Paper People by Abi Campbell: an editorial inspired by Saul Steinberg

We are absolutely crazy about this editorial by the photographer Abi Campbell and Julie Vianey! It’s called Paper People and it was carried out for Milk Magazine.

The main inspiration when creating this peculiar and fabulous session were, on the one hand Abi’s kids, who one day made robot heads out of boxes and he decided to share them on Facebook, and the great Saul Steinberg, who he wasn’t thinking of when he had the idea but who he rediscovered thanks to a good friend of his, and his legacy was used to outline this remarkable photo shoot.

“When things come at you very fast, naturally you lose touch with yourself. Anybody moving into a new world loses identity… So loss of identity is something that happens in rapid change. But everybody at the speed of light tends to become a nobody. This is what’s called the masked man. He is so deeply involved in other people that he doesn’t have any personal identity.” McLuhan

For those of you who don’t know Saul Steinberg, you have to know he was born in Romania in 1914, and that during the 30s, he began to publish his satirical drawings in the Bertoldo de Milano magazine, going on to do so in Life and Harper’s Bazaar magazine. Due to Italian antisemitic laws, he was forced into exile in the United States. From 1941, he began to publish in the New Yorker where he became famous and he continued to collaborate with them for sixty years! Additionally, throughout his career he had several exhibitions, the idea of enjoyment being a constant feature of his art, and in which masks have great presence. That’s why that session he carried out with the prestigious Ingeborg Morath reflected this recurrent restlessness. The series, titled The Saul Steinberg Masks Series, is made up of a series of portraits of people and families in every day situations, that hide their faces with unsettling paper masks created by the illustrator, and that were immortalized by the Magnum photographer. The project began in the 50s and continued on into the 60s, it was used to question both the identities and roles, that were so rigid in that era, with regards to gender and social status.

“The narrative of Steinberg’s project was that everyone used a mask, were it real or metaphorical.”

Does it ring a bell? Oh! The truth is that Steinberg was a visionary and his session, in the same way as Abi Campbell’s, could not have been more premonitory in this Covid era in which we find ourselves now.



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