aesthetic principles and the main tools used to create realistic photographs with no real-world counterparts.
From the outset of her career, Baars’ photographs have recognized the constructed nature of images, their potential ability to manipulate and mislead the viewer, yet, as the L’Afrique! series proves so beautifully, they are anchored, in that, on some level, everything in them is real — they are compressed, compounded, and composited from many photographs of real humans and real objects. The illusion is never perfectly smooth. Upon close inspection, we see that at a microscopic level Baars inserts odd combinations — a deer combined with a garment, a leather-like texture combined with a forehead, a real lip or eye combined with a sculpted face. These combinations call attention to the fictitious construction of the figures depicted, but at the same time, such details also serve to highlight that Baars has actually constructed these portraits.
They are assembled and compounded : re-compositions of her photographic image archive.
Baars’ process of creating works for the L’Afrique! series is based on two models : one that emerges from her exhaustive archiving project and a second that reflects Baars’ intuitive sense that faces, bodies, sculptures and surfaces — which incorporate structure, form, element, and detail — can be superimposed and replaced to configure new faces, bodies, and indeed, realities. The combination of these models, represented in Baars’ photo archiving practice and technique of composite photography, brings out the two-sided nature of Baars’ apprehension of the physical world, which is defined by ideas concerning the general, the pattern, the composite, the compound and the layered.
The first model stems from the starting point of Baars’ process : each work is created from hundreds of image fragments taken from her archive that contains thousands of photographs. It begins with capturing images and then cutting them up. This act of capturing and decomposing is at the core of Baars’ composite portraits. It involves an ongoing process of capturing, archiving, and selecting.
For the L’Afrique! series, Baars’ turned her attention not only to African faces, bodies, and sculptures, but also to surfaces, art works and textiles — every form or shape in tune with her interpretation of the human or person that she wants to reshape through her digital composite portrait technique. Some of these images are more composed portraits that Baars has captured in a studio, where she has control over the lighting and pose of the subject. The focus of these studio portraits is on the person’s face, although the entire body is captured and sometimes dressed to configure a form that Baars will use later on as the underlying structure of one of her own created portraits. The basic lines and shapes of her studio portraits form the underlying structure for Baars’ digitally assembled portraits. In its entirety, Baars’ capturing process constitutes a vastphotographic archive, a whole or infinitude of representations of the human and the non-human form. The second model, which involves the superimposition and composition of image fragments and the combination of hundreds of photographs from the archive, results from Baars’ insight and belief that faces and portraits emphasize the way the human figure persists through various kinds of interpretative creations. This second model emphasises the human figure persisting through variation and difference and it demonstrates how the human can be composed and recovered through interpretation.
Here, I want to think about how Baars finds ways to both compose and decompose these portraits, and the new modes of reasoning that emerge from these newly created realities.
Conceptually, L’Afrique! is a series of works that involve two types of collage techniques. The first can be described as ‘digital assemblage’, the second as ‘digital composite’. Up close, signs of digital intervention become more apparent in the assemblage portraits. Rather than merging all the elements together, Baars uses almost linear cuts, which makes each one stand out, a process that results in unnerving composite portraits with dismembered body parts and sculptural elements. Portraits such as Mask and Nymph assemble separate human body parts. A hand, cheek, mouth, eyes, nose and fragments of the head of a Byeri sculpture are put together to create a female, oversized, spherical head that rises from a cylindrical neck.
In her second technique, Baars uses superimposition. Images, in a depositional sequence, are placed one on top of the other. The photo fragment on which another photo layer is placed may even be covered up, completely covering the layer below. Layer images are rendered transparent so that several images merge to create a new one, or layers conceal parts of the initial image, using part of the first as a point of entry for the second. The layers are composed successively, going from bottom to top. The superimposition method conceals things, for example, when Baars superimposes a face over a sculpture head. The works entitled Byeri, Fang , and Grace are examples of such photographic superimposition. All three portraits superimpose and compound portrait photos of African women with the heads of small Byeri sculptures, whilst creating a photographic real portrait that blends human and non-human elements. The newly created composite portraits are left without context to establish further meaning ; they are often set against a neutral background and given little space in the photographic frame. They are not rooted in an interior, domestic space or a specific context.
