If you are a beauty or art aficionado, there is something exciting to check out this weekend. French photographer and artist Corinne Mariaud’s new photo exhibition, FAKE i REAL ME, explores the importance of physical appearance amongst young women in Singapore and in Seoul.
The photo series, which was shot over a year-long period in the two cities, discovers how the face can become a personal construction that is constantly reworked until it reaches the ideal state of beauty – from coloured contact lenses in Singapore, to beauty surgeries in Korea.
Mariaud, who divides her time between Paris and Singapore, has worked as a freelance portrait and fashion photographer for publications such as Numéro, and has exhibited her works throughout the world, from the USA to Belgium to France. We talk to the 50-year-old photographer and artist about her inspirations, her thoughts on Singaporean and Korean beauty and the most shocking thing she encountered while working on this photo series.
#1: When and how did your passion for photography start?
“I studied in an art school in Paris. I have always wanted to be an artist, and when I was younger, I wanted to do painting and drawing. I worked as an art director in advertising for a few years, as a graphic designer. As I often worked with photographers, I began to realise that photography was what I wanted to do. I felt the need to create my own images and to express myself through photography. From then on, I worked as a fashion and portrait photographer for French magazines for 20 years, while developing my personal work for galleries and festivals.”
#2: What is the inspiration for FAKE i REAL ME? Was there a particular incident that prompted you to explore this topic?
“In my work I question the appearance and attitudes imposed by society, trying to reveal the emancipation of individuals and their struggle to preserve their individuality in a standardised world. I attempt to evoke the inner turmoil which inhabits the body, whether it is feminine, masculine, vulnerable or powerful.
When I arrived in Singapore I first noticed it was difficult to make eye contact with people. It’s really different than in Paris! It was a different behaviour, and I thought maybe people were shy or it was local courtesy. Then I realised Asian people can have blue eyes! Sometimes even pink eyes, or Hello Kitty eyes! What a surprise! They were not so shy after all.”
#3: Was there a specific reason for you to choose the cities Singapore and Seoul for this project?
“As I was staying in Singapore, I wanted to work here and make a photographic series in Singapore. Coloured eye lenses was an interesting subject according to my previous works on identity and feminine identity. This was also a way to get involved in Singapore and to meet local people.
For Seoul, I have read a lot of articles about beauty addicts in Korea, and I had a mind to go there to explore these questions even before I moved to Singapore in September 2015.”
#4: From what you’ve gathered, what are the biggest differences and similarities between Singaporean and Korean women in their pursuit of beauty?
“Actually they are very different. If both Singaporean and South Korean women want to take charge of their appearances, South Koreans go much further in this quest for idealised beauty, even though I have met some Singaporean young ladies who went through plastic surgery. Singaporean women also seem more gender equal. Korean women want to be beautiful for different reasons, in a way not to frighten men! They want to look nicer, and beauty also becomes a criterion of social integration.”
#5: What are your personal opinions on this relentless pursuit of the ideal or ‘perfect’ beauty standard?
“I don’t judge it. I am fascinated by this new era where people want to take power over their appearances. They are able to decide how they look, as they can retouch their selfies using smartphone applications. By using various tools, they feel more confident and closer to what they believe they are – more REAL. That’s why I called it FAKE i REAL ME.”
#6: What is the most shocking/surprising thing you encountered while working on this project?
“It can be an addiction and addictions are not easy to live with. Some South Korean women went through a lot of surgery, and went too far, in my opinion. They don’t look real anymore, but maybe it is the purpose: to escape reality. However, I was not looking for that type of people for my project and I did not try to meet them.”
#7: Do you have anything in the works/ any upcoming plans?
“I wish to continue this project by photographing young men who wear make-up and have undergone cosmetic surgery. This is, in a way, exploring new masculinities.
I made another series in Singapore which I plan to exhibit as well. It is the continuation of a series I made in Paris, of men lying in urban spaces. It is called Disorder.”
#8: Who/what are some of your inspirations? Which artists and/or organisations would you like to work with?
“I was inspired to become a photographer after discovering the works of Cindy Sherman. I was also influenced by the drawings of Robert Longo and the humour of Erwin Wurm. I relate to the work of numerous artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Nancy Spero or Kiki Smith who have questioned the female identity. Literature is also of great importance to me, I also draw inspiration from the works of Virginia Wolf, Susan Sontag, Annie Ermaux and Virginie Despentes. I wish I could work with one of these writers I like, perhaps by producing a book together.”
#9: Do you have any advice for young and aspiring photographers or artists in Singapore?
“Make a lot of photos to sharpen your gaze. Do not only make beautiful pictures. Do take a stance, be involved and work on topics you feel concerned about, and do not censor yourself. Being an artist requires a lot of tenacity! Do not give up, never get discouraged, and show your work!”