Humans are silly: Upside-down photos

Story highlights

  • Artist Patrice Letarnec strives to show human foolishness through his photographs
  • Dancers pose standing on hands and wearing their clothes on upside down
  • Letarnec tries to evoke absurdity in his photographs in a fun and silly way, he says
At first glance, the contorted limbs and faceless forms in Patrice Letarnec's photographs look like a wackier version of the 1990s trend of wearing your clothes backwards.
But Letarnec's photo series "Walking Upside Down," which features people doing handstands with their clothes on upside down, is a far departure from hip-hop sensation Kriss Kross' dated fashion trend. The French photographer explains that the silliness of his images is actually a form of social commentary.
His photo series was inspired by the French expression "marcher sur la tête"-- walking on your head, a colloquial phrase for acting foolishly.
"Walking on your head shows the absurdity of human behavior," he told CNN through a translator. "We do silly things, humans do silly things."
The characters of his photo series are set in public spaces throughout Paris. Letarnec wanted to highlight the architecture of French buildings against the absurd poses that his characters were doing. The combination of strangely intriguing poses and whimsical Parisian settings became instantly popular after he uploaded his photographs to his tumblr with various bloggers reposting his images online
He came up with the concept in December 2013 and drew out poses that he wanted his characters to be in for the photographs. While attempting to do a handstand against a wall in his Nantes studio, he realized he needed skilled people who were capable of standing on their hands for this type of photo shoot. Letarnec contacted Parisian schools to find dancers who were interested in being a part of his project.
His inquiries were greeted with enthusiasm, and several dancers lined up to participate. But they did face some interesting challenges.
"During the series, one of the dancers said they could not do the walking handstands because in order to walk on their hands they had to see the horizon. And in the series, their heads are covered by clothing," he said.
"I was so nervous this project wasn't going to happen."
But after several takes, the dancers grew comfortable with the walking handstands and started loosening up, adding their own personal movements to the photographs. The 44-year-old artist was thrilled to see his characters add their own interpretation to the series.
Letarnec currently works at an ad agency and said his true passion isn't necessarily photography, but contemporary art. For him, photography is a medium to capture an idea, like this one.
He was drawn to his "Walking Upside Down" project because he wanted take a surreal idea, and shoot it in a realistic way, without using any lighting effects or photo editing software in his work.
"In the U.S. people might see this just as a series of silly photos, but it's a social commentary," he said. "I tried to show a funny way to send a message about human behavior. I think French people may be more sensitive to these photos because of the expression."
Either way, Letarnec said he embraces the idea that people find the series fun, and said the photos are supposed to seem silly.