Ethereal in subject matter as in name, Elemer is a new photo series and book from Hungarian photographer Marton Perlaki which takes its cue from a tall, otherworldly man that the photographer came across online. Perlaki knew from the first glance that he wanted to include him in his work. He had been taking photographs within the remit of the series’ theme – atypical, impersonal still life images which dealt with the bizarre or the banal in unusual ways – for some time, but with the introduction of Elemer, a new, more emotional facet emerged.
“There’s something about his character that I really like. His presence evokes mixed feelings in me,” the photographer explains of his protagonist. “On one hand, he’s really fragile – he doesn't have any body hair, and so his body looks really interesting and sculptural. On the other hand, he has this macabre look about him, like he's from another world. This kind of appealing and unsettling thing drew my attention to him. I realised that, whatever he is doing in the pictures, his presence adds kind of another narrative to the story.” The force which drew the pair together seems almost mystical. “I was looking for someone, maybe unconsciously, who has this fragility that really goes through the whole story, from the bubble to the tied-up birds. A distant meaning, or a symbolic undertone, let’s say. Maybe that's why I was so drawn towards him as a character.”
The initial inspiration for the series stemmed from a set of vintage cigarette cards that Perlaki came across by accident. “These cards were quite popular at the turn of the century. I was particularly interested in the ones that were showing things like useful household tips: they had very basic drawings on them which show a kind of a situation, and then you don't really know what exactly is happening in the picture until you flip the card over – you can read exactly what these object connections are, or what are these people are performing, on the other side. I found that really amusing. I was immediately drawn towards the mysterious situations that these cards were showing.”
The resulting images are curious, even ghostly in atmosphere – a taxidermy bird tied up in string; a slice of watermelon, its vivid pink flesh full of holes; a copper brown skull upturned on a canvas of brown paper – but an ineffable theme strings them all together. Besides, seeking an explanation is far from the point: the principal aim of the series is to formulate questions in the mind of the viewer, rather than to provide answers, Perlaki says. “You can't really flip the card over when talking about the pictures, so I'd rather not tell the viewer what it is that I'm trying to show with these images, and with these object constellations. You have to make your own narrative.”
Elemer by Marton Perlaki is available to pre-order now from Loose Joints.