The piercing eyes of Lorenzo Hernández
From the end of November till the end of the year, the nights are cold and long. It is the beginning of the Christmas season and when you walk down the streets in the centre of London you can see that the shop windows have been exquisitely decorated with human-like mannequins. The settings themselves are works of art, the makeup daring and adventurous, and you can see a story behind each human-like doll.
The city lights are reflected in the shop windows of a famous clothes department store on Regent Street, superimposed on a collection of figures inspired in the icy beauty of the film stars of the 1930s, with a hint at the African war masks in their makeup. Their hairstyles are a Scandinavian version of Queen Nefertiti’s. But if you go beyond the aura of beauty and glamour that surrounds their perfect bodies, you can perceive the deep sadness in their eyes, a strange mixture of coldness and humanity.
If you walk on and reach Kensington, the dystopian replicants created by Ridley Scott in 1981 will look at you from the windows of another famous department store. Here a combination of moving lights create a futuristic atmosphere in which the appearance of the mannequins changes dramatically every few seconds, and you can almost see Joanna Cassidy dancing with the snake. Their look is not sad anymore, but dreamy, as if induced by some kind of chemical drug.
There is a stark contrast between the fascination this cold beauty inspires in Lorenzo Hernandez and his concept of fashion as something essentially dynamic. His models are intensely alive and there is always an element of movement, even in the most static shots: a flying necklace, a scarf floating in the wind, a model caught mid-air. There is always a context, a source of inspiration at the core of each session: in Gnouma by Car it’s the great ladies of jazz, in Cabaret Betsabé, the transgressing spirit of the Weimar Republic, and in Foxy Ladies, the heroines of Blaxploitation movies.
The women in his photographs are powerful, formidable; they are masters of their destinies, no matter their age. The source of their beauty is their boundless energy. Even the sleeping beauty of Olga’s Fairy Tale radiates a certain kind of white heat. On the other hand, his male models, with the exception of Chilicote Blues, are mere puppets at their service, like the jester in Betsabé 04, the masked boys in Berlin 02, or the dancer in Haute Couture 02, where we can almost see the strings that pull their limbs. It’s interesting to notice that the only free man in his work is alone in the middle of nature. The name Chilicote was borrowed from a prison in Ohio because the leitmotiv of this work is the sense of liberation.
A very distinctive feature of his fashion work is the element of mystery, which appears in the form of a hidden character whose presence can only be sensed, like the shadows in Les Femmes 06 and Haute Couture 01, the faceless man in Berlin 01 or the driver in Gnouma by Car 02. They act like stowaways who fight to steal the limelight from the models and the costumes and who contribute to create the feeling that the image we are seeing is just a frozen moment of a long narrative.
Another element that makes this work unique is the fact that he never works on studio. He has a limitless capacity to transmute locations at will: museums, restaurants, houses in ruins, abandoned depots, even the town hall offices in La Orotava (Tenerife) become the perfect backdrop for his stories. And what is most amazing, the only tool he uses to carry out this tremendous transformation is his camera, without any type of digital retouching. Even those who are present during the shootings find it hard to recognize the places.
Like the runaway in Chilicote Blues, Lorenzo likes going solo. He is producer, prop stylist, set designer, wardrobe stylist and costumer. He even works hand in hand with the makeup artist and hair stylist. Once an idea comes into his mind, he cannot rest until he makes it real. He often works with young new designers because they are open-minded and flexible. As for the models, he often works with non-professionals for two reasons. First, because his concept of beauty is highly personal: an irregular and distinctive feature is more valuable than a perfect one. Secondly, because the poses learned at modelling school interfere with his working style. He is a maverick in this sense, directing the models as if they were actors in a play. Despite his independent spirit, working in fashion entails a lot of teamwork and we can say that Lorenzo really cares for all the people involved in each one of his projects, creating an atmosphere of respect and positive collaboration that makes it a real pleasure to work with him. Being primarily a portrait photographer, we might fail to notice the importance of his still lives. There was a period in his life when he almost stopped taking photographs. As a result, he got really ill. He could barely move, so he spent the afternoons experimenting with the effect of light on plants and stones. Years on, while living in London, he tested the artistic possibilities of the dry flowers and fruit he found in the back garden: a small tomato, a rose, a leaf. Despite the lack of human presence, we can definitely see Lorenzo’s signature in the anthropomorphic quality of his work: the drops of water in Sweat, the cactus that looks like an open hand trying to reach the sky in Reaching Out, the dry tomatoes confronting each other in The Fight, the rose petals that look like a ballroom dress in The Day After. Again, the shadows become protagonists in Howling Coyote or even an additional mysterious character, like in The Menace.
Mannequins, people, objects; all of them are connected. The dreamy eyes of the mannequins trigger our imagination in the same way as the sensuous women in Picaras or the tomatoes confronting each other in The Fight. All of them are seen by the same eyes, the piercing eyes of Lorenzo Hernández.