This article contains adult content.
What are you wearing right now? Darken your screen and reflect on your facial expression. Your presentation while exploring the internet probably doesn't represent your best self, but that's who doles out your Facebook likes, Twitter faves, and Instagram hearts—in other words, the you who consumes content. Photographer Marco Onofri distills the essence of the "content consumer" down into a series of nude tableaus that bring internet viewers into the room with the models they follow. The juxtoposition is uncanny, if not downright surreal. He calls the series Followers because the intense captivation of the audience is the real focus of his photos, not those they gather around.
Onofri, frequently shown at photography fairs and galleries in Italy and France, had to change his usual casting strategy for Followers. He recruited his "consumers" online, requesting that they wear the same clothes they were dressed in when they accepted the job. As a result, they look natural, diverse in gender, age, race, and style. He instructed the models to perform the most recent pose they had posted to their own social media accounts, recreating an interaction in real life that normally takes place through the disassociative safety of servers, modems, and electronic screens. His compositions are a way to try to visualize what it would be like to consume the content of an Instagram feed in the real world—looking, but nothing more.
It was one of these anonymous online interactions that sparked Onofri's need to create Followers. After he posted an elegant nude of his girlfriend to Tumblr, it wound up on, "various vulgar pages focused on objectification," as he describes them. "I was shocked and annoyed that these pages shared intimate pictures to an unknown fanbase likely dedicated to lust. In the end, I deleted the photo and was left with a lasting impression," he tells The Creators Project. Followers is an attempt to call out consumers "armed with likes and comments" and "shielded by anonymity" who are "able to unleash their most lewd desires without any risk of taboo."
Drawing on this experience, it became vital for Onofri that "content," in this series, be represented by naked people. "I’ve found that models versed in nude works of have an introverted honesty about them. Nudity in art adds another level of complexity to be analyzed," he says. "The nudity reflects the honesty often delivered via social networks. Models exposing themselves to judgement from anonymous followers needed an extra sense of juxtaposition to reflect the intimacy and voyeurism."
His biggest challenge was to capture emotions while also making his untrained subjects feel at home in the nude situation. "The models were well trained and comfortable posing naked, but the followers were not used to the situation," Onofri says. "The result was discomfort among the followers rather than exposed models." The crowd sweated, blushed, and cracked the occasional joke to ease the tension, but their inherit discomfort is evident in the photographs.
However, several intensely human interactions pleasantly surprised Onofri in the course of the shoot. "An enamored young kid asked a model to marry him. A woman started breastfeeding as a natural symbol of solidarity. These moments were my reward. Like them, I’m a follower too.”