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August 21, 2014

Still Lives: Philip Sinden

Portraits and Serendipity from the London Photographer

“I guess this is my way of interpreting my very religious upbringing and turning it back on its head,” says photographer Philip Sinden of his as-yet-untitled new project that continues our three-part spotlight on NOWNESS’ longtime contributors. “I got in touch with life models­, people who are used to being drawn, and instead photographed them on a large 5x4 film format in a studio over two months.” The images are his first dip into nude photography, and are juxtaposed here with baroque interior shots of cathedrals and mosques captured during his travels in Slovenia, Ljubljana and Istanbul. “All photographers use the same equipment to shoot, but we all come up with something different,” says the London-based Wallpaper*, Vogue and Telegraph Magazine contributor. “You interpret life by the way you see things. In some ways, I don’t think you have much control over that.”

Is religious iconography a recurring motif in your work?
Philip Sinden:
I had a religious childhood, so it was something that was around all the time and I shot the nudes in a very loose way that maybe echoed some poses from paintings from Spanish artists. I started photographing interiors of churches with certain particular people in mind from the nude series to put them together.

Are there any greats you tend to reference?
I did a series of priests so I was looking at El Greco a lot, Velasquez. I like abstract paintings like De Kooning, possibly a bit of Irving Penn. I really like street photographers at the moment like Mark Cohen. I think his loose way of photographing people on the street is really interesting, so that’s something I’ve been looking at a bit more recently.

What do you think of the instant imaging fostered by social media?
I think it’s great. I’ve never been part of Facebook particularly but Instagram is interesting in the way it makes you look at things again. When you’re shooting photographs all the time, you have a way of working but to suddenly have the freedom to just take pictures of anything. I use a BlackBerry so I then interpreted it onto an iPad. In some ways it gives me time to think but maybe that’s cheating, I don’t know. I think it’s a great way of putting your own work out there as well, just getting instant feedback.

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The Place Beyond the River Kei

Documenting the Contrasting Beauty of Nelson Mandela's Birthplace on the Eve of His Funeral

Few places remain as remote or magnificent as the Transkei, the boyhood home of the late anti-apartheid icon and beloved father figure of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. Photographer and filmmaker Laurence Ellis, who has shot for i-D, Vogue and Art Review, pays tribute to the remote outpost in today’s lyrical short. Inspired by the power and optimism of an image he was once shown of a local boy on horseback, Ellis drove two days from Cape Town to reach the rural Xhosa village where horseracing celebrations were already underway. “Even the name Transkei, which translates to ‘place beyond the River Kei,’ has a kind of wonder to it; a slightly fairy tale quality,” he says. Lead by young villagers, Ellis meandered its winding pastures dotted with brightly-colored thatched roof rondavels, and descended rutty tracks to ancient wave-battered monoliths with unassuming names, like The Hole in the Wall. “It has a contrast that in a way sums up a lot about South Africa,” adds the director. “You sense there’s a lot of hardship, but there’s this incredible beauty that goes with it.” 

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Screenwriter Chiara Barzini on the Intersexual Subject of Director Carlo Lavagna’s Next Film

Arianna grew up in the outskirts of Rome with the feeling that something was not quite right. Aching breasts, bizarre forms of osteoporosis emerging out of the blue, and, most importantly, the absence of a period, rang alarm bells that she chose to ignore for a long time. She took matters into her own hands and went to see a gynecologist, who revealed her family’s secret: she was born with androgen insensitivity syndrome, a condition that prevents the masculinization of male genitalia in the developing fetus. Chromosomally speaking she was XY, but her genitalia was ambiguous, so doctors performed surgery to “normalize” their son into a female. Arianna was shocked, but somewhere inside, she’d known this all along. “That’s how it is. If you don’t agree, there’s the door,” her father plainly explained. She left home and founded the first association for Disorders of Sex Development in Italy. The film Arianna will be dedicated to her experience, but is also the result of a long journey into the lives of many intersex people around the world whose stories and struggles with sex assignation and medical procedures are unfolding at a faster and faster rate. One in 1,666 births today is not XX and not XY. The mystical, the “unseen”, the undecided, the un-normalized, and transversal areas of gender and sexuality, are still considered a taboo today. These often-intangible concepts are bound to move beyond the scientific borderlines of hormones, chromosome alignment, and genitals. It is behavior, inspiration, anima, and feelings that make us sexually drawn to one another. If only this could be clear and accepted—the way it was in Ancient Greece, for example—it would be possible to ask the real, important questions, such as: what is sex, really? Once we remove the medical tools used to cut, sew, change, realign, and assign gender and identity out of the doctor’s chambers, what is left? 

Arianna will start shooting in spring. To learn more and contribute to the Indigogo project, click here.

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