“The Mask 19”
It all started out of a sudden, just like it does in fairy tales. I love fairy tales because they resemble my personal truths. Almost all of them have a happy ending. They accept evil as being something temporary, which through wisdom and effort will finally lead to a pleasant situation. As we all know, the bad wolf ate Grandma, but the Red Riding Hood managed to escape. The two contradictory sides direct the whole story and make it complete, taking the finale to a way out. The eternal conflict of the two poles; certainly, fairy tales are not that innocent, since they hide an adult soul, that is, the metaphor of an adult world and, through a symbolic language, they tell a story by giving it a child’s identity.
Every inspiration comes almost instantaneously and that’s why it may fill you with wonder. However, whether consciously or not, fermentation has come first and it has last for quite some time.
So, when the pandemic began in the remote city of Uhan, China, at that time, it just represented part of the journalistic repertoire of yet another distant news story from the other side of the planet. I couldn’t imagine that Covid-19 would spread so rapidly throughout the world and that it would cause all these bad effects it has caused, in such short time.
In early autumn 2020, I came up with the idea for the photographic project called “The Mask 19”. What caused it was an announcement about the mandatory use of the mask at schools; at a particular period when humanity is making history during the pandemic, we can only be sure about one thing; the defense of public health is at odds with our personal freedom, as it has obviously been recorded in human perception so far. After the announcement was made, anxiety literally prevailed. I started wondering about the effects this would have on children’s mentality as well as their personal relations.
First of all, “The Mask 19” photographic project attempts to display the impact that the pandemic has on children’s and adolescents’ psychology with the use of the mask throughout the planet. So, it consists of a sequence of portraits, in which children aged 6 to 13 take part. What played a significant role in choosing the people to be photographed was the element of dissimilarity. It was essential to point out that Covid-19 has nothing to do with discrimination. The people who are photographed may have different characteristics, gender, age, genetic background, origin or nationality, however, there is one thing they all have in common; the ‘soul’ that has to cope with this new global reality of coronavirus. The style of the portraits is depicted in these frames in a symbolic and surreal way, trying to emphasize the way out of the entrapment, just like the way it happens in fairy tales. Therefore, the otherworldly aspect of the pandemic along with the coexistence of escape is expressed in a minimalist approach. The ‘emergency exit’ lies in keeping our childhood identity, our imagination, in being in contact with nature, in the existence of dreams, in an endless quest, in hope, and in all those things that beautify the soul. All these elements make this friend of ours who will sit on the other side of the seesaw.
The optimistic version is our own soul. The puzzle pieces come together at its very center, preventing the unstoppable urge of the consequences of this disease; when the soul is constantly bombarded by what must be done, the feeling reacts with art.
What I really wanted to emphasize, (which I have always been interested in), is “the dipole” that develops throughout this state of lockdown and general prevention. The everyday conditions that make the use of mask necessary almost come into conflict, and of course we consciously try to protect ourselves and the people around us, but on the other hand, expression and oxygen confinement deprive us from freely breathing and even existing.
The mask weakens the wholeness of a person’s expressive means, and the eyes are the only thing that can be seen. In the portraits of “The Mask 19” photographic project, where the most basic elements of expression seem to be fading, the eye dynamics come to play a significant role. Thus, I have used the innocence and reality that is reflected in these people’s eyes, through which they are looking at the present. During the photo shoot, I realized that what I was finally creating was the simulation of adult anguish, fear and insecurity (in the face of this pandemic reality), in the children’s innocent expression.
To enrich this whole idea, I asked the children-teenagers to share their spontaneous thoughts concerning the mask. I am quoting them, just as they were expressed:
- Now because of the pandemic the mask is necessary, but it often makes us feel that we are really confined. As a dancer, I have learned to express my feelings in a more intense way than normally. But when I have to wear a mask “at all places and at all times”, I feel like someone is keeping me trapped.
- I want Covid-19 to end. I don’t want us to wear masks anymore. I want to go on vacation and take walks again.
- I like the mask.
- This is the third lockdown, day 150th I think… This morning I watched 80% of the videos on YouTube. Now we are being told to wear two masks. Each time I am not sure what I should expect. And each time I am surprised…
- Although I know that the use of the mask is necessary, I feel imprisoned and it often seems as if my emotions are not expressed.
- With the mask, I am hot.
- I don’t like the mask. I can’t breathe well.
The photo shoots were carried out with the support and attendance of the parents, for which I feel grateful, not only because they trusted me as a person, but also because they trusted the intentions of my idea. Also, I feel grateful for the children-teenagers who took part and who seemed to be so dedicated that I was really impressed. Furthermore, I would like to make it clear that throughout the photo shoot, there was absolute respect for the way in which every child wanted to participate. Finally, the whole process has been treated with complete confidentiality and respect, making sure that there is no disclosure of personal information.