When French photographer Olivier Valsecchi won the Hasselblad Masters Award in 2012, he was asked by the camera-maker to create a new set of photos that represented one word: "evoke." The result of that abstract brief is Klecksography, a photographic reimagining of the inkblot test.
Popularized by the Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach, inkblot tests (also known as "Rorschach tests") require people to find form in abstract patterns. The way patients go about interpreting the inkblots is analyzed by a psychologist in order to diagnose mental disorders. Widely used in the second half of the 20th century, Rorschach tests are still studied and utilized in some fields of psychology today. They've also been immortalized by numerous fictional works, including Alan Moore's Watchmen, which featured an inkblot-masked antihero aptly named "Rorschach."
In an interview with The Verge, Valsecchi talks us through his influences, inspiration, and methodology.
Note: the following images contain nudity.
- Born in Paris in 1979, Valsecchi composed music as a teen and began to take an interest in visual arts while creating pictures to illustrate his own record sleeves. He later enrolled in photography school to refine his techniques, and his work has been exhibited around Europe, the US, and Asia. After winning a Hasselblad Masters award for his stunning portrait series Dust, he created Klecksography.
- "I imagined some kind of graphic duels and instinctively had a look at Rorschach tests," Valsecchi explains. "It was a perfect fit for my project; I see a lot of human shapes in them, and I decided to make my own photographic take on the tests."
- Although their composition may seem unfeasible, none of the images have been Photoshopped. "Everything was shot live. That was the real performance, and nightmare as well." The arrangements feature up to seven models that appear to blend together as a single alien form.
- "The artistic concept of the series was to make human sculptures, the technical concept of the series was to make photo montages without digital manipulation," Valsecchi explains. "What you see is what you get on my camera's screen. It took at least three hours to make each photo."
- "I got only three photos for the series on my first try. Every other image was tested two or three times with different casts."
- "The first job was to cast people who looked alike. Then I showed them their respective positions, placed everyone on the stage, and the game could start. They had to strike a pose for several minutes while I was yelling at everyone to move very slowly, up or down, left or right, to be symmetrical with the opposite side."
- Mana II, pictured above, was the most challenging shot. Originally set on two levels and featuring 12 people, it was supposed to recreate what could be perceived as a "monster's head." Eventually, after hours of attempts, Valsecchi gave up on the idea."The second level wasn't high enough ... I was so focused on symmetry that when I thought I had it, the shape didn't look like a monster at all." He eventually simplified the concept and shot the image on a single level with just five models.
- Outside of photography, Valsecchi draws inspiration from a number of contemporary and classic artists. "I don't know if you can draw a line between my favorite artists and find me at the end." Valsecchi lists off an near-endless list of artists he loves, including modern names like Pierre et Giles, Barbary Whitfield, and Mark Beard; renowned creatives like Bacon, Dali, Caravaggio, and Goya; and some of his contemporaries such as Levi van Veluw and Madame Péripétie. "[I like] the dark ones, the crazy ones. They all have in common an obvious taste for colors and aesthetics, technique and visual poetry."
- "You know, I always have the feeling I get to understand a series after it's done. Not when I start it, not while I'm doing it, but when it's finished. That's when the work can be in front of you as an ensemble. What struck me first was all these arms; crippled arms, or crippled shoulders. Arms represent an affective and social link between people. We shake hands, we hug. Arms also represent action, making things happen."
- For Alien (pictured above), Valsecchi offers a number of interpretations. "The central body looks like he's multiplying ... but still has no arms ... could that be saying that, if I multiply myself, I could be more available for other people, but still incapable of bonding with them? Or, arms also represent action — we do things with our arms and our hands — but we live in a world where we're always asked to do more. Always more. The more we want to do, the less we do it right. This is what I call 'the never-enough society,' and this is what the beast inside of me keeps growling: 'this is not enough!' because he knows that, even though i'm doing my best, I would like to do more."
- "See, even I have different interpretations of these photos. That's the fun part of exhibiting my work: when people come to see me and share what they see in pictures. A lot of people see the same thing — for example 80 percent see a beetle in Minotaur (pictured above), but some see an African mask, some see a beast."
Valsecchi also cites the work of British singer-songwriter Kate Bush as a direct influence on Klecksography. While coming up with the idea for the piece, Kate Bush's song "The Dreaming" was stuck in his head. "This is the weirdest song, with ghostly voices like coming out of the ground, about Australian aborigines being invaded by the Occidental." Appropriately, the song is used in the video below, which shows some of the work that went into creating the series.