Interview to Sara Cwynar, one of the two winners of the Mast Foundation for photography

1. Sarah Cwynar Colour Factory Film Grid

Sara Cwynar currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Her study curriculum includes an MFA from Yale University in New Haven, USA, and a Bachelor of Design from York University in Toronto, Canada; she also studied English literature at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

4. Sarah Cwynar Tracy Grid Green To Red

About ‘Colour Factory‘:

Hi Sara, please introduce us the project you presented at the MAST FOUNDATION FOR PHOTOGRAPHY.

This film and video project, entitled Colour Factory, explores the standardization and commercial production of colour, connected through themes of feminism and colour theory.Filmed in a makeup factory, a printing plant, and my studio in New York, the 16mm film looks at the ways in which subjectivity and color are intertwined. The voiceover uses text from how-to makeup application guides, from Wittgenstein, David Batchelor, Matisse, and other philosophers and artists who have theorized how humans see colour.

5. Sarah Cwynar Tracy Grid Blue To Pink

The film explores the subjectivity of looking at colour – how it is never the same for each person. These notions of truth and difference in perception are connected to a more personal narrative about female subjectivity. The film asks questions such as, what power dynamics are bound up in the use and reproduction of colour and makeup in our culture? If our perception of basic colours could be “wrong”, what else are we wrong about? And who decides what standards are accepted for colour and cosmetics? This is, in part, about things as they’ve been standardized, how someone else decides what you get. What will the shape of a makeup bottle be? What red will film reproduce? Who is present on screens and in texts? Nothing is an accident.

2. Sarah Cwynar Ultra Cosmetics Nail Polish

The photographs continue to engage with these themes. The pictures include bronze reproductions of standardized cosmetics bottles – playing up the grand, architectural (and outdated) designs of these objects. Also included are photographs built on old makeup advertisements from the 1970’s company “Ultra Cosmetics”. Sections of the original advertisements are re-photographed in the studio, inserting my hands and new objects.

The photographs ask, how do standards wane? How are advertisements and objects produced at the height of style destined to fade? The series also includes straight photographs taken in the Plaxall plastics factory, where brightly colored packages for toys and cosmetics are produced. These images are combined with pictures of my friend Tracy (who also appears in the video). Tracy poses on color grids found in old standardized darkroom manuals, used as studio backdrops – a woman floating on a grid.  At its heart the project is about the ways that standards of colour, beauty and capitalism impose themselves on lived human experience.

How do you hope the readers will react to your project, ideally?

I hope they will read it as a closer look at things which are often overlooked in our society. The colors and shapes and products that are all around us but that we often fail to see – I think there is a lot of information and political meaning contained in these things and I hope to draw attention to the way they affect our lives and our ideas of ourselves.

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Did you have any specific references or sources of inspiration in mind while working on your project?

I was thinking a lot about 1970’s educational film, I wanted this project to be in the style of one of those, the way a voice of authority tells you the basic facts about something, but the facts here are more obscure and more personal.

The theme of the competition is “Industry, Society and Territory”, how did you deal with this very important topic?

I was thinking about overlooked, industrially produced images and objects that permeate our society, and that seep into our lives everywhere, and also the way things are standardized – how many things are just handed to us from above but we don’t necessarily notice it.

Choose your three words to describe this experience

Big, colorful, Italian!

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Time to read
4 min
Words by
Published on
15 February 2018
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