Spotlight: Photobook

The Eye of the Cyclops

© Ann Massal

Ann Massal’s latest photobook presents her vision of beauty, blending images of rotten fruit with splatterings of nail polish, drawings of genitalia, and collages made from pornographic magazines

Cyclopes appear throughout Greek mythology and literature as monstrous, one-eyed giants. “Their vision of the world is distorted,” explains Ann Massal, discussing the inspiration behind the title of her latest photobook, The Eye of the Cyclops. “[The book] is my vision of beauty and everyday life. I wanted to propose that maybe we should all be a cyclops for one day.”

The Eye of the Cyclops employs an amalgamation of techniques and experiments, and was created in Massal’s Parisian apartment. Some of the images are of rotten fruit and vegetables, left out on her balcony for weeks until they were ready to photograph. Massal also experimented with dribbles of nail polish and scores of bright lipstick, spreading her images across her living room floor as she worked. “I’m super frustrated by the flatness of the photographic medium,” says Massal, who hopes to exhibit the work in a show where viewers are invited to touch it. The photographer’s latest experiment involved running her negatives through a washing machine: “It was the worst idea I have ever had,” says Massal, whose washing machine is now out of order.

© Ann Massal
© Ann Massal

The photographer never digitally manipulates her images but distorts them through physical techniques: lighting, filters, or drawings that are layered on transparent paper. Massal’s work has a tactile quality, and the book, which is designed by João Linneu, one of the founders of Greek publishing house Void, reflects this. Its large pages enable viewers’ to engage with the detail in Massal’s processes, and the hole on each cover of its 1000 editions was hand-punched by Massal herself.

Massal regards these images, particularly those depicting rotten fruit, as a reaction to the rigid beauty standards imposed by contemporary culture. The photographer’s interest in the subjects of beauty and diversity was driven by her former career: almost 15 years spent working at L’Oreal as the global managing director of The Body Shop. Massal was frustrated by brands that promoted themselves as “diverse” because they included one black, asian, or plus-sized model in their campaigns. “It is so much more complex,” she says, explaining how she wanted to show the potential beauty in rotten vegetables, and relating this to how women view imperfection in contemporary culture and social media.

© Ann Massal

Along with her own images, the book also comprises found photographs, which Massal either ripped out of glossy magazines or bought in a “secret pornography shop” in Paris, where, over the past six years, she has become a regular. “There are only men in that shop, they all have these big magnifying glasses,” Massal laughs. “Most of the time when I enter they leave.”

Just like the images in the book, the concept that underlies behind The Eye of the Cyclops is also multi-layered. The project, which Massal has been working on for five or six years now, developed out of an idea to create a pornography magazine for women. Drawing from her own experiences of visiting pornography shops, the photographer felt that, although not officially prohibited, women were unwelcome. “I felt that I should be able to enter any place I want, and that’s how it all started,” she explains. 

But the book is not just about the female experience; it is also intended to subvert images of masculinity. In The Eye of the Cyclops, men wear makeup, push their stomachs out as though they are pregnant, and pose in what may be regarded as stereotypically feminine positions. “Men can be sensitive, and actually a lot of men love this work and I’m happy about that,” says Massal. The photographer regards her practiceas both political and satirical, but, “I don’t want to impose anything through it,” she explains. “I believe that an image has to leave you thinking.”

The Eye of the Cyclops by Ann Massal is published by Kehrer

© Ann Massal
© Ann Massal
© Ann Massal
© Ann Massal