Multiple Identities

Photographic Work by Alma Haser

In collaboration with The Photographers’ Gallery and as part of the Photo Oxford Festival – whose theme is ‘Women and Photography: Ways of Seeing and Being Seen’ – this online exhibition presents two recent series of photographs by Alma Haser, whose work explores aspects of identity using various different forms and techniques. Organiser Philip Grover introduces the material, while Haser describes the background and motivation behind her multi-layered artworks:

The work of artist Alma Haser fits well within the festival theme. While not exclusively or primarily depicting women, Haser’s work does nonetheless examine issues of identity and selfhood, forms of visual representation, ways of being seen. Drawing on her background in fine art, Haser employs a variety of established techniques – including collage, duplication and origami – to create meaningful and nuanced works which might start with, but thereafter frequently move beyond, the traditional photographic portrait. After early recognition in the 2012 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, Haser established her reputation with the series Cosmic Surgery, in which the portraits themselves are reworked and overlaid using paper-folding (origami) to create unique three-dimensional artworks. ‘I never wanted to create beautiful portraits’, the artist notes; ‘it was always the intention to make portraits that were deformed or disguised in some way. I came up with the idea of using the subjects’ own faces folded and put back on their faces, almost like a mask of themselves.’ In this series Haser imagines a dystopian future in which her subjects (patients) would alter their appearance, hiding from watchful others or choosing to become someone new, transforming themselves through this process of ‘cosmic surgery’. Haser goes on to describe the intention behind her more recent series, Within 15 Minutes, which rather than origami employs the concept of the jigsaw puzzle, to surprising and revealing end: ‘I wanted to do a series on identical twins because they really interest me. The identical aspect was so appealing, but then as I started photographing the twins separately, I started to notice more and more of their differences. A crook in one of their noses, or slightly bigger eyes or thinner lips. I was doing a puzzle at home just for fun and thought it could be interesting to use the puzzle almost like their genetic bonds, and see how they would fit together if I were to combine 50/50 of each sibling. I could never know how each portrait would come out. Some puzzles would have three eyes and two noses, but that was also part of the project’s charm.’ Now a mother, Alma Haser continues to develop new work, drawing on family and relationships to find inspiration and meaning, all the time pushing at the boundary of the photographic medium itself.

Cosmic Surgery

Combining photography with intricate origami techniques, my work seeks to expand on traditional portraiture and reflect on the concerns of millennial and future generations. Inspired by notions of surveillance and the increasing prevalence of beauty treatments, ‘cosmic surgery’ is imagined as a medical procedure that the public can undergo in the not-so-distant future. Whether to obscure one’s identity from Big Brother’s watchful eye, or simply to enhance a favourite feature, these futuristic beings are at once farcical yet scarily plausible.

Each work becomes a kaleidoscope of facial features and curious shapes, both unsettling yet compelling in their intricateness and construction. Facial features are multiplied and distorted, calling to mind Cubist and Surrealist imagery. In concealing details from the viewer, these portraits intrigue and hint towards hidden narratives while allowing the viewer’s imagination free rein. Equally, the work could be read as a dialogue between the interior and exterior worlds of the individual. My imagery suggests how the fragmentary and intangible sensations which make up our psyches – thoughts, emotions, fears and hopes – might look if they were given a solid form.

Alma Haser, Patient No. 1, 2016. © Alma Haser
Alma Haser, Patient No. 2, 2013. © Alma Haser
Alma Haser, Patient No. 3, 2016. © Alma Haser
Alma Haser, Patient No. 4, 2016. © Alma Haser
Alma Haser, Patient No. 5, 2016. © Alma Haser
Alma Haser, Patient No. 6, 2013. © Alma Haser
Alma Haser, Patient No. 10, 2016. © Alma Haser
Alma Haser, Patient No. 15, 2013. © Alma Haser
Alma Haser, Patient No. 27, 2016. © Alma Haser
Alma Haser, Patient No. 30, 2016. © Alma Haser

Within 15 Minutes*

Identical twins have always been of great fascination to me. The rare phenomenon of two individuals that are hard to tell apart, who often finish each other’s sentences, and are genetically almost identical as if they are one and the same person. However, the identical twin is unique and carries their small variations in their fingerprints. Monozygotic or identical twins occur when a single egg is fertilised to form one zygote, which then divides into two separate embryos.

For this series I photographed sets of identical twins and made them into identical thousand-piece jigsaw puzzles. Every other piece of the puzzle was then swapped, until finally each puzzle contained half of the other. It was not possible to predict where the eyes, mouths and lips would fall, resulting in a pair of eerie, unrecognisable portraits. No longer seen as completely identical, they are unique. The final works for exhibition are framed puzzles rather than prints.

* The average time between twins when they are born.

Alma Haser, Chloe and Leah (1), 2018. © Alma Haser
Alma Haser, Chloe and Leah (2), 2018. © Alma Haser
Alma Haser, Hermon and Heroda (1), 2017. © Alma Haser
Alma Haser, Hermon and Heroda (2), 2017. © Alma Haser
Alma Haser, Lee and Clinton (1), 2017. © Alma Haser
Alma Haser, Lee and Clinton (2), 2017. © Alma Haser
Alma Haser, Maria and Katerina (1), 2017. © Alma Haser
Alma Haser, Maria and Katerina (2), 2017. © Alma Haser
Alma Haser, Mickey and Reggie (1), 2018. © Alma Haser
Alma Haser, Mickey and Reggie (2), 2018. © Alma Haser

Acknowledgements and Credits

Online exhibition organised by Philip Grover.
Photographs reproduced courtesy of the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery.
Organised in collaboration with Photo Oxford Festival 2021.
Special thanks to Alma Haser and Alexandra Olczak; and to Danielle Battigelli and Hannah Pye.

Alma Haser combines photography with collage and origami techniques to create work that seeks to expand on traditional portraiture and reflect on the concerns of millennial and future generations. Coming from a fine art background, her multi-dimensional pieces blur the distinctions between two- and three-dimensional imagery. She employs inventive paper-folding techniques that create layers of intrigue around her subjects, the results of which are both striking and at times unsettling. Haser completed her Photography degree in 2010 and was shortlisted for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize in 2012. She has since won several awards including the Magenta Foundation’s Bright Spark Award in 2013.

You are able to visit Alma Haser’s personal website online here. Alma Haser is represented by The Photographers’ Gallery, London. You are able to purchase limited edition works by Alma Haser from the Print Sales department of The Photographers’ Gallery online here. You can visit The Photographers’ Gallery’s main website online here.