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Imagination in Photography: Storytelling in Miss Aniela’s Surreal Fashion

by Sarah Bradley
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Scarlet Song

Blurring the lines between art, photography, and fashion, Miss Aniela’s collection of Surreal Fashion takes us to a mysterious place where the most elaborate and fantastical dreams come to life.

Often featuring women draped in aristocratic garb and set in a reverie, her work is steeped in dark undertones and a healthy dose of the beautiful and absurd. A true Surrealist with jarring and provocative themes, she creates odd pairings and impossible scenarios. She adds bizarre elements to her subjects and distorts, rearranges, and mixes images in post-production to build her dreamscape. Always playing with the notion of reality, her work challenges the viewer to decipher between truths — that of the scene and that of the subject’s imagination.

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The detailed art direction of her work is unique, pulling from and combining a wide swath of genres and periods. While the physical settings are often stately and elegant rooms with Rococo or Victorian architecture, her choices in subject, composition, and style exhibit several painterly influences — spanning from Flemish oil painting and Dutch still lifes to Baroque chiaroscuro and Romantic seascapes. A woman standing in a ballroom with a family of crows might hearken to a twisted version of Velasquez’s Las Meninas, while another, more modern image conjures Frida, a black thread tracing from a woman’s hand to inside a painting.

Legerdemain

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All of her work carries references to mortality, the wild majesty of nature, and the power of the mind over experience. Imbued with character and dripping with vintage elegance, her subjects are set in elaborate, worlds where oddities — such as dead animals, masks, paintings within other paintings — don’t detract from the stylish sophistication of the setting; rather, they only enhance its mystic quality. Miss Aniela spins together the lovely, the old, and the whimsical to leave the viewer entranced with both the aesthetic value and story of the images.

She prods your imagination into story-mode, loading your head with otherworldly questions and musings. Why, for example, is this giraffe spying out his office window? Is he lonely or confused? What is the tale of is his tattered old house, piled with baroque paintings and relics of another age?

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Or, to sample another below, perhaps you see a writer who, frustrated and bored by reading her own manuscript, has spontaneously sprouted legs. She rocks back in her chair, defiantly daydreaming and refusing to work.

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Here, you can’t help but wonder what seafaring imaginings are whirling in the woman’s head,  bringing crashing waves into her piano room.

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Victory voyage

And lastly, who is this silvery queen, sitting somewhere caught between an ephemeral sky, a wooded and rocky beach, and a brownstone living room?

Characterized by rich color, high contrast, and dramatic, shocking compositions, Miss Aniela’s photography stands on its own as fine art, photography crafted with the “mindset of a painter.” Her inspirations come from outside the world of photography, deriving from experiences, dreams, the painted masterpieces in the rooms she uses as sets, and the occasional biblical parable. Harnessing these influences but allowing for spontaneity, she doesn’t always have the photo conceptualized before shooting, letting the final image emerge in post-production.

In an interview with My Modern Met, Miss Aniela says, “I most often find that even if I have a preconceived inkling of what I want to do, the result will still surprise me in some way; it will take on its own organic life force in editing, which I have learned to accept and welcome. Planning is good, but I try not to over plan.”

Perhaps allowing the random and unplanned to drive provides the right amount of surrealist subtext, where stories naturally surface and shift within an image, and within our minds.

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Sources: Miss Aniela and My Modern Met

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Sarah Bradley

Sarah is a San Francisco-based freelance writer, music enthusiast, and lover of the outdoors.