My tutor recommended that I look at a series of portraits of women who work on perfume concessions that was featured in the first Re-Generation: 50 photographers of Tomorrow book. Unfortunately she could not remember the photographer’s name and I diligently went through the entire list on the link provided to me and came up empty handed. No one in our Facebook group could shed any light on the subject either. A couple of days ago Rachel (not sure if she is a fellow student or someone who follows my blog) left a comment giving me the name of the photographer, Raphael Hefti and mentioned that it was a series of beauticians (thanks Rachel!). When I went to Raphael Hefti’s website, it only consisted of his contact details in Switzerland and London from where he works and an email address. That would explain why I couldn’t find any images during my initial searches.
There does not seem to be much information about this body of work out there in English, that I can find on the internet. I had to resort to Google Translate in order to make sense of various French references I found as I don’t speak French. I managed to track down a few images of this series through Google Images though.
Apparently Hefti asked each woman to make herself up using the products she sold and then photographed them in front of their counters.
Each woman does have individual features, but the extent to which their chosen make up homogenises them is disturbing. The images exude a ghastly ‘Stepford Wives’ quality reminding us how portraiture, rather than a transparent presentation of individual, often makes its demands of the subject.
Camilla Gupta, Culture 24
Hefti’s head and shoulder portraits were made with the subjects positioned in front of their cosmetic counters. We see the blurred out containers in the background. The women are all dressed in similar fashion: suit, blouse, modest jewelry around their necks, if any, their makeup extremely carefully applied. They all stare expressionlessly straight at the camera.
The photographs would have a passport feel to them if it were not for the background. There is very regimental feel to this set of images, rather like soldiers standing in a lineup. Eyes stare straight ahead, arms are held stiffly at the sides, the ‘soldiers’ stand at attention waiting for the sergeant major to bark out the next order. But the battle ground these women are fighting on is the cosmetic counter, more specifically consumerism. They stand ready to pounce at the first victim who walks through the store’s front doors. Cosmetic counters are usually positioned at the front of the stores to attract women’s attention immediately upon entering the store. The spicy aromas of perfumes from the East and the floral fragrances of France lure and entice the consumer as soon as they enter.
The applied makeup signifies a mask. It serves to change the persona. The older ladies apply makeup in order to look younger, while the younger ladies apply makeup to look older. The makeup these ladies apply, however, also serves another purpose. It is their battle face that they have put on. They are out at the front doing battle with consumer culture, ready with fake smiles and seductive words, trying to promote their products to everyone who walks by their booths. I am very much reminded of a few verses in the Bible that deals with the armour of God.
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
(Ephesians 6: 13 – 17)
The strip lighting used on both sides of the subjects’ faces creates a rather feline predatory look in the women’s eyes, adding to the ‘sameness’ that one experiences when viewing these images. Their uniform look is what throws one off balance slightly. Its rather scary how similar they actually look. This series reminds me of Hans Eijkelboom’s work that I reviewed recently. There Eijkelboom reinforces the extent to which our identities are moulded by consumer culture to such an extent that we really lose our individuality and this series by Hefti bears witness to that.
Dossier de Presse (2002). Identites: Faire Faces. Lebleuduciel le traitment contemporain. Avec le Musee de l’Elysee, Lausanne. Available at: https://www.lebleuduciel.net/images_mailing/dp/D_P_Faire_Faces.pdf [Accessed 8 August, 2016]
The Armour of God [online] New International Version (NIV) Bible. Available at: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians%206:10-18 [Accessed 8 August, 2016]
Gupta, C. (2004) Lartigue and About Face – Contrasts At The Hayward Gallery. [online] Culture 24. Available at: http://www.culture24.org.uk/art/photography-and-film/art23490 [Accessed 8 August, 2016]
Mise en scène des stéréotypes sociaux = Raphaël HEFTI [online] Historie de l’arts Terminal. Available at: http://hdaterminale.eklablog.fr/mise-en-scene-des-stereotypes-sociaux-raphael-hefti-a46621829 [Accessed 8 August, 2016]
Culturgest, Lisbonne (2003). Cara a Cara [online]. Musée de l’Elysée. Available at: http://www.elysee.ch/expositions-et-evenements/detail/news/culturgest-lisbonne/ [Accessed 8 August, 2016]
Wright, R (2005). The Death of the Death of the Portrait [online] Mute. http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/death-death-portrait [Accessed 8 August, 2016]