For Bela Borsodi, a photographer known for injecting craftiness into his fashion and still-life work, the field in which he gained prominence was not necessarily his first choice. “I never woke up one morning and said, ‘I want to be a photographer,’” he told the Cut. “Still, up to today, it’s just circumstance that it was photography.” But considering that his grandfather was, according to Borsodi, the man who brought color film into Austria in the fifties, it appears photography was in his blood.
The Austrian native spent his childhood and early adulthood reared by artist parents who fostered creativity. In college, he initially dabbled in graphic design (at first to separate himself from his parents’ generation of artists), majored in fine arts, and realized in his twenties that photography would be viable career. But it wasn’t until he moved to Switzerland in 1999 with the sole purpose of learning how to shoot still life that he commanded the fashion world’s attention. Ever since, he’s been merging reality with fantasy within the framework of a single photo, merging cartoons, acclaimed works of art, erotic anime, and sexual fantasies (or nightmares) along with models and luxe goods. He also literally builds his sets by hand, using foam boards, wood, strings, balloons, printers, Sharpie pens, and sometimes his whole apartment, so as to take a figment of his imagination and immortalize it in a photo.”Photography’s all about cheating,” he said to the Cut. “You invent things, even if you claim that they’re real, realistic, that there’s a real experience with it, but in the end, it’s a photograph. It’s the documentation, the proof of an actual experience.” The Cut sat down with Borsodi to talk about his creative process and delve deeper into his layered understanding of the medium. Click through the slideshow for Borsodi’s own commentary on a selection of his works, including one photo that sparked feminist rage.
You mentioned that photography was always part of your life growing up, but it wasn’t necessarily a career you considered. Would you say it was a hobby then?
I wouldn’t say it was a hobby. It was something I grew up with. It’s the most natural thing for me and also to think in photographs and also to see how photographs relate to anything else. Is a photograph, the entity in itself, what it expresses? Or is it the tool to express something else? Can you paint over a photograph and it’s not a photograph anymore?
So, tell me about photography. Did you get into it in your twenties then?
Yeah, initially my idea was to naturally evolve into a fine artist, whatever that is. I was into Duchamp or whatever was happening at the time. I just loved this idea of this craziness, touching with your hands everything and molding things around and using weird colors. [With photography], there was the idea of that being a job and also a need. You don’t take a photograph for a magazine unless somebody needs it. They need to express this or that, and I realized for myself that my initiative to do something is based on the need. I did not have this blank-canvas situation that some artists have. Also, every project is different. I know some photographers follow a certain pattern, the search for one particular idea for what they do and make it coherent with most of their work. For me, everything I start, I want to start from scratch.
Are there other passions greater to you than photography?
Photography, the way that I do it, gives me the opportunity to explore anything else that I do or have interest in as long as I can take a picture of it. Anything I craft, if I take a picture of it, that’s photography. That excited me so much because I have different moods, different days. That is the framework of what it is that I actually do. So if people refer to me as actually being a photographer, then yes, they are right because that is what I do. But if you think more about the idea of what a photographer is or how a photographer is conceived in that world, I would say that I don’t fulfill the principal personality or character.
Right, a lot of your photos blend reality with cartoons. How do you merge these elements? Do you think in the third dimension or in the second?
I’m going between different dimensions all the time, but I like to think in multiple layers and sometimes contradict myself. I have strong ideas and need to execute them, but my mind, I’m very playful, I like to bridge things over. I’m just one of those people where if I see one thing, I imagine the opposite. If I see a beautiful sunset, I think, What if it was raining right now? It’s not that I do this out of a necessity. If I’m happy, I think, Well, how would it be to be sad right now? I’m just exploring, touching, putting everything into proportion.