Monday 24 August 2009

Zed Nelson

All images © Zed Nelson

It was great to finally meet Zed Nelson the other week at The Ian Parry Awards and chat to him about his major five year project involving photography that he has undertaken in seventeen countries across five continents. Further to our conversation he kindly sent me over some images and related information. The new work, titled Love Me, reflects on the cultural and commercial forces that drive a global obsession with youth and beauty. The project explores how a new form of globalization is taking place, where an increasingly narrow Western beauty ideal is being exported around the world like a crude universal brand.

The work will be published as a book at the beginning of October by Contrasto. A number of images from the new series were exhibited in the Tate Britain show, How We Are – Photographing Britain, and also at Flowers East and the ICA gallery, London. A touring solo exhibition is now being planned. Here is the introductory text to the project:

"Love Me explores the insidious power of the global beauty industry and our collective insecurity, vanity and fear of ageing. In a series of compelling images, Love Me negotiates the boundaries of art and documentary, reflecting a world we have created in which there are enormous social, psychological and economic rewards and penalties attached to the way we look. Over a period of five years Nelson visited seventeen countries across five continents, meeting cosmetic surgeons, anorexics, beauty queens, bodybuilders, trainee models, housewives, porn stars, businessmen and soldiers. Whilst Nelson’s subjects appear willing participants in an omnipresent culture of bodily improvement, they are also hapless victims – at the mercy of larger social forces and locked into their insatiable craving for approval.

As the subjects´ frailties and pretensions are exposed, so too are we the viewer: our motives for looking, for inspecting, along with uncomfortable reminders of our own vanities and insecurities. In Love Me, Zed Nelson has produced a powerful body of work that forces every one of us to question our own place in a culture that compels us to constantly judge, and be judged, by our appearance."

Having gained international recognition and numerous awards during a decade spent as a documentary photographer working in some of the harshest and most lawless areas of the world, Nelson’s recent work embraces a more considered, conceptual approach to reflect on contemporary social issues.

Through acute social observation, Nelson’s work explores our weaknesses, fears, and desires, in images that manage to be at once both challenging and sympathetic. His seminal project Gun Nation - a disturbing reflection on America's deadly love affair with the gun – is one of Nelson’s best-known projects to date. Completed over three years, the work was awarded five major international photography prizes and published as a book.

Love Me is Zed Nelson’s second book. The work was recently short-listed for the Leica European Publishers Award for Photography. Nelson’s previous awards include the Visa d’Or at the International Festival of Photojournalism, France; First Prize in World Press Photo Competition; and the Alfred Eisenstaedt Award, USA. Nelson’s work has been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, the Tate Britain, and is in the permanent collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum. Nelson has had solo shows in London, Stockholm and New York.