Being in a relationship can really suck. As if your own incapability to deal with the world around you wasn't enough, you're actively deciding to burden yourself with someone else's insanity. To me, it seems like a weirdly masochistic thing for the entire planet to be into.
Photographer Penelope Koliopoulou also finds the concept of relationships interesting, and decided to explore them in a project called Self Portraits where she posed as both halves of different couples. I gave her a call to find out whether being in a relationship with yourself, even virtually, is a good idea or not.
VICE: I understand this was a project for grad school, right?
Penelope Koliopoulou: Yep, I did a fashion and film MA and the main idea was to do something on romantic comedies and how wrongly they discuss relationships. The problem in these films is to get the girl or the guy. Once they are together, everything's resolved and they supposedly live happily every after. So I first thought of making film stills from existing movies that would show the characters in real-life situations, good and bad.
Was it a particular movie that annoyed you?
No, I just like couples—I find them interesting. And what I like to do with my pictures is tell stories. So telling the story of a few couples seemed ideal. I'm not relationship-obsessed, though; quite the opposite.
What fascinates me is how people manage to meld their worlds together. All these people, with their own problems and experiences, actually taking the time to try and coexist.
Also, often you see couples who are together and you really wonder why they are. There are so many insecurities and complexes involved and it's often obvious that these people aren't making each other happy. But they keep their relationship because they are afraid of being alone. There's a dark side to romantic relationships. Do you think you focused on that side?
No, I think I've focused on both [the good and the bad], because that's reality. But at the same time, I wanted to make the photos a little funny, even comical—so some might be a little exaggerated Yeah, and there are certain stills that are quite archetypal. The dreadlocked hippies, for example.
Hopefully that makes them more relatable to viewers.
Did you base your characters on people you know?
Not really. I just tend to categorize people—put them into little boxes in my brain—based on their personalities or their lifestyles. That's what I based my couples on. I do it too, but isn't it wrong to categorize people like that? Surely we're all a little more complex?
Of course, but we all do it. It's also us who put ourselves into boxes. For instance, we chose the way we dress. Some people say you shouldn't judge people based on that, but of course you should, and you do, and it's not the end of the world.
How come you decided to make these self-portraits rather than recruiting models?
Initially, I thought of making them using friends of mine. But I've always worked with self-portraits—I've always been interested in conversations that deal with identity. After discussing it with my tutor a little further, it made more and more sense for me to be the "protagonist." In the end, that's what made the project fun and challenging. I used make-up and wigs and loads of different clothing to turn myself into these different characters, but my favorite stills are the ones where the whole character relies on a certain movement, like the way I've twisted my waist, which makes me look like a man. I could also take this conversation a little further, though—talk about how we project our expectations onto the people we choose to be with, even if sometimes these expectations have nothing to do with who they are. We also mimic them, trying on their expressions, gestures or phrases they use.
Yes. And you end up looking more and more like each other, and sometimes you lose your sense of self. Penelope is also working on a 365-day photo diary. Check it out here (there's a bunch of nudity at that link).
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