July 05 2013

Hey, Look! They're Just Like Us!

If you’ve ever stood face-to-crotch with a nude marble statue, looked up into its milky almond eyes, and felt an acute sense of nothing, then consider yourself normal. Despite their dramatic poses, their exquisite artistry and the fact they’re as naked as the museum night is long, classical statuary – be it actual Roman High Classical or the more jazzy Renaissance and Baroque updates – remains quite inhuman, frozen, distant, and dead.

And yet, you throw a denim jacket on one of those suckers and suddenly old J.C. looks as hip as a Bedford Avenue barista ... or so we learned from French photographer Léo Caillard. Inspired by his frequent trips to the Louvre, Caillard wanted to see how a series of century-old statues would look in contemporary garb. The museum wasn't keen on him touching the sculptures, so he had to perfectly re-create each statue's lighting scheme, then photograph models with similar physiques wearing hipster-esque threads in matching poses. Finally, he enlisted photo retoucher Alexis Persani to bring it all together. "I was surprised when I had the final picture because it was even more relevant and funny than I expected," Léo tells Standard Culture.

Left: Méleagre by Louis Simon Boizot (late 18th Century) looking very 2013 in a denim jacket and light salmon shorts despite carrying a slain boar's head. Right: Mr. Cruise's overzealous antics look positively normal when seen photoshopped into an everyday party.

Now, on the one hand, it’s a clever photographic trick. On the other, it’s an apparel-created wormhole that folds centuries into themselves and transforms gods into modern mortals (mortals who could model the fall collections, sure, but mortals nonetheless.) Which reminded us of other instances of photoshop-aided de-apotheosis. Not ones involving of actual gods, but the next best thing: celebrities.

Take graphic designer Everett Hiller's "star studded" holiday party. With some tenacious clipping, layering, and contrast adjustment, he was able to manufacture the thrill of hanging with the A-list, or at least the false memory of it. What’s interesting is just how un-famous those faces become when caught in the glare of a cheap flash in some dude's gnarly kitchen.

Clockwise from Left: Dave and Vicki Beckham, the very same Mr. Beckham "drops" in on Danny Evan's holiday party, Scar Jo transformed into your A.P. Chemistry partner

Better still is artist Danny Evans' celebrity "makeunder" project, Planet Hiltron. Like some Weird Al of celebrity portraiture, Evans strips the famous of their fame, fortune and rigorous beauty regimens, and transforms them into middle-class, mid-to-late-80s versions of themselves. The results are comical, a bit mean, and very telling of how malleable our outward appearance really is.

So what is the point here? That celebs are people just like us? That we all enjoy a bit of good old-fashioned schadenfreude taking the exalted down a few pegs? Sure, but what these Photoshop follies throw into stark relief – be it a Greek God, or Scar Jo looking like your high school lab partner – is that transformations work both ways. If a bad haircut and some extra pounds make Brad Pitt look like that, then perhaps a good haircut and dropping 15 could have the reverse effect. For all us regular folk, maybe if we could just get our shit together that giant leap onto the pedestal of beauty, success and immortality wouldn't seem so impossible after all. Either that, or it's just what Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet all those years ago: "clothes [hair, make-up, exercise and diet] maketh the man."

Léo Caillard is currently headed to Rome to create a second edition of his hipsterized statues. Visit his website for more information on that and other projects.