Oleg Tolstoy’s photographs merge the familiar with the eerie. Working on themed series using strangers posing in their found environment, he makes fictional portraits of individuals and groups by importing elements and creating situations that would have otherwise not have been possible. By inventing new situations, Tolstoy questions the idea of identity, in balance somewhere between fact and fiction, calling on our imagination to create links between individuals and their surroundings.
The “Faces” series focuses on passersby crossing a street, a river, a field, all wearing identical white masks, stripping them of their identity and facial expression. Their country of location and ethnic origins are blurred, with only billboards in the distance and wild vegetation left for clues. “Faces can be seen as a personal response to the overly familiar form of ‘foreign culture’ portrait. It is the contradiction of expectation of the viewer”, says Tolstoy. The individual is reduced to a form, anonymous, vulnerable and somewhat threatening, which embodies the prejudiced opinion that one might have about distant places and civilizations, confronting the viewer with his own initial judgment.
“Hands on Knees” and “Shoulder to Shoulder”, explore similar ideas through a different approach. A group of people sits awkward in an orderly manner, to form what strongly resembles an annual classroom photograph or old fashion family portrait. Only these group photographs are taken in the street and these individuals do not know each other. For an instant, these strangers reduce the space between each other and offer their identity to help create a complex patchwork of relationships and common identity.
Oleg Tolstoy is a photographer of Russian descent based in London, who is related to the author of the same name. He graduated from London College of Communication with a BA in Photography. The ‘Hands on Knees’ series earned him a photographic award from HotShoe magazine and was then exhibited in the exhibition ‘British Art Now’ (2009) curated by Edward Lucie- Smith at Werkstatt Gallery in Berlin.
For more information about Oleg Tolstoy’s work, click here.