Marius Sperlich’s photos make discomfort look good. The Berlin-based photographer’s portfolio features mostly maximalist close-ups of a body part—usually a face—transformed into something else: a burger, a waterpark, a glitter explosion. Each shot can take up to six hours to pose and perfect. Working with him can be so uncomfortable, Sperlich told VICE, “You have to be a bit crazy to do this."
Sperlich’s colorful, sleekly produced style finds its background in advertising, and ultimately he quit his job at an agency to pursue the visuals he's currently making. “Advertising is like fooling people," he told VICE. "It’s like telling people what they want to do. I dislike the whole point of advertising." Now, through Instagram, he's gained some art world recognition for his work, emulating the hybrid online-offline fame of artists like Daniel Arsham and Yung Jake. He's energized by celebrity fans such as Madonna, who in early 2017 shared one of Sperlich's photos: a Nike logo meticulously trimmed from pubic hair.
Around the same time, he started getting a lot of attention due to a collaboration with makeup artist Joanna Bacas and a series in which they placed tiny figurines doing everyday things on people’s faces. Finding Bacas was like, “a dream came true,” Sperlich said, and now they collaborate on the majority of his photos. Both saw their respective Instagram followings swell (Sperlich is now approaching 200,000 followers, and was under 10,000 when the project began), and the series got so popular that Preiser, the company that makes the miniatures, started sending Sperlich new figurines upon request.
His process is based on creating intimacy and breaking down the barriers of a standard photoshoot. Inspired by the films of Gaspar Noé, Sperlich said, "I wanted to do something that makes people uncomfortable. They're also attracted to something, but on the other hand think, 'Oh, God, why?'"
Since quitting his job and pursuing his craft, Sperlich has gotten his work hung in group shows and makes some of his money from editorial collaborations with fashion brands like Dior. But one day he hopes to walk into a gallery and see his work hanging next to Andy Warhol's. "It’s a stupid example, but the value, for me, is in recognition,” he said.
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