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Image Hosted by ImageShack.usThe Dummy's Lesson: Close-up of ventriloquist and dummy. 2000.

Para que esto no parezca un lugar reservado a pintores e ilustradores ya iba siendo hora de incluir un fotógrafo. Entre mis favoritos de los últimos años se encuentra Jean-Pierre Khazem, un tipo que encuentra aristas inquietantes en el naturalismo, a fuerza de estilizarlo, incluir de manera más o menos dosificada ingredientes grotescos en las escenas y, sobre todo, usar una de mis obsesiones particulares: las máscaras.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usWoman in white dress in field.

The characters that populate Jean Pierre Khazem's photographs seem to inhabit a parallel world to ours. Where have they strayed in from? Toonland? Sesame Street? Helmut Newton's dream diary? Exploiting references ranging from 80s pop videos and fashion, to advertising and film, Khazem (Paris, 1968) cooks up an anarchic and nonsensical universe in which tension springs from the unlikely meeting between the cuddly and the psychotic.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usWreckless.

The principal conceit of Khazem's work is the mask, or large home-made prosthetic head: an elephant, a lion, a beaked and bug-eyed bird; most often a girl, not pretty, not exactly idealized, a smooth-skinned dead-eyed creature who has something of Japanese manga cartoons about her. Both the animals and the girls are deadpan, and give little away; their almost mournful features transfer easily from scenario to scenario.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usMan watching woman on tanning table.

Sometimes, when the image is simple and located in the familiar 'real' world of buildings and traffic, Khazem's photographs invite conjecture about the role of the artist. That man in the lion's head in the street - who is he? We can't speak to him; he's a lion. Maybe that's Khazem under the mask. Maybe, as an artist, Khazem can adopt any disguise he likes; maybe he's strong as a lion and fragile as a thin-limbed boy underneath. It looks like a good thing to be able to walk down the street as a lion - but we're not sure. It's disconcerting.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usTwo doll faces lying on beach.

In the many photographs using animal heads, Khazem asks us to enter another world more fully. One series shows what seems to be the underbelly of Toonland: we're hanging out with a crazed bunny, an elephant, some mice; they're doing drug deals outside the bar, chilling by the pool table ('Miller Genuine', reads the neon sign in the background, archly), and generally going about their nocturnal and somewhat seedy business. This is children's television land on an off night; out of work cuddly toys scoring crack to pass the time. Khazem, with some humor, collides his generic fun-fur people with inner-city blight and a dash of film noir, and milks the threat.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usMan seen walking outside window.

Meanwhile, over in the park, Twin Peaks meets Big Bird on Elm St. In a series of night-time images Khazem poses his bird-headed models in vaguely suggestive set-pieces: a gray-beaked ostrich woman in a purple acrylic top leans back against the bowl of a tree. Her exquisitely manicured hand peeks out from beneath her dress. A female form with a lilac-colored beak seems to do yoga in the park. The night shooting and dramatic lighting lend a surreal air to the proceedings. Even the real grass looks unreal. Whatever's going on in this shadowy public park (are they cruising for a bit of rough, these Children's-TV-land-glamour women? Or just waiting?), we the viewers are vicarious, intrigued and willing participants.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usThree camels.

The strong sexual undertones in Khazem's work become most overt in his portraits of women. Scantily-clad models lounge about in cheap hotel rooms; they look desultory on pink bedspreads, or lean, apparently available in some sense, against flimsy film-set walls. Their expressionless masks suggest sadness, deflating the eroticism of dress or pose. Yet the pictures don't seem to be much concerned with unraveling the conventions of fashion or men's mag photography. These aren't Cindy Sherman-style explorations of female stereotypes - they're too humorous for that, only: who's laughing at whom? It might be that Khazem is seeing how far he can go in implying a generic porn situation (the props in his hotel rooms suggest low-budget movies), but in these images what wins out is a sense of the absurd. A Khazem woman on a pebbly beach is more entertaining when seen as a warped pastiche of a Bill Brandt nude than as a comment on fashion imagery.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usTemptation.

