Painting a ‘human canvas’

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In the photo series "Human Canvas," people appear to fade into their surroundings

Keyana Tahmaseb used paint and natural materials to achieve the camouflage effects

CNN  — 

Our surroundings in domestic life and daily routines can comfort us, providing stability and consistency amid the chaos of our busy lives.

However, surroundings can also trap us, become mundane and make us feel awash in sameness.

Keyana Tahmaseb explores the idea of feeling trapped and fading into one’s surroundings in her surrealist photo series “Human Canvas.” In this series, the subjects literally blend with settings and objects through paint and other materials.

Tahmaseb initially took inspiration from Irving Penn’s 1949 photo “Girl in Bed,” which depicts a woman lying facedown on a bed wearing a night gown that matches the sheets. “I wanted to play with this idea of invisibility and blending in,” she said.

For her first photo in the series – No. 3 in the gallery above – Tahmaseb painted a woman’s back to match a rose-printed bedsheet. Tahmaseb said this image was completely inspired by Penn, and from there she let the concept grow, moving to wallpapers, objects and even a lumber mill.

Photographer Keyana Tahmaseb

The photos hide the subjects’ faces, either by looking away from the viewer or being covered.

“I feel like without a face, it’s more relatable,” Tahmaseb said. “You can’t exactly tell how old they are or what they look like.” Her idea was to enhance the feeling of invisibility, “which is something that’s relatable to everyone.”

Though Tahmaseb’s series is not completely free from Photoshop retouching, most of each image was created without digital manipulation.

Each photo took between two to six hours to set up and shoot. She wanted to be completely hands-on with this series, including putting together props and sets.

She also painted the subjects herself. Tahmaseb describes herself growing up with a paintbrush in one hand and a drawing pencil in the other, spending much of her grade school and college years in art classes. In “Human Canvas,” she combines her multimedia background as a photographer and a painter.

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    “I love being able to do all these different things within one project,” Tahmaseb said. “I hate saying I’m a photographer sometimes, because I feel like I’m more than that. Painting on people, they become my sculptures.”

    She began this project while studying at the School of Visual Arts in New York. After she began the series by painting her subjects, her classmates challenged her to try using other materials to turn her models into chameleons. This included covering herself with birthday cake in a self-portrait and covering one subject in mud at a lumber mill.

    With the busyness of patterns and textures in the photos, Tahmaseb keeps things simple stylistically. She uses natural lighting as much as possible, occasionally relying on studio lights if the photo calls for more drama. She also keeps the frame free of anything besides the subjects and their settings.

    “I wanted you to see most of the body, and I wanted to leave some negative space so that it’s not too much with the patterns,” she said. “I like my images to look pretty clean and not too suffocating.”

    “Human Canvas” is a window into something that can be felt, but not always explained – an examination of this trapped feeling through dreamlike images.

    “I’m creating these little worlds, these little sets. In a way these images are theatrical, even cinematic,” Tahmaseb described. “They are a frozen moment in time of the surreal and psychological from this little world.”

    Tahmaseb said that she plans to continue the series, pushing it in new directions through different materials and surroundings.

    Keyana Tahmaseb is a photographer based in New York. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.