Based in Los Angeles, Tati and Erik AKA Hart Lëshkina is a photographic duo who – over the past four and a half years – has established a dream-like and surreal world for its subjects to inhabit. At times ambiguous and often imbued with a sense of melancholy, the pair has an innate ability to fabricate and construct realities.
Hart Lëshkina’s latest book, Out of You, demonstrates the fact. An exploration of self-representation, the project began about a year ago when Tati and Erik stumbled upon a photograph of a young girl – the book’s protagonist – on Instagram. “We were immediately taken by her presence and ability to embody a range of ages depending on how she was presented in the photographs taken by her mother,” they recall. As a result, Out of You portrays the complexities of the transition from childhood to adolescence by constructing a series of scenarios in which the subject’s identity is constantly in flux.
“The work is not about her personally, she’s performing a role directed by us for the camera, not unlike an actress,” they explain. “We wanted to create a body of work about that time of transition in which you become aware of being viewed and how this oftentimes catalyses the way in which one presents themselves.” Each image is therefore a construction of a cultural cliche, “associated with the codes of imposed and assumed feminine identities”.
Throughout the book, the central figure morphs from a child to a young woman and back again, sometimes confronting the camera, other times shying away from it. This juxtaposition creates a friction between reportage and more formal portraiture. “We have purposefully shot it in a way that all the images appear very candid and intimate, [with a] similarity to snapshots,” the duo says, “which has the effect of creating this tension and dissonance between the surface of the images and the construction and concept behind them.”
It’s a tension that can be felt across much of Hart Lëshkina’s portfolio in which the pair describe their visual language as “intimate and evocative and a slightly dislodged version of reality”. In order to establish this reality, Tati and Erik utilise the editing process to full effect, commenting on how “half the work happens after the images are created”. Through a series of discussions, they establish situations which can be staged for the camera, a framework of sorts in which their subjects can then live. However, “outside the conscious and constructed elements of our process,” they continue, “there is something which exists purely on emotion and interaction, and the energy and dynamic we create between us and our subject.”
Ultimately, it’s photography’s ability to alter reality and memory, “its relationship to truth and fiction”, which drives their practice. Hart Lëshkina’s images are ones which can have several readings as a result, exploring the transient nature of photography to explore subjectivity and memory. “We find that our work can often be polarising, which excites us when we see how different people can perceive the same image with such varying reactions,” they say. “This is when things get very interesting to us as the response often tends to reveal so much about the individual viewer and what they are projecting on to the work.”
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