From Superheroes copyright Nicolas Silberfaden.
Last time we caught up with Nicolas Silberfaden, he’d just spent three months undercover in the US, posing as a paparazzo to shoot a personal story on the photographers themselves. The Argentinian photographer, who’d originally studied economics, was drawn to the subject as an interesting take on the front line of media culture and its place in American consumerism.
And now he’s moved to Los Angeles, he’s embarked on a new project focused on superhero impersonators, starting with a series of studio portraits that have already gained him some valuable exposure in the next American Photography Photo Annual. So far he’s shot 10 subjects, including Superman in his fake muscle suit, Batgirl with her eyes welling up, and Catwoman.
“Making the subjects pose in their costumes against a colourful backdrop, I ask them to manifest feelings of genuine sadness – honest emotions that are a consequence of our current times,” he explains, saying he’s aiming for “a sombre, striking visual image that contradicts the iconic nature of strength and moral righteousness typical in American superhero imagery”.
Again, the pictures are designed to work as a kind of allegory, this time for the decline of the world’s last remaining superpower, “Creating the illusion that Superman does exist – that he too was fallible and affected by America’s traumatic downturn”.
He plans to dig deeper into the lives of each superhero showing, still through a series of portraits, the person behind the mask, but adds that the project will evolve as he continues shooting. “The common theme is the idea that even being a superhero nowadays is not enough to get by,” he says, admitting that trying to make it as a commercial photographer in LA right now is an uphill struggle. “You know we tend to forget that Superman had a second job to make ends meet, and today he would probably need a third, or fourth… who knows!”
It’s the first time he’s tried shooting studio portraits, and admits he’s playing it by ear, just like he bluffed his way into the inner circle of the paparazzi. “What I like is to put myself in situations that are uncomfortable, and in the process find a way of getting out alive – that would explain my portrait approach!”
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