Each year, British Journal of Photography presents its Ones To Watch – a group of emerging image-makers, chosen from hundreds of nominations by international experts. Collectively, they provide a window into where photography is heading, in the eyes of the curators, editors, agents, festival producers and photographers we invited to nominate. Throughout September, BJP-online is sharing their profiles, originally published in issue #7898 of the magazine.
Eliška Sky’s tribe of ‘womaneroes’ stand bold and bright, their bodies and heads adorned in vibrant shapes, colours, and textures. Beneath the wigs and paint are women of all ages, shapes and ethnicities, photographed with a large-format camera to capture every detail, rough or smooth, with the intention for the images to eventually be printed and exhibited life-size. “It started as visual play, but transformed into a series that challenges depictions of women’s bodies,” explains the London-based Czech photographer. “In light of my own experience of working in the fashion industry, I felt the need to portray the body in new ways and forms, with an element of playfulness and humour in opposition to western media advertising.”
Many of Sky’s projects have personal motivations. Feeling Blue, for example, is dedicated to her friend’s struggle with depression, while A Beginner’s Guide for Eco Warriors tackles climate change, a topic addressed in other series like Globe, which examines the relationship between humanity and nature. “Art is a form of expression that can showcase various issues from new perspectives and access viewers which would not be interested in these topics otherwise,” says Sky. “It’s definitely a powerful tool.” But, most crucial to her practice are the subjects of body-positivity and self-image, and painting is one of the ways in which she is able to explore this in such a way that simultaneously empowers her subjects.
Art-directed and photographed by Sky, the bodies were painted by the artist’s long-term collaborator, fellow artist and model Michael Moon. The process began with mood-boards, and experimenting with different shapes on the contours of each of the model’s bodies. The shapes are purely visual, says Sky, but a lot of the inspiration came from the women themselves. Sky had a clear idea for how she wanted to paint the woman who was pregnant, for example, and sometimes the models’ tattoos and body shapes would also inspire the designs. The colour palettes were decided at a later stage, based on the wigs, which were made and customised by set designer Lydia Chan.
Projects that explore self-image in particular require a level of trust between a photographer and their subject. Sky will often use casting websites to reach out to new models, but she also works with a lot of the same people, including Moon, who appears in a number of her projects. However, most of the women in Womeneroes are Sky’s friends who volunteered to take part. “It was a transformative and fun experience for them,” says Sky. “They saw themselves differently when their bodies were painted, and their faces disguised by the wigs.”
Sky graduated with an MA in fashion photography in 2015 from The London College of Fashion. Since then, she has shot editorials for Vogue Italia, as well as working on commercial campaigns for clients such as Puma and Preciosa crystals, which the artist sees as an extension of her personal practice. Sky cites her aesthetic influences far and wide: Olaf Breuning’s vibrant colours, Tim Walker’s epic compositions, and Viviane Sassen’s use of light. Beyond photography, she admires the abstract and graphic work of Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, and takes cues from Wes Anderson’s use of humour and symmetry, and the conditioned behaviours of Yorgos Lanthimos’ Greek thriller, Dogtooth.
As a former dancer, elements of performance art also surface in her work. “That’s why I encourage models to express their emotions not only in their facial expressions but also through body movements,” says Sky. “But I am also inspired by everyday life and what I feel is important and relevant to capture,” she continues, “my work is like my personal statement. The main aim is to materialise a feeling or vision.”