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Female Photographer Imagines Her Life with Dozens of Different Partners in ‘Self Portraits with Men’

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Who do you want to be? Or, more accurately, who could you have been? Czech photographer Dita Pepe takes these musings quite literally, re-imaging her life in a hundred different scenarios in her series Self Portraits with Men. Pepe’s photographs are disarming in their nonchalant subtly, the artist possessing an uncanny ability to become a seamless member of each family.

Initially posing with men she knew, Pepe eventually began approaching strangers as potential partners, sometimes including her own daughter in the mix. The portraits manage to transcend age, class and culture. Despite the often immediately recognizable archetypes present, Pepe inhabits each one fully. As single photographs, you cannot spot the stranger.

Though obviously comparable to the work of Cindy Sherman, Pepe’s chameleon talents focus more on how relationships can utterly transform an individual than embodying specific female identities. Questions of origin, influence and choice all come into play, the “what-if” manifesting in a sometimes comical, sometimes surreal interpretation of different paths we all could have taken.

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All images © Dita Pepe

via LensCulture

  • Irvin Kelly

    Brilliant idea.

  • Just great! Inspiring and creative and funny and beautiful.

  • Absolutely brilliant and amazing. One of those ideas you just wish you came up with yourself!! <3

  • I wonder how a man would have shot this series if the roles were reversed. It ‘s quite unsettling how ‘what if’ works for her. The question that pops to my mind: Would a guy shoot photos in one setting with just different women and children?

  • max payne

    shag a rich bird a poor bird a bird from some other race group move on to humans finishing with the classic dick in an exhaust pipe shot.

    ART.

  • Laura

    I love, love, love this! So fabulous!

  • Tiffany Neely

    I would love to see a male and female version side by side

  • melanie

    These are nicely done. However, the project does raise the question of whether heterosexual women’s lives are simply a reflection of their male spouse. The project suggests that; it certainly doesn’t critique the idea in any obvious way. We don’t see the individual woman shining through in any way – even subtly. The female is utterly subservient to the male. Hhmmmm. It’s almost alarming, not at all surprising.

  • Everyone discussing this from a point of subservience definitely didn’t see the point.

    She is imagining herself in a certain situation of class, income, and lifestyle. She chooses men that are from that situation, but she herself does not mirror the men: she mirrors the lifestyle and what she thinks she might loo like were she to live in it.

    The humans here are props, the lifestyles and the difference between them are the subjects.

  • Trigüeche Maulino

    the asumption you’re making is apparent yet not contained in the work itself.
    you just assumed her relativity because of being the only constant in the several situations but it does not exclude the possibility of being her the actual predominant factor of the situation. I guess you automatically got that asumption because that is what you prefer to see.
    regards,
    a sexist bastârd.

  • melanie

    Because the character she creates is the constant, yet always transforming with each male counterpoint, is exactly what leads to this idea of subservience to the dynamic of the relationship – which changes with each male. She changes because they change.

  • Jim

    Well.. you do realize that the whole point was for her to reinvent herself to fit a given context. How bout we keep cheep shot feminism out of this.

  • Feeth

    Melanie does have a point though. Due to the way media in society tries to place women this series apparently does follow suit. We don’t see her as ‘herself’ but rather an accessory (as is the rest of the families) to the overall composition to the piece.

    We don’t see her or the other people as themselves, only as the couple. Due to the fact it’s her who has changed in each picture I think it’s very fair to come to Melanie’s conclusion. Just as it is fair to come to yours as well. I’d like to see a photo of each by themselves and then too see the differences to really make either point more prevalent. Otherwise it’s just argument for arguments sake.

  • @Biting Panda

    I love this. I imagine my life happening in several places – universes – at once. To see it depicted so richly is delightful.

  • OdinWallace

    In order to be compatible with different lifestyles and cultures she has to reinvent herself into that role. I think she did an excellent job of portraying and answering – how would I look in this persons’ life? Any other discussions are being put forward by prejudices we all ready have from seeing people in certain attire and surroundings.

  • “the project does raise the question of whether heterosexual women’s lives are simply a reflection of their male spouse”

    yep, it does! maybe! Or it doesn’t! That’s the beauty of good art. Just the fact you are thinking about that, to me, means it’s awesome.

    One thought could be that it’s supposed to make you think that… that the viewer looks at the series, then evaluates themselves!

    Beyond that….. who’s to say it’s not the male in some of these relationships that’s the sponge? Look at #3 for example, the woman is front and center, she’s the strong center in that family. How can you judge that she is the “sponge” in that one? Same with a few others. I find it interesting how someone’s first thought is to assume that the woman the photographer is portraying in the photos adopted the male’s aesthetic. Yes, the artist did, but not necessarily the woman the artist is playing.

    Finally, like attracts like. So, who’s to say anyone adopted anyone else’s overall aesthetic. People in relationships tend to ‘look alike” eventually as they grow together, unless they lead very separate lives (which wouldn’t really work for this series).

    I really think this is the beauty of this series…. it has so many possibly viewer interpretations! So many potential reactions! Truly one of the best photo series I’ve seen in a long while. My only wish was that she explored some LGBTQ relationships too, but it’s not my art so I’ll just shut up.

  • DropZoneMom

    This coming from someone who can’t even spell ‘cheap’ correctly….

  • Suzannah Kolbeck

    Well done. This was a lovely response. <3

  • Thanks Suzannah! Personally, I was just so blown away by this project. It’s original, fresh, exciting, and reeeeeally makes you think from so many perspectives. Truly amazing art.

  • elliefrost

    All art is subject to interpretation by the viewer. That’s what makes it art. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to interpret it.

