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Work / Photography

SHSadler’s Fresh Meat assesses the line between “what is beautiful and what is ugly”

“The images we take of ourselves have gone from less than 20 a year to sometimes thousands a month, in some cases,” photography duo SHSadler tell It’s Nice That. This terrifying observation of our self-obsession is the idea behind a recent series the pair, made up of Los Angeles-based Julia SH and Nic Sadler, “out of a desire to subvert current beauty standards in photography and confront the de-humanisation that it has created.”

A series made for Schön! magazine, SHSaldler identified three key observations of our photographic media consumption, providing the starting points for this series titled Fresh Meat. First, they observed not only how the “proliferation of social media has altered the way we interact with culture and each other,” but also how this sits alongside “how the standards of beauty that were previously applied to models in magazines now extend to the images presented by the public,” says the duo. But there has additionally been a shift in the concept of “beauty photography”, an area of the industry previously “seen as a kind of black art in the 90s”, which is now available to everyone through the tips and tricks of particular angles and digital filters. “With an unrelenting quest for youth, admiration and a highly controlled self-image, how far are we straying from the maxim that ‘beauty is only skin deep’? Where is the line between what is beautiful and what is ugly?” the photographers asked themselves.

From there, SHSadler settled on a concept which would frame a portrait as a packaged up example of their concept. Shot in just one day with five models and two make up approaches, the resulting photographs are purposefully difficult, yet altogether fascinating, to look at due to the photographers’ desire “to make something deliberately confrontational… to provoke debate and to embrace controversy”. Heading into projects with talking point-concepts such as this is a regular factor in SHSadler’s work, explaining how “our goal is to create dramatic images that force the viewer to re-evaluate the concept of beauty and challenge the prevailing aesthetic.”

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SHSadler: Fresh Meat

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SHSadler: Fresh Meat

However, despite influenced by the prevalence of digital enhancement now used in photographic depictions of beauty, Julia and Nic wanted to create as much of the series in camera as possible. For instance, make-up artist Satya Linak’s main challenge was to create, and manage, the smearing quality of the make-up once each of the models was shrink-wrapped into poses. “To do this the plastic wrap was held in a rig and the face pushed onto it,” the duo explains. “The make-up was applied conventionally, and then covered in a sealant to help hold it in place.” When it came to handling the plastic that would create the desired effect the pair used water and glycerine “to enhance the ‘meat-like’ visual effect” of the series’ apt title.

Working so methodically in person also allowed the final photographs to encourage “happy accidents” in the making too, “corrected or enhanced as they occurred,” says SHSadler. “The team worked closely together, evaluating and evolving the technique for best effect.” These careful considerations also fed into the technical decisions concerning which equipment would be used for the shoot too, choosing ProFoto Compact 600 heads and beauty dish as the key light as well as bounce cards “primarily to define the texture of the plastic wrap”.

Despite creating as much as possible in camera on the day of the shoot, post production still ended up being “the lengthiest part of the process,” point out the pair. This was largely due to photographing the models’ faces and supermarket packaged meat trays separately on the day. Julia and Nic then carefully had to compose each of the photographs together combining “images of the make-up, carefully blending and utilising highlights, both from the plastic wrapped meat and the plastic wrap over the models’ faces.”

And while some viewers of the photographers may be concerned about the processes models went through to create these eye-opening photographs, “no models were harmed in the process and we all had a nice lunch together afterwards.”

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SHSadler: Fresh Meat

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SHSadler: Fresh Meat

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SHSadler: Fresh Meat

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SHSadler: Fresh Meat

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SHSadler: Fresh Meat

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SHSadler: Fresh Meat

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SHSadler: Fresh Meat

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SHSadler: Fresh Meat

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SHSadler: Fresh Meat