By Katie Webb Arts & Entertainment Editor
A new Brooklyn native, Maya Collins drives around the Bushwick area photographing high-end wine stores neighboring foreclosed apartment buildings. Shooting the gentrification of the area, new luxury shops raise rent so high that tenants are priced out of their homes. Collins assumes the role of documentarian. The project is an intriguing approach to portraying what is happening to the people living right around the corner from her; an original angle to a well known issue.
Camera in hand, Collins has a skill, not only capturing the stories around her in a creative way, but also conceptualizing her own narratives.
The photography major’s senior project is on display in the Rosenberg Gallery in Calkins Hall. The series is called Pokraka, the Polish word for freak. The photos are an original twist on circus sideshow characters.
From the bearded lady to a lizard man, Collins took the sinister folk stories and found a way to make the bizarre beautiful. Her characters are shot in high contrast, vivid color. The effect is bold, fitting for the extreme personas taken on by the models.
“A lot of people would say ‘this is blown out,’ or ‘overexposed’ and I’m just like ‘I love it!’,” said Collins.
Her approach is distinctly her own. Unafraid to break rules, her work intelligently flaunts the fact that she knows how to push the boundaries right to the edge of over-the-top artistry, but not completely over.
Aside from technical understanding, Collins show demonstrates a clever use of gallery space. The ceiling has subtle red drapes hanging down, a nod to the circus theme that she was careful not to make cliché with lion tamers or ring masters. One wall has delightfully creepy popcorn buckets hanging off the walls, charred popcorn pouring out mid-air.
“The popcorn, I just had this vision of falling popcorn out of the walls. To keep with that twisted theme, I [thought] why does it have to be happy, yummy popcorn?” said Collins. She used black spray paint to achieve the burnt look, a simple but perfect dark touch.
The entirety of her show toes the line of dark and playful. In great part, the duality in attitude came from the models that played her sideshow freaks.
“They were incredible help. Nobody had any limitations, or anything,” said Collins.
Each of her models are close friends of hers. Using an intimate understanding of each of their characteristics, she used her friend’s personalities to match them perfectly to their freak.
“Adam is the most charming, wonderful person ever, so I just couldn’t make him freaky looking, because it’s just not him. So I went more quirky,” said Collins.
Playing the worlds hairiest man, Collins friend threw on a pair of sneakers and a tie, while sporting a ridiculous wig cascading under a pair of glasses down his chest, to play up the irony. Her characters are not freak stereotypes; they are complex individuals.
Each picture, with varying amounts of creepiness, has it’s own light-heartedness as well.
Violetta the armless lady has a limb skillfully Photoshopped off, yet she’s not grotesque, the subject is still visually charming.
The portraits show a range of emotion from humor to terror. Though she has delved deeply into eccentric art, it is not her only interest.
“I really like weird, strange abstract photography, but I don’t want to be fit into a bubble, I’m really open to [trying] anything,” said Collins.
From shooting for National Geographic to man-on-the-street style shooting, Collins future career seems, like her work, to have no boundaries.
The first student to ever be exhibited in the Rosenberg gallery, Collins work will stay on display until April 6.