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Pandemonium : photography inspired by classical painting

Idan Wizen talks about the Pandemonium collection, from the project Who's That Nude In The Living Room

The project Who’s That Nude In The Living Room, set up in 2009, brings together different collections. Very close to the paintings of the old masters, the Pandemonium collection uses the codes of classical painting to transform the models into gods and goddesses. Idan tells us more about this desire to imitate classical paintings.


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Hello, I am Idan Wizen, a visual photographer. The Pandemonium collection is one of the collections of the project Who’s That Nude In The Living Room, which consists of 200 photographs, made between 2014 and 2015. 

Like all the collections of the project Who’s That Nude In The Living Room, the photographs of the Pandemonium collection are made up of everyday people, people who have not been cast, people of all ages, all morphologies, all origins. For each person we have kept a photograph that has been published, that has not been retouched


What does the title of the collection mean? 

The title Pandemonium comes from the Greek, it was the capital of the underworld. It amused me to imagine that all these people who came to liberate themselves, to accept themselves by posing naked, would deserve to be demons of the underworld in the eyes of some puritans. 


Why did you decide to create a collection using the codes of classical painting? 

When I decided to create the Pandemonium collection, I wanted to point out a paradox: in various past eras, the artistic nude was always accepted, but never really welcomed. It was something that was tolerated, that was accepted in the eyes of a society that was much more puritanical in its morals than today’s society. 

In our current society, we have liberated sexuality, the place of the body, nudity, and yet the artistic nude is still disturbing. It doesn’t really disturb others, it disturbs on a personal basis. We won’t talk about it, we won’t pose, dare, hide, as if there was something taboo, dirty, almost demonic.

And that’s why I really wanted to take up and underline that the artistic nude was the point of symmetry between the different eras. In all cases, it was tolerated, but often not necessarily accepted, regardless of the mores of the society


Why did you title these works in Latin? 

In the Pandemonium collection, I decided to title the whole collection in Latin to recall the classical universe of past eras. I didn’t want to talk about the Renaissance or the 18th century in particular, I also had references to ancient Greece or Rome, and the language that seemed common to all these periods was classical Latin. So we decided to take this reference with each title in Latin, which has a real meaning, which is declined, as it should be, and which will really, according to me, bring an explanation and a superior intensity to the work. 


Who were your reference masters? 

When I started this collection, I looked a lot at classical painting. I had studied it a little earlier, but it was important for me to go back and look at the lightings of Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Rubens. I didn’t necessarily want to copy precisely this or that great painter, but I wanted to be inspired by the lightings that could be found more classically in painting. 


How did you obtain this painting-like rendering? By retouching? 

No, it’s not retouching. The idea is to keep the photo as authentic as possible. We worked mainly on light effects, on the rendering of the digital negative, but we did not make any adaptation in each photo. When we do retouching, we look at our image and we work, modify the pixels manually. Here, the idea is to have a global rendering that adapts in all cases to all the models, and to have this effect directly at the shooting. 


Can you tell us about some photos you particularly like? 

There are a lot of pictures in the Pandemonium collection that I really like, it’s always hard to choose a few.

Maybe the first one I want to tell you about would be Mutabilis – F0313. It’s a photo I like a lot, because it reconciles the classicism of painting with one of the strengths of photography which is to give movement. Her hair evokes a cry of liberation where she breaks all the barriers, all that was imposed on her throughout her young life, by freeing herself, and by going to the back with this movement of hair that I particularly like. 

The second photo I’d like to talk about is H0314 – Pirata. It is a photo that I particularly appreciate for its dreamlike flights of fancy. When I see this photo, even though he is in front of curtains, in a studio, I imagine a 19th century pirate on his ship on the Bahamas islands. It could be a member of Captain James Flint’s crew. I see him climbing the ropes with his lookouts. I see it by his posture, by his attitude, by his tattoos. It’s a photo that takes me on a journey and I love it. 

The last picture I would like to tell you about is F0421 – Harmonia. This is a photo I really like for its aestheticism. I found that it is very close to classical painting, which was my goal. There is a modern beauty, a more classical sensuality of the more rounded women, a very milky skin. I think that’s what I had in mind when I was making the Pandemonium collection, and I think it’s a perfect representation of what I wanted to do at the very beginning. 


How do you like to see the photographs from the Pandemonium collection displayed? 

When you exhibit a print from the Pandemonium photograph, what I find interesting is to combine, as the series does, the modern and the old, and therefore to go for a slightly different frame, very baroque, very golden, possibly silver, which will enhance the colors and the image. In my opinion, what would be even nicer is to go to flea markets, to antique shops to find old frames, which will combine the old and the new, the classicism and the modernity. I think that’s really one of the coolest ways to display these photographs.

I think it’s a photograph that can, of course, be displayed in a more classic interior, but also in something very modern. It’s going to be able to stand out, but fit in perfectly