  • Suzannah Kolbeck

    I agree. Art that makes you think is a wonderful thing, and I think art that leaves space for many interpretations and conversations about society is even better. Hopefully the disagreements will remain civil and we can all learn something. 🙂

  • Trigüeche Maulino

    Sure shot. I just think there’s much more to this than being worried about women’s lib.
    anyway… the family concept is portraited nicely. Using a constant just binds situations as an equation, a general concept of family.
    mom holding the fancy bags instead of the hand of her child is a marvelous detail. Why mom and not Dad im worried in this detail, well, we’re mammals. A pile of second hand literature and some college degree will never separate us from our nature.

  • Lachlan

    It’s simply a fascinating perspective on how much as humans, we influence and are influenced by our cultural environs and the family we grow with. I feel that the most powerful point is that we all have a huge amount of choice about how welove our lives we to often fail to exercise. Intriguingly inspirational.

  • Lachlan

    How do you know who changed first? If you are saying that you assume “she” followed “him” then this I think you might be a major contributor to the root cause ie. “I assume that by being a woman, she would have followed the male influence, and men are to blame”. Just assume that this is an inspiring series by an innovative photographer and the world will be a better place.

  • This is amazing. I disagree with the notion that she is the one who changed to reflect her husband. Maybe because she was that specific person, she found a male counterpart who shares her interests in that lifestyle. She didn’t necessarily change for them. This is about who she became and living her life in such a way with a person who has that same mindset.

  • melanie

    Yes, the beauty of art is that it can be multifarious in meaning. I respect your reading as I hope you respect mine. Since the artist is not making an obvious critique of anything, it opens up much debate. The series in its fuller form, on her website, demonstrates better the strength of the project.

  • melanie

    It’s not cheap shot feminism, just my reading based on what’s presented here, together with the text.

  • melanie

    The ‘reading’ comes from the meta language of the title “Self Portraits With Men”. It’s a fair reading, whether close to the artist’s intention or not. As valid as any here on the comments stream.

  • d-wo

    Or she could be commenting on how women must assimilate – taking on prescribed roles determined by social, economic and geographic boundaries.

  • <3 but had to look up "multifarious". 😉

  • melanie

    : )

  • Roberta Rinaldi

    This is a fabulous depiction of freedom of choice. I love it!!! Be careful what you chose.

  • Adele

    This is how reading feels like … in pictures. Living dozens or lives, each different from your own personal and mundane perspective. It’s just a celebration of diversity through art.

  • moonunit1

    Or at least that’s the easiest criticism. Realistically, your life choices change your experience and marriage is just one example of that rule on a countless list, and you just love bringing up gender theory whenever. Set off the alarm! Melanie has found a flaw in the work! Thanks Melanie, for contributing nothing but reasons for why people shouldn’t create things.

  • ArielLeMer

    The stories behind the photos could be as or more interesting than the photos themselves. The photographer is replacing the real women in these men’s lives. She must have had interesting conversations as she explained her project and convinced the families to participate. One suspects that, In some cases, money might have talked. But in others, women had to agree. That puts the question of “women’s subservience” into different perspective. And raises an even more interesting question: Is there any common thread in the nature of the men here?

  • Waiting4Codot™

    I think if she were to shine through, it would separate her from the cultural mosaic she’s trying to create.

    Looking at it strictly from the angle of composition, leaving assumed gender roles on the sideline, I would try to blend myself in as seamlessly as possible. Posing with a slight subservience (which is only really happening in about half the photos) would be necessary, so people don’t go, “Oh she sticks out like a sore thumb.”

    I don’t really think she was making a gender statement here, more just trying to blend into the worlds she’s placing herself in.

  • black _developer

    I hope that’s her baby she’s jamming her tit into

  • Jasper Taylor

    cool takeoff of Sherman. I like what she’s done very much

  • Jennifer Kelley

    Why? Do you think it’s somehow harmful or offensive if it’s not her baby?

  • dr_esq

    “The humans here are props.” Oh, you’re absolutely right. How could anyone see anything wrong with that!

  • lavachequirit

    The artists Trish Morrissey did a similar project in 2005 which I find to be more subtle.
    It is called „Front“ and well worth a look. From her description: “She approached families and groups of friends […] and asked if she could be part of their family temporarily. Morrissey then took over the role or position of a woman within that group – usually the mother figure. She asked to take her place, and to borrow her clothes. The woman then took over the artist’s role and photographed her family using a 4×5 camera (which Morrissey had already carefully set up).”
    http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/work-front/workpg-01.html

  • Marina Adshade

    It’s a shame she didn’t imagine herself without a spouse, that would have made a nice inclusion to the project.

  • Bodhipaksa

    What a strange headline. Why the term “female photographer”? Why not just “Photographer Imagines Her Life…”? I can’t imagine that this site would ever have a headline that read “Male Photographer Imagines His Life…”

  • Butch Coone

    As a guy and a photographer, I would have shot these in the setting of the woman’s world. I love this concept and it has my mind running with possibilities.

  • ver

    she missed out on interracial relationship, at once we experimented on it.
    ..and what if she was non-white? that could have thrown her dozen photos quite easily out of its depth.

  • Jim Haggerty

    What is wrong with that? Why should humans be unusable as props in art? That seems like a remarkably closed-minded perspective. What exactly are you afraid will happen?

  • Informed01

    Would you have the same reply if it were a man let a baby suckle on his nipple??

    Of course it would be wrong if not her own child.

  • Jennifer Kelley

    I’m sure the baby doesn’t care. It’s just a breast.

  • Informed01

    Yes I am sure the baby doesn’t know, however that’s not my question.

  • DannyCustodio

    The artist Nikki S. Lee has been creating similar work for years now. Check out her series “Parts”. http://thecreatorsproject.vice.com/nikki-s-lee/parts

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