“Artist” doesn’t really cut it when attempting to define Elene Usdin; “Alchemist Photographer” might be a more fitting title. Describing her work as “a representation of her dreams and nightmares,” Usdin’s photography is so much more than just a peek into her sleepscape – it’s an invitation into the sorceress’ den as she infuses common celluloid with fantasy, whimsy, sensuality, and drama. One glance at a picture and the spell is cast on the subject, the setting and of course, the viewer.
In various photographic sequences like “Eugenie“,” “Take Me,” and “Blue Beard,” (among others), Usdin’s combination of live models and surreal elements transforms the photograph’s environment into an otherworldly and yet recognizable place where beds lie against walls, courtesans hang upside down, and all matter of yarn, balloons, wigs, ribbons, and even snow, pops up on and around colorfully draped figures as if these gewgaws grow naturally in this dreamland. Each photo is imbued with an element of oddity, whether it is a strategically placed bird, an untied toe shoe, or something as simple as a few lit candles; Usdin’s magic works its spell as portraits of fantasy personified, showcasing how quickly the familiar is rendered strange when just a few details are changed or augmented.
Usdin’s flair for the dramatic is not only relegated to the use of the fantastic in her photographs, but it is also perceptible in the stripped down and stark portraits of “Hot Summer Night,” and “Workshop 154” where the basic shapes of common furniture serve as the foundation for her scenes. Simple shapes of lamps, desks and mattresses take on a fresh presence, morphing into characters themselves as foils to posed models.
As “Alchemist Photographer,” Elene Usdin combines a dash of whit and a dram imagination, all while stirring the pot of fantasy to transport our experience from the mundane into a world of color and creation, sending us on a journey though we’ve never left our seat. Perhaps that is the greatest magic trick yet: to make the boring disappear…
© W. Laurie Ewer