How Mical Valusek reframed the nude image in quarantine
In the Paris-based photographer’s ‘Home Alone’ series, Mical's subjects gained control through a deeply collaborative process.
Photography Mical Valusek
Mical Valusek’s Home Alone series has the feel of a personal photo album — a lo-fi snapshot of other people’s lives at a time when the world is confined to their home. Satisfying the voyeur in all of us, it offers a glimpse into the imperfect domestic spheres of strangers, where exposed gas tanks, crumpled bed sheets, skewed picture frames and chipped desks counter the glossy plasticity of the Instagram aesthetic. “It’s an ode to really being human,’’ Mical says about the playfully intimate portraits of her friends in quarantine.
The photographer lensed over 30 people remotely, and found herself innately concerned with the framing and lighting. “I was being me as a photographer,” Mical says, “and they were so patient.” Still, the resulting compositions are casual, capturing something raw and natural: Sofia tans in a tiny bucket on her roof in Marrakech, her face searching for the sun. Camille paints in her Paris atelier, Georgia writes postcards at her desk in London and, at an electric blue tiled sink beneath a crumbling ceiling, Conan brushes his teeth. The focal point of the image is a stick-and-poke tattoo on Conan’s bum that reads, “EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON” — a cheerful reminder for the pandemic world.
Mical wanted the images to portray everyone exactly as they would be in their own habitat. “The first instinct was for them to tell me that everything was going to be tidy for the photos,” she explains. “[But] I really like the mess… you don’t have to make it perfect.” The rooms are as much the focus of Mical’s work as her creative friends who choose to challenge, dismiss or perform for the camera. “It really reflects the personality of each one and how they want to show themselves,” she says.
Dan, a Venezualen sunglasses designer who is currently working for Jacquemus in Paris, jauntily flexes his muscles like a nude Greek sculpture. He’s framed by a doorway bordered by bookcases and a big beautiful tree with blooming purple flowers. “It was quite natural for him not to make it too serious,” Mical says. But there’s also a tendency among Mical’s subjects to look deeply into the camera for their portraits. Louise leans against her pink Smeg fridge in the kitchen — her cardigan left open with nothing underneath — inviting the viewer to look but on her terms.
The photographs are taken in self-portrait mode, directed by Mical over video call and the subject has the power to send the artist what they choose. “It was quite a sense of teamwork, where they were really satisfied with their self-image, which is a good contrast with the pictures we take for commercial shoots where the models don’t really have a say on the way they look.’’
Mical moved to Paris to pursue a career in fashion photography in 2016, and has shot for magazines such as Numéro, Office Magazine, Schön! and Vogue Arabia and Russia. But since the pandemic put much of that work on hold, Mical has used this as an opportunity to get back to the basics with photography. She has had time to channel her creativity into something more meaningful.
“Sometimes in normal life we have so much anxiety over the things that we have to do and compare ourselves to what other people are doing. There’s this constant pressure of, ‘Am I doing enough?’ Being in a situation where everyone was in the same situation was quite a relief,” she says. Home Alone brought routine to her days, connected her with friends around the world and enabled her to develop her practice.
To better envisage the process, Mical took a self-portrait at home. In it she wears only a pair of red pants, as she approaches a table with a coffee mug and percolator. “For me being naked was something quite natural,” she says, exuding confidence as she confronts the viewer’s gaze unabashedly. In other photos, her subjects are more coy, their eyes reflected in a mirror or looking away from the lens entirely. Fernandez, who is living in her grandparent’s house in Mexico, sits on her grandfather’s desk surrounded by certificates and a typewriter. She looks down, deep in thought, bathed in the orange light that shines through drawn curtains.
Mical is intentional about the nudity in her work. She wants it to be honest, non-sexual and challenge the eroticisation too often associated with the naked form. As such, she hopes it can “[escape] the judgement and shame that comes from all the constructions over our bodies, especially non-binary and women’s bodies.”
The artist’s approach to women and nudity is a reaction to growing up in Argentina, “a very patriarchal country where women’s bodies are very oppressed and sexualised,” she says. “By the time I started to develop that work, I was way more liberated in my mind. But every once in a while I receive messages online from people who think that [my work] is an invitation for them to make certain comments.’’
Mical is inspired by the bold, uncompromisingly confrontational style of Lucien Freud’s portraits and nudes, the charged narrative scenes in Balthus’ paintings and her work takes cues from portrait photographers that defined their eras — Peter Hujar, who captured downtown New York’s avant-garde art scene, Malick Sidibé for chronicling the lives and culture of young people in independent Mali, and Keizō Kitajima, a Japanese photographer best known for his grainy shots of people on the streets of Tokyo.
Like them, Mical is making work that is a product of its time and environment. It’s intimate, instinctive and emotional. “I’m quite guided by what I’m feeling in the moment and I want to make a connection to what I’m photographing,” she says. “I just want to take a photo in a way that is very personal to me.”