This Photographer Uses a Marble Quarry for 21st Century Commentary

During an artist’s residency in the Italian comune of Toffia, self-taught photographer Lara Zankoul was drawn to the study of Italian art. Here, she stumbled onto (and, luckily, not into) the majestic marble quarries of Carrara, a ghostly old site that forms the setting of her series ‘As Cold as a White Stone’. “So yes, the shoot happened on real marble,” Lara shares with us, “the purest and whitest marble of Italy which Michaelengo used to carve his David”. But she uses it here to highlight the cold and numbing nature of human relationships in the 21st Century.

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Lara is a Beirut-born artist whose auto-didact style kicked off when she started experimenting nearly a decade ago, in 2008. Since then, she’s won the 2011 Shabab Ayyam Photography Competition and exhibited her work across the world. Using volunteer models sourced from the area for this shoot, and locals to help her set up on the imposing site, the result is a cool appraisal of industry, modernity, and Man.

Lara’s material pragmatism is something she picked up during her time as a student of Economics. Much like the quarrying on the site of this shoot, she likes breaking down the mountain into smaller, manageable bits, before carting them off to the editing booth.

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The crisp angles of the quarry lends gravity and strength to the lightly clothed and contorted models. It’s human drapery, with blank expressions and unnatural postures that clothes the rock in an other-wordly light. She’s nothing if not a dramatic artist.

THE PLUS: Its a theatrical photo-shoot – are there particular dramas you have in mind that inspire you, or that you look to evoke?
Lara Zankoul:
I did not get inspiration from any particular drama; it was more based on dramatic body expressions. The idea was to deconstruct the human body into blocks of stone. Among the models was a performance artist who really helped me express the idea with her body, and guide the other models as well.

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TP: You keep your settings dramatic, but your actors relatively anonymous – why is this?
LZ:
My characters are timeless and anonymous because they represent most of the time humanity rather than one human. I am not trying to portray one specific character, but rather any person that any other human could relate to.

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TP: This series is a look at human interactions in an increasingly shallow, virtual world; where do you hope (or fear) that society will end up?
LZ:
From my own humble and personal experience, I observed that human interactions have grown colder with the rise of technology and the internet world. Sometimes I am in the same room with a group of close people, and everyone is drawn into his/her own world. I feel there is a lack of connection between humans these days.

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TP: What bothers you most about the modern world?
LZ:
What bothers me about the modern world is the super fast-paced life, where it feels sometimes frustrating and tiring to keep up with the changes and keep on adapting to new things. 

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TP: And what do you like most about it?
LZ:
I love the fact that possibilities have increased so much. Knowledge and resources are so much more accessible. Thanks to the virtual world, I was able to learn photography, I was able to meet my Massesi friends who made my marble project possible. It is actually ironic that my project which tackles the lack of human interactions has also made me connect with a lot of people I would’ve never met without it. 

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TP: What do you do, or where do you go, when you’re looking for inspiration?
LZ:
I’ve trained my mind to find inspiration in anything, really. Right now I am inspired by textures and materials. I believe it is every artist’s responsibility to keep on finding inspiration in the world around them, and in the things that may seem the most uninspiring at first.

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