In a Clever Series of Portraits, Argentine Photographer Romina Ressia Reimagines the Renaissance

The works of 33-year-old Argentine photographer Romina Ressia have recently become an internet sensation. She took an unconventional path into the art world, studying finance and then set design, before producing the stylish and thought-provoking photo series that she’s now known for.

One series, “How would have been?,” is comprised of striking, often humorous images that pose unexpected anachronisms. Ressia’s objectives are clear in the title, and in the works themselves: in some of these photographs she reimagines classical 15th-century portraiture, casting a contemporary female figure as the subject and inserting tangible objects from contemporary life into the frame, like microwave popcorn or bubblegum. In other pieces, the message is subtler, the scene devoid of any trappings of the 21st century. 

In Woman With Flowers (2014) and Oval Portrait (2014), for example, Ressia’s model holds conventional poses—if these weren’t crisp archival pigment prints, they could almost be mistaken for images actually captured in the Renaissance era. The message comes through in the expressions of the subject. At turns, she looks pained, bored, or even blank—see Boring (2014)—and we can visualize what daily life was like for young women of means centuries ago. The series raises two parallel questions: what would life have been like so many years ago if modern diversions had existed then? And, conversely, what would life be like for a modern woman within the confines and traditional expectations of the 15th century?

Ressia is refreshingly unpretentious about her process. “I think that the camera is just a tool,” she has said. “A good photographer can make a piece of art only with a plastic camera or even with his mobile…the eye [is] what really matters.” Since leaving the finance world to pursue art, Ressia has also earned attention for her series “What Do You Hide?” (2015) in which she “dehumanizes” her feminine subjects in the colorful camouflage of printed and patterned fabrics, and for her series “Not About Death” (2014) in which she frames her elderly subjects, clad in superhero costumes, lying in coffins. Another series, “Renaissance Cubism,” is a playful mash-up of Renaissance portraiture and Cubism. Picking up on a theatrical edge? It’s no wonder: Ressia studied art direction and set design at the famous Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.

Bridget Gleeson

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