So far, the year 2020 has felt like a fever dream—at least, that’s how Toronto photographer Renata Kaveh has felt during her time in isolation. “I found myself feeling at times disconnected, and as though I were observing myself from outside of my body,” said Kaveh, discussing the inspiration behind her latest collection of surreal portraits. The photos capture the essence of solitude and the emptiness it creates.
While exploring these complicated emotions in lockdown, she came across the work of surrealist artists Man Ray, Raoul Ubac, and Eli Lotar, sparking her interest in creating this haunting series. “Their expressions of irrationality and the relationship between the body, the mind, and personal identity gave me comfort and inspired this collection of photographs,” said Kaveh. “In this surreal time, I hope to convey our collective experience of listlessness and derealization.”
This portrait series forces the viewer to come face to face with the monotonous ins and outs of being trapped in our homes. Never has there been such a profound shared experience that we can all recognize on a global scale.
The self-portraits Kaveh created, with the help of her husband Hami, capture the banality of spending each day trapped in close quarters with someone. Though she was reluctant to act as her own subject, the results offer an organic realism within the surreal.
Stripped down to the bare basics, she had to execute the challenging dual role of both model and photographer, running into place after setting up each shot. “This gave me a whole new-found appreciation for just how much patience and poise the role of the muse entails,” said Kaveh.
There is a chilling aspect to Kaveh’s portraits—with mental health taking a toll for many, the listlessness captured in this series strikes a chord. Kaveh has been exploring her own mental wellness while in lockdown, realizing its immense importance. Because of this, Kaveh has pledged to donate all proceeds from this shoot to the Canadian Association of Mental Health, and encourages those able to make donations as well.
“The consequences of the pandemic will leave a mark long after national lockdowns have been relaxed,” said Kaveh. “Mental health affects more than 6.7 million Canadians. By age 40, half of us will have or have had a mental illness.”
Photography by Renata Kaveh.