The photographic work produced by Miss Aniela (Leeds, UK, 1986) focuses on the female form contextualised with elaborate staging. The British artist digitally manipulates images to combine various surrealist elements in her photographs.
Early days in photography with surrealist self-portraits
It all began with boredom, distraction and a sense of curiosity: Natalie Dybisz began uploading photographs of herself on Flickr in 2006 when she was studying English & Media at the University of Sussex. Long before the selfie trend took off, the artist was using the medium to express her creativity. Fascinated by the immediacy of digital photography and the endless possibilities opened up by manipulating images to alter reality, she published her photographs using the alter ego Miss Aniela (her middle name).
In these playful and original self-portraits, the young artist explores her surroundings using fantastical and surreal poses. Her body is sometimes digitally duplicated, allowing her to "become almost someone else, a higher self, a multiplicity of different ‘selves’". Her Self-Gazing series, fine-tuned over various years of experimentation, began to attract a huge and increasingly enthusiastic audience on Flickr. An invitation to Microsoft's Pro Photo Summit in 2008 launched Miss Aniela into the world of contemporary photography and exhibitions.
Surreal Fashion: a fantastical world of locations, femininity and surrealism
Despite her success, the photographer soon came up against the limits of self-portrait and wished to turn the lens onto other subjects. Following her Ecology series exploring the relationship between humans and nature through visual references to pollution, deforestation and climate engineering, she began a new project in 2011 called Surreal Fashion, which she developed over the next seven years. This series is described as a "fusion of traditional imagery and digitally enhanced motifs, interweaving in a surreal composition".
The Surreal Fashion images feature three key elements: incredible shoot locations, models in sophisticated dresses and motifs worked on by the artist in post-production using various sources of inspiration. To find shoot locations, Miss Aniela travels around Europe and the USA in search of sites with rich histories and decor: French châteaus, American mansions and historic British homes all provide wonderful backdrops for the stunningly beautiful models. The women wear elegant or eccentric costumes ordered from stylists and fashion creators, hired from theatres or personalised by the artist and her team.
Once the photographs have been selected, the creative work begins on Photoshop. Miss Aniela adds in motifs (such as animals, mythological creatures and sea landscapes) mainly taken from classic paintings. She seeks to create synergy between the classic and the contemporary; between painting and photography. The result is a visual universe that can be opulent, magnificent, or bizarre, but always has a unique atmosphere, story and aesthetic.
Miss Aniela: an ongoing artistic renewal
“We cannot ever create something purely true or original. What we can do, however, is constantly question everything we do create, question everything around us from which we are taking inspiration, and enjoy being the perfection of being imperfect.”
Being so creative, Miss Aniela is constantly developing herself as an artist. However, her work would never see the light of day were it not for her unrivalled commitment, organisational skills and determination. The Surreal Fashion series was a complex project that took a great deal of logistical, administrative and communicative effort and a team of specialists (including stylists, hairdressers, fashion models and make-up artists). Miss Aniela works closely with her husband Matthew Lennard and explains that they "live and breathe photography, [and are] constantly thinking of new ideas".
Although her boundless curiosity means each project is different from the last, the female form is the common thread. The artist's most recent series, Birth Undisturbed, explores the theme of maternity. Following a personal tragedy (her first son was stillborn after a fatal condition was diagnosed in the eighth month of pregnancy), and inspired by the literature on the theme, the artist strives for an innovative representation of childbirth that is realistic yet staged in an almost cinematographic way. In the current context where childbirth is often highly medicalised and controlled, the series shows "the wonder and the emotions and the textures of childbirth" to encourage pregnant women to face birth without fear in an "undisturbed" way, as the title suggests, following their natural instincts and trusting in their ability to bring new life into the world.
Recognition from the world of art and photography
Social media facilitated Miss Aniela's early career by enabling her to share and publicise her initial self-portraits. But it was the Surreal Fashion series that made her an international success and gave her recognition in the art world. One exhibition that has been key in her journey was held at Stockholm's Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde Museum in 2016. Saatchi Art has twice named her artist ‘One to Watch’, in 2010 and 2017. Her work was also part of the ‘Continental Shift’ exhibition at London's Saatchi Gallery in 2014.
The contemporary photographer's Twelve Women in Academia series, in which she takes inspiration from the style of Rembrandt portraits to showcase the work and lives of 12 female academics at the University of Sussex, went on display at the Houses of Parliament (Palace of Westminster) in 2017. The Birth Undisturbed series has also won several prizes: ND Awards Photographer of the Year 2020, 12th Julia Margaret Cameron Award 2018, finalist at the Mother Art Prize, Kuala Lumpur Portrait Prize and British Journal of Photography’s ‘Portrait of Humanity’ 2019.
Miss Aniela exhibits at galleries, fairs and festivals worldwide, and takes part in a range of talks and events. Her work has also been featured by highly regarded media platforms including The Telegraph, the BBC, NY Arts, the Daily Mail, The Guardian and Vogue Italia.
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