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These illustrations make us rethink the way we see stock photos

In her series SQRMMS, artist Lara Nasser pokes fun at the “currency of images” we oft regard as normal (but really shouldn’t).

Growing up between Beirut and the USA, the Lebanese creative has had a deep fascination with social dynamics across contrasting cultures.

Using a simple aesthetic reminiscent of 1980’s fashion illustration, she combines stock photography, vintage advertising, and retro pornography to produce images that are both sobering and humorous.

“The uncanny drawings canvas a world where dogs in party hats, group Tai Chi, and scheming politicians cohabit in microclimates of a shared reality.”

We caught up with Nasser recently to learn more about her and her series SQRRMS.

Tell us where your ‘80s obsession comes from?

“I wasn’t around for the ‘80s, but grew up in a third-world city that was recovering from a long civil war. A lot of the media and print aesthetic I grew up around was somewhat dated.

“Beirut is well known for its Eastern-Western aesthetic. Tackiness and old world romance collide in beautifully neglected ways, Patrick Nagel-esque ‘salon ladies’ posing against block colored backgrounds faded by the sun. They speak of something wilted that was once glamorous.

SQRMMS is largely a look at failed or lost hopes–projecting the gaudy, colorful optimism of 1980’s graphics against the uncannily bleak subject matter.”

What is it about stock imagery that you so intriguing (or entertaining?)

“Stock photos are incredible, and I’m certainly not the only person to take an interest in them. It’s a staged world meant to represent pictoral absolutes.

“We often consult the internet to find out what something is. So, when you look up a concept term like ‘man’, and your search yields a bunch of smiling white guys, that says something about the perception of that concept, and who is in control of what we see.

“The SQRMMS series comes across as playful but is very much political. You’d be hard pressed to find a stock photo of ‘Arab woman’ who is not veiled, with a man, or generally sad looking. Western-centric biases are rampant. As are aggressively positive and ‘PG’ images, seeming to avoid the harshness of the real world (think: ladies laughing into salads.)

“Given that stock photos are created specifically as blanket statements for our reality, I see it as a database of sociopolitical neurosis.”

How has your background/heritage in Beirut influenced your work and overall outlook on life?

“Beirut is such a cool and weird place. Aside from all of the aesthetic and cultural contradictions that occupy the same tiny city, the lack of stability breeds a kind of analytic survivalism. Like an algorithm that sorts ‘is this ok’ from ‘is this not ok’.

“In the first case, we tend to border on hedonistic, taking advantage of the micro pleasures that we can indulge in. Beirut is known for a thriving party culture that is very dark and stylish; I think that has informed my work quite a bit. It’s also made me fascinated with the things people indulge in behind closed doors in a gossipy, conservative society.

“As for the second case, when things are not okay, that is almost more familiar than the former. We know finality and we know that systems fail. That’s why the SQRMMS series highlights the ultimate sadness and absurdity behind, say, businessmen pooling together their thumbs-ups in the middle of a glass conference table.”

Tell us three trends about the 1980s you still remember fondly!

“Full disclosure, I was born in the early ‘90s! Everything I know about the ‘80s is relic and repetition.

“That said, anyone who knows me has seen me in: A) a pair of gigantic (and often impractical) earrings, B) animal prints of every kind – The fashion sense was wild and maximalist, and beyond inspiring these drawings, it certainly dominates my closet. As for C) NEON. Neon everything. Always.”

To dicsover more about Lara Nasser and her work, head on over here.

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