Sometimes these pictures refreshingly poke fun, as in one image of a model (wearing a big girl's head mask) resting on a window ledge, her stilleto'd foot drawn up in classic photo magazine pose. Khazem has his cake and eats it too: enjoying the unabashed sensuality of a beautiful model in lingerie, yet underwriting and sanctioning it through the more unpredictable concerns of Art. The images tread a fine line, but it's a dark humor that saves the day.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usRedhead playing with hair in bathroom mirror.

eyestorm: You once compared the way you create a character in your photographs to a mother carrying a baby for nine months - do you want your characters to seem real?

Jean-Pierre Khazem: Yes, but I am aiming for more than just putting real-looking masks on the people I photograph. For example, when the models are wearing the masks, they can't see. This means that they have to move differently. They forget their egos; they have to make sacrifices. They become something closer to their soul, and what's inside of them shows in the picture.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usTwo dolls in a dentist waiting room.

* Some of the earlier works - the 'lion' images, for example - took a long time to prepare, because I was making all the masks myself, and that was like a nine-month gestation. Now I work with a sculptor for the human masks, which makes it much faster.

Another thing is that, when I photograph real people, I sometimes look at the contact sheets and find that the models look strange in all the shots: I have trouble choosing an image when I haven't changed something about the model. The masks solve this problem; you have to look for different qualities in the photographs, and this is what interests me most.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usBriquet. 1999.

* It seems like you work by constructing performance pieces and then taking photographs on the set.

Yes, completely. For the 'Llama Series', I made a one-minute film, which is exactly like the photographs. I had decided to make the film first, and after each sequence, each set-up, I made a photograph. The girl in that work - for the mask we made, we changed the color of her eyes and her hair, but otherwise the face looked like hers. How did she feel about it? She didn't care; she was 14 years old and it was like a game for her, though because the shoot took three days she'd had enough by the end.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usUntitled V14. 1999.

* Do you want your pictures to tell a story, or are they more about what the viewer brings to them?

The Llama pictures are about the contrast between humans, stuffed animals, and masked faces: which are the most expressive? Why did I choose to work with llamas? Well, earlier I had worked with camels, for compositional reasons: if everything in the picture is camel-colored, I should use a camel. The llamas, though, were a kind of tribute to the Dalai Lama [laughs]. For the Broadway image, I placed a figure wearing a lion's head in New York, because there's something a bit wild about that city. I don't like the expression 'urban jungle', but there's a strong energy there, suitable for an animal like a lion.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usMona Lisa.

* How important is humor in your work?

Humor is a useful element to keep things from becoming too heavy, but other emotions are equally important. The oddness of an 'almost real' head - forcing the viewer to find expression in the body rather than the face - gives a quiet, enigmatic mystery to the photos. But please, feel free to laugh!

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usMan reclining back on bed in boxer shorts.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usman sitting among weeds on beach.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usClose-up of woman with doll's face.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usMan sitting on trunk, carving into it with knife.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usMan sitting back in chair.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usNude woman lying across dining room chairs, in front of table.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usNude woman sitting on the floor in front of chair.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usNude woman lying sideways on couch (bed?)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usNude woman sitting on chair reading.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usMoose sitting on bench.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usMoose sitting at picnic table.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usProfile of ventriloquist and dummy.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usA group of lions standing outside a movie theater.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usRedhead girl standing in doorway of kitchen; mother preparing meat.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usredhead sitting on steps. llama on other steps.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usRedhead sitting on bed with another girl.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usFamily standing on front steps.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usCouple in bed.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usWoman sitting at table, man facing away.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usThe Glass Heads.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usThe Glass Heads2

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usGlass heads outside a massage parlor.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usTwo doll's face; one with back turned, one wearing sheer top

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usDoll face holding onto stick.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usDoll standing on beach.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usBird lying on grass.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usClose-up of doll's face, with leaf in hair.

posted by ANTONIO TRASHORRASImage Hosted by
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