Antoine Schneck | A Hyper-reality of Burkinabé Portraiture

French photographer Antoine Schneck stands tall in the flooded world of portraiture with his use of incredibly detailed imagery on vacant black backgrounds. Voluntary models from Burkina Faso are presented in an alternative reality, enabled by an arduous post production process.

As an entity, the face is divided in halves. There is the shell like mask on display for the gaze of all others, presenting every blemish or beautification fashioned by life events, traditions, weather and of course time. However these exterior forces trickle down to inform the interior and develop the story within.

While the core of a person is in part formed by superficial influences, the outer is also a reflection of inner characteristics.  The emotional dispenser of one’s features is clearly the location for gauging intentions but it does not reveal all. The face is but a harbinger of identity.

© Antoine Schneck. Ouôba Oukanou, Burkina Faso.

 

© Antoine Schneck. Bakanou Ouôba, Burkina Faso.

 

By decorating the face by way of jewellery, clothing and temporary or permanent facial markings we simultaneously solidify an individual and cultural identity. While representations of the self such as the scar or the tattoo remain on the surface, their connotations go deep.

The reasoning behind these skin alterations ranges from purely aesthetic to cultural requirement, dependent on person, time and place.  Though it is not just the permanent changes to our facade that are indicative of our identity, what we adorn with offers further interpretations into what we are. A hat may indicate a profession and certain jewellery may confirm religion. This map of a person only provides spectators with an incomplete picture of the ‘who’; a more comprehensive version requires the further analysis elicited by Schnecks portraits.

© Antoine Schneck. Hounou Barry, Burkina Faso.

 

© Antoine Schneck. Yembabou Yonli, Burkina Faso.

 

Antoine Schneck’s portraits markedly stands out from the visual cacophony of contemporary image-making, and portraiture in particular. With all other distractions removed his portraits enable a visual examination of his subjects and a further venture into who the person is that is being photographed.

The models begin the process alone in a tent, save for the camera lens emerging from the fabric, much like they are presented in the final result. Within this temporary void from the outside world only the remnants of life and time crafted on their faces remain. In this desolate environment there is a paradoxical meeting of awkward isolation and the freedom from the ever watching photographer. Schneck’s post production launches his models into further obscurity. These high definition portraits transmute into masks, ironically these masks signify a vast amount of personality.

© Antoine Schneck. Djno Bandé, Burkina Faso.

 

© Antoine Schneck. Ba Fati, Burkina Faso.

 

The Burkina Faso series by Schneck takes place in a country well acquainted with masquerade culture, the majority of residing ethnicities equipped with a rich history of the subject. From the sun masks of the Bwa to the antelope masks of the Mossi, all are saturated with symbolism. But the notion of the mask transcends its physical form, as Faith Ringgold states ‘Because the mask is your face, the face is a mask, so I’m thinking of the face as a mask because of the way I see faces is coming from an African vision of the mask which is the thing that we carry around with us, it is our presentation, it’s our front, it’s our face.’

Schneck reveals a glimpse into the hidden world behind the masks of the people he meets. Through his use of emotive and essentially human images we are left pondering on the full picture. I spoke to him about his passion, portraiture at large and the technique he applies that sets his practice apart.

 

Keiron LeVine | How was your passion for photography born?

Antoine Schneck | By chance. When I was 12 I discovered an old Kodak camera in a closet, you know the old fashioned holiday cameras with the plastic cartridge, and I knew then that photography gave me pleasure.  I received a better camera at my Bar Mitzvah, however I soon realised a photographer was not a ‘real’ job at the time with there being the beginners and the big names, no in between. Since there was no one buying photography or schooling available I went into other areas such as architecture and cinematography. At 29 there was a big change in my life, I had the opportunity for a big grant to study human resources in the TV industry with a job guaranteed. It was after this that photography re-emerged as my great passion; I was now familiar with the business of editing so bought a camera. You could say I was late to photography as a vocation but the interest has always been there.

 

What attracted you to portraiture?

It’s a great way to meet people and to get close to who they really are.  By capturing subjects in the highest quality I am sure to capture every detail. I find quality very important; it’s how I was raised. My Father was a reconstructive surgeon and I had the opportunity to work as his assistant on several occasions, his work was all about the analysis of the face. I think for me too, it is about analysis. The pupils of the eyes, the wrinkles, the contours of these faces tell a story which goes deeper than the features. I instruct my models to “Think about something you like” so their real story is hidden.

 

Why Burkina Faso & Mali?

Both by chance. Burkina Faso was because of a guy I know. It’s similar for the upcoming Ethiopia trip.

© Antoine Schneck. Mariam Bandé, Burkina Faso. Courtesy of the artist.

 

© Antoine Schneck. Yerpaguyba Lompo, Burkina Faso.

 

What is the significance of the black background consistent in all your imagery? Is the mask like result intentional?

I knew I wanted to work in very high quality portraiture. This is complex, you need a model, background, lighting, studio space… so complicated. I wanted to strip it back so I am just focusing on the face. It takes a long time to get this effect because when everything is gone I have to concentrate on making sure the face is perfect. Ah yes, yes they’re definitely supposed to be mask like.

What’s next for you?

I’m working for the luxury brand Hermès but I’m also continuing with portraiture. I’m waiting for the permission to photograph in Ethiopia. I have also been taking capturing costumes, in particular soldier’s uniforms from the 1480s and this will be shown at the top of the Arc de Triomphe.

 

© Antoine Schneck. Morbiga Palipougni, Burkina Faso.

 

© Antoine Schneck. Lompo Oumpouni, Burkina Faso.

 

© Antoine Schneck. Awa Bandé, Burkina Faso.

 

© Antoine Schneck. Aïs Suandé, Burkina Faso.

 

 

About

Born in 1963, Antoine Schneck lives in Paris. Portraiture has appealed to Schneck from his earliest interest in photography. His work is developed in series, over the course of journeys, desires, projects, always a meeting. In 2007, Antoine Schneck went to Burkina Faso to stay in a small village. He came back with more than 300 portraits. He then went on to do series in China and India, followed by Mali. Sitting on a chair in a white fabric tent, the subject stands out against a black background whilst Antoine Schneck, invisible, operates from the outside, a hole in the fabric with space for his camera lens. Detached from their bodies, without any accessories, these faces have the brute, expressive strength of a mask with a human dimension. He is represented by Galerie Berthet-Aittouarès.

schneck.fr

 

 

Written by Keiron LeVine.

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All images courtesy of the artist. All rights reserved.

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