The Jarring Effect Of Deformity On Our Perfect Ideals Explored In Photography Form

Photographs 1 and Photographs 2 by graphic designer and illustrator, Tomba Lobos, are jarring to say the least. However, is their upsetting and almost, grotesque, subject matter, a reflection on the shortcomings of our society? Why do we find disfigurement so morbidly fascinating and repulsive all at the same time.

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Tomba uses photographs of faces, some of people he knows and some strangers when they meet him in front of the lens, before using Photoshop to distort their features as if they are made of play dough. “People are obsessed with faces. Snapchat have their own face swap feature and everyone loves it. People love the mac Photo Booth app, the one that allows you to take photos with those funny effects”, he explained, when we asked why he felt his images were so effective.

“Our faces are our greeting cards”, they help form someone’s first judgement of us, and we use them to represent us online, in work, in social settings and in romance. Perhaps this is why we are so affected by the sight of someone else being disfigured in some way: we can’t help but feel, what if that was us? And this thought scares us into an uneasiness that resonates long after we stop looking at the photos.

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We spoke to the daring and thoughtful-provoking photographer about his inspiration and the ‘selfie generation’.

The Plus: What initially inspired the project?
Tomba Lobos:
I was a founding member of Salao Coboi and for a couple of years I was really into toy and character design. I’m not a member of Salao Coboi anymore but I still do character design. I started with cute, almost kawaii creatures but once in a while I really love to get things raw and dig up bizarre characters from (what David Lynch would call) the depths of my imagination. I’m a big fan of David Lynch as I am a big fan of those crazy Cronenberg movies. I do love old school gory special effects. So, this project started as an experiment to understand how Chris Cunningham did Rubber Johnny or The Horrors video “Sheena is a Parasite”. When I was trying to figure out Cunningham’s methods, I was using more organic images from the internet. Images like human skin and hair, eyes, saliva and other organic tissues and fluids. But then I felt the need to have more control of the situation so using dough was the next step. First I used some photos from my 8mpx camera photo archive and started doing the play dough “faces”. But then I tried self-portraits with a more decent camera.

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TP: How did you create the images themselves?
Basic photography + basic sculpting (you just have to know how to NOT make a clear face) + basic photoshop skills. I usually meet the “models” (some of them are my friends, some of them are my facebook friends, some of them are my friends now that I have photographed them) here in Porto or in Braga and sometimes we have a good talk before the photoshoot. This is the best part of the project: how interactive and social it has become. I am a very busy guy and sometimes I go days without seeing my friends and this allows me to get in touch with very interesting people, almost everyday.

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TP: Both series have some jarring images – how do you want the audience to feel when they look at your work?
I don’t know if I am honest — a lot of people get offended by the images. And some other people just think they are far too aggressive. I understand their point of view because there are actually a lot of situations that can leave you deformed – you just need to Google 1st World War disfigured soldiers or Syphillis to see. I did this project for fun, as a tribute to old school special effects, an easy and clean way to create bizarre characters like I did before when I was a Salao Coboi member. So I expected people to look at this in a more relaxed way and not in a negative way.

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TP: How does Photographs 2 differ from Photographs 1?
Photographs 1 were made from already taken photos from my personal archive.
Photographs 2 were taken under a more “serious” and controlled environment.

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TP: What do you feel makes the final images so effective?
People love selfies. People spend a lot of money on their faces because it is their greeting card, I guess. I actually doing vector portraits as an extra job and a lot of people want to give portraits as gifts to friends and family. Masks are very popular too. People are also fascinated with theories on identity loss nowadays or how social media can help you fake an identity.
Why do people use photoshop in order to hide imperfections but never use that tool to enhance deficiencies. Why cant you recall a face with 100% accuracy after a once in a lifetime meeting or how, nowadays, it is “easy” to get a plastic surgery to your face like it was made of play dough. Why can’t we, as humans, help but stare at disfigured faces.

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