Baars’technique of photographic superimposition is not new, and can be dated back to the work of Francis Galton, the founder of late 1880s Eugenics and composite photography. Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, was the first anthropologist to suggest that the social and physical world would best be understood in ways defined by notions such as the general, the pattern, the statistical and the average, the compound and the layered. In an interesting article on nineteenth century understandings of composite form in the arts and sciences of the voice and the face, which refers to Galton’s composite portraits, James Emmott (2011) stated :
“The procedure, […] was deceptively simple : photographs of individuals, taken according to a set of mandated specifications, are mounted on a board and a new photo-graphic plate is multiply exposed with each one in turn. The result is an aggregate face, one that ‘represents no man in particular, but portrays an imaginary picture possessing the average features of any given group of men’.” (4)
Galton explains the desired effect in his 1883 paper, Inquiries Into Human Faculty and its Development:
“The effect of composite portraiture is to bring into evidence all the traits in which there is agreement, and to leave but a ghost of a trace of individual peculiarities. There are so many traits in common in all faces that the composite picture when made from many components is far from being a blur ; it has altogether the look of an ideal composition.” (5)
Baars’ composite portraits differ, however, a great deal from Galton’s biological essentialism with its ideal compositions and ‘single’ form of specific ethnic groups. The portraits that Baars makes are not illustrations of the physical traits of a particular human type but quite the opposite : they demonstrate how powerful portraits emerge as a result of mixing physical traits of different people and ethnicities. The portrait called Virgin, for instance, is a composite portrait compounding the sets of traits of Caucasian and African women. Elements that show a degree of connection to one particular ethnic group are compressed or superimposed upon elements that seem to belong to another ethnic group. So Baars is not crafting the average face of a particular type of people instead she is creating photographic portraits that represent no person in particular, but that exist as representations capable of unfixing or transcending the human while engaging with both history and race.
We might argue that the morphological blending and smudging in Baars’ composite images are the consequences of pulling the details out of focus in order to see the larger perspective and therefore rule out the microscopic and small details that are, as Marina Benjamin has pointed out (6), so typical to the value of truth in photographic portraiture. But nothing is less accurate than that. Upon close inspection, one can detect many tiny details — a hair, the fine structures of a surface, the pattern or motif of a medieval carpet. As a result of the use of this kind of photographic microscopy, Baars adds elements to her portraits that replace the ‘just seeing’ with seeing into and seeingthrough. The tiny details that Baars puts in her composite portraits unveil a hidden dimension. They add life to structures and forms that seem lifeless and insert perpetual change where all seems inert.
Spatially, Baars’ action of enlarging decomposes simplicity into complex multiplicity, as in the work entitled Byeri (2013) where we see many details, including the surface of a street, constitute a section of skin. The closer one looks the more one sees that Baars is combining familiar and unusual elements to create a hybrid truth at all levels of the picture. Temporally, this sense of perpetual change seems to be referring to the notion of biological development, in which numerous imperceptible processes combine to produce changes detectable only over time.
Baars thus combines both composite techniques and microscopy. The latter de-composes in order to reveal how matter is composed, and the composite technique is a perspective transformation, as it enables us to see through the various faces, new metafaces and hybrid types of human form. These metaportraits have no bodily existence, yet there is life in their eyes. This life, this singular form located in no single body but spanned across multiplicity, is the universal thing in Baars’ portraiture works. Her composite technique seems to traverse different cultures and epochs to bring into being the continuity of the human representation.
I want to propose that Baars L’Afrique! series creates a paradigm shift in the representation of the human form, from the presumption of the static persistence of the human form to a framework of fabricating a photographic real that has the capacity to suggest a kind of dynamic persistence of the human form. This is a framework in which faces become preeminent forms of homeostasis, or what Michel Serres has called syrrhesis (from syr -, together ; -rhesis , flow) (7). These are systems with shapes that persist despite internal turbulence and vulnerability, comparable to weather patterns that persist through perpetual reconstitution, vortexes that retain their form despite their constant motion and even to our bodies, which remain the same even though our cells our replaced in seven- to eight-year cycles. It is this combination of fluidity and dynamism that characterises Baars’ portraits.
