~ Posted by Graham Black, October 4th 2012

Digitally manipulated photographs often get a bad press. In fashion photography, the slimming of waists, enlarging of breasts and smoothing of skin is commonplace, and many complain that these changes create an unachievable ideal that can have a damaging effect, especially on young women. But a new exhibition at the Whitford Fine Art Gallery in London by the Dutch photographer and artist Ingrid Baars explores that idea and challenges it. 

Baars used to be an illustrator, before working as a commercial photographer for Nike and others. Since 2010, she has focused on fine-art photography. Her new work is called “L’Afrique c’est Chic!”, a series of pictures with two distinct styles. Some of her portraits have the perfect proportions and symmetries of tribal masks, which also look back to the women in paintings like "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" by Picasso or Modigliani's portraits of young women. Eyes are set wide apart, noses elongated and heads sharpened into points. For one picture, "Fang" (above), she photographed a model and an African mask separately, and then merged them using Photoshop. The result looks like a sculpted bust which is both lifelike and unsettlingly ornamental.

Another set of photographs is inspired by Jean-Paul Goude, the art director and artist who, in the early 1980s, cut up pictures of Grace Jones and pasted them back together again to extend her limbs and distort her profile. Where Goude used physical transparencies, Baars re-invents the process with digital software, giving her models long necks and angular faces, emulating African tribal sculpture. "Gazelle" shows a woman with very long legs, wearing animal print heels. Her neck is stretched, her body tattooed, her jaw squared off. It's a powerful combination of contemporary fashion and ancient art, which uses the manipulative techniques of the modern air-brush to make a picture which reflects on how we think about beauty now, and how we've thought about it in the past. We may smooth and perfect our models, but we were doing so long before Photoshop.

"L'Afrique c'est Chic!" by Ingrid Baars is on show at the Whitford Fine Art Gallery in London until October 30th

Graham Black is the art director of Intelligent Life