In an age where the transience of social media gives rise to artistic creations that are aesthetically pleasing but conceptually lacking, catering to short attention spans and quick moving feeds, the work of Marvin Leuvrey is refreshingly well-rounded and developed. Initially inspired as a teenager by the seminal styles of cinematographers such as Robby Müller and Christopher Doyle, he later drifted into photography, getting to grips with the medium during his studies at ECAL in Switzerland. Coupled with his interests in future realities, hyper-capitalism and mankind’s complex relationship with technology, he began shaping the thematic foundations of his practice.
“I’ve always been fascinated by extensive metropolises and the fictional aspects of their structure. I travelled to Asia a few times and became very interested in how they are accelerating through the twenty-first century,” he tells It’s Nice That. “In Shanghai for example, they are creating near-enough new cities inside already existing cities, and yet they are separated from it. These are called free zones.” Also known as free economic zones, the term refers to special designated areas in which companies are taxed very lightly or not at all to encourage economic activity. Two such examples, one in Shanghai and another in Shenzhen, became the ideal starting points for Marvin’s recent book project, titled Overflow.
“Overflow is a metaphor for the ubiquity of media devices and the virtualisation of reality,” he explains of the series. An intriguing mix of subject matter comes together in the 160 pages that make up the book, creating a documentation of technological excess and bleak urbanity that lies at the intersection of reality and fiction. Impersonal images of literally and metaphorically distant figures give a sense of a world being watched rather than lived. Technology and architecture merge in warped collages of visually oversaturated environments. The cold colour palette and grading present the photos as if being viewed through a filter, further detaching the viewer from the subject. The only warmth in the images is found in the artificial glow of street lights, cars’ headlights and electronic screens. Radiating from the photos as if offering respite from the outside world, the images speak of our growing technological reliance.
Inspired by the concept of “non-places”, a term first coined by French anthropologist Marc Augé in his book of the same title, Marvin saw them as the perfect settings and contexts in which to explore notions of hyper-capitalism and simulated realities. Regarded as places of transience where human beings remain anonymous, and do not hold enough significance to be regarded as actual “places”, this neologism refers to motorways, hotel rooms, airports and shopping malls, among others. Starting by documenting them on camera, Marvin then experimented with his editing process to further feed into the underlying themes of the project.
“I wanted to set a gradual acceleration in the sequence. At the beginning, there are various characters and places that are identifiable, but then everything accelerates and images mutate into complex collages which reflect the state of permanent flux in the non-places,” he says. “At the end of the book, many of the pictures are manipulated, destroyed and rebuilt, transforming the image into a moving copy.”
Creating a link between the mutability of the photos and the transitory nature of the areas that they focus on, Marvin visually references the groundbreaking essay of filmmaker Hito Steyerl, In Defence of the Poor Image. Within, Hito investigates the place of the pixelated JPEG, the compressed AVI file and the low-bandwidth video stream in a “class society of appearances”. She presents the poor image, which worsens with every rip, remix and reproduction of the original, as testament to “defiance and appropriation”, and as an embodiment of the world we live in. To this end, the essay details how the image moves through networks, changing in appearance and meaning as it goes; similar to the way in which Marvin manipulates his photos, “merging the real and the virtual in abstract yet familiar frames.”
As well as the reoccurring concepts, it’s this experimentation with his process that links and drives many of Marvin’s projects. Testing the parameters of photography as a medium, his upcoming series Water Copy demonstrates the ability to create “digital paintings” using the pliancy of photos. “With this project I’m dealing with a deconstructed reality, challenging the physicality of the medium and its ongoing digitalisation,” he explains. Through compressing and shattering the compositions, Marvin produces liquid screens and windows where organic shapes melt in synthetic patterns. This blending of imagery again blurs the line between reality and fiction, commenting upon the rampant virtualisation of the physical world that is taking place around us.
Aesthetically, Marvin’s commissioned work also draws links to his personal practice. Whether a still life shoot for design studio Superface, or product shoots for Wallpaper Magazine and OK-RM’s book with The Hepworth Wakefield, his style is consistent and distinguished. “Even if it’s for a brand or an editorial, I try to maintain an experimental approach with every project,” he says. Often utilising similar colour palettes to that of his personal work, Marvin’s commercial photography has comparably futuristic elements. Reflections, shadows and artificial light are accentuated in ways that are reminiscent of the imagery in Overflow and Water Copy. Connections are formed, unifying his oeuvre and creating a visual thread that weaves its way through all of his work, marking it out as distinctly his own.
About the Author
Daniel joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in February 2019 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. He graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Journalism in 2015. He is also co-founder and editor of SWIM, an annual art and photography publication.