This kind of composite persistence is a mode of thinking that Baars unlocks primarily as a result of the vastness of her archive that describes and captures the infinity of bodies and bodily representations. She constantly filters through a number of images; searching for, filtering and producing regularities, patterns and similarities. This is what defines the essential difference between the two models I have discussed here. Whereas the first proposes that interpretatively valuable material is there to be found and retrieved (there is an archaeological analogy in the way Baars captures and photographs thousands of images that she collects and assembles in her photo archive), the second suggests that the information retrieves itself . Intuitively Baars finds details of images — a hand, a nail, the structure of skin, the colour of a carpet, etc. — that seem to constitute the natural elements of the portrait she is working on. This technique can, in my opinion, be associated with a mode of apprehending the world ; a vision that not only accepts the mutability and impermanence of form on a microscopic level, but that also draws stable macroscopic patterns out of this multiplicity of shifting evidence — compressed, compounded, and composited.
1. Read, for example, Roland Barthes ‘Rhetoric of the Image’ in Image/Music/Text (New York : Hill and Wang, 1997).
2. The truth claim of photography is the term used by Tom Gunning to describe the prevalent belief that traditional photographs accurately depict reality. He states that the truth claim relies upon both the in-dexicality and visual accuracy of photographs. Tom Gunning, ‘What’s the Point of an Index ? Or, Faking Photographs’, in NORDICOM Review, vol. 5, no.1/2 (September 2004), p. 41.
3. For an overview of the discussion see : Jennifer González, 2009. ‘Morphologies, Race as a Visual Technology’ in Only Skin Deep, Changing Visions of the American Self, Edited by Coco Fusco and Brian Wallis (New York : International Center of Photography & Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers).
4. Here, James Emmott refers to two articles written by Francis Galton. The first is ‘Composite Portraits, Made by Combining Those of Many Different Persons Into a Single Resultant Figure’ which appeared in theJournal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 8 (1879), p. 132. The second is : ‘Composite Portraits, Made by Combining Those of Many Different Persons Into a Single Resultant Figure’, Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 8 (1879), p. 132. For further details see : Emmott, James, ‘Parameters of Vibration, Technologies of Capture, and the Layering of Voices and Faces in the Nineteenth Century’, Victorian Studies, 53.3 (Spring 2011), pp. 468–78.
5. Francis Galton, Inquiries Into Human Faculty and its Development (New York : Macmillan, 1883), p. 10.
6. Marina Benjamin, ‘Sliding Scales : Microphotography and the Victorian Obsession With the Minuscule’, in Cultural Babbage : Technology, Time and Invention, ed. by Francis Spufford and Jenny Uglow (London : Faber and Faber, 1996), pp. 99–122.
7. Michel Serres, ‘The Origin of Language : Biology, Information Theory, and Thermodynamics’, in Hermes : Literature, Science, Philosophy, ed. by Josué V. Harari and David F. Bell (Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), pp. 71-83.
—, 2001. Sculptural. So’Chic, France, Spring 2011,
no. 23, pp. 148-157.
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—, 2007. 200 Best Illustrators World Wide,
—, 2010. The Call of the Wild. Amsterdam: ZOO
Magazine, 2010/2011, no. 29, pp. 2-5.
—, 2011. Bizarr és gyönyörü. Isten éltessen
esztétika!- Ingrid Baars. norasomogyi [online].
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—, 2011. Fotofestival Naarden. NRC Handelsblad,
Netherlands, May 20, p. 3.
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—, 2011. The Keen Creative Generation. Taiwan:
DPI, 2011, no. 120, pp. 46-51.
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Mademoiselle, March 13, 2013 [online]. Available at:
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no. 15, November 2012, Cover, and pp. 56-64.
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The Economist, Intelligent Life, 4 October, 2012
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her contemporary mix of photography & digital art,
we have a little chat. Malta and Belsize Park: Platinum
Love, Vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 12–17. Available online
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Mariotti, P., 2012. A artista Holandesa Ingrid Baars
revisita a arta Africana. Brasil: Vogue Brasil, June
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Newton, D., 2012. L’Afrique c’est Chic. London: Wylde
02, Autumn issue, pp. 54-67.
Pourhashemi, P. 2012. A Shaded View on Fashion.
Diane Pernet [online], 4 June. Avaialbel at: http://
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