“It was not easy,” states French designer and photographer Niko when asked how bad the lockdown was. He adds, “…people were not very motivated.” As with many of us, he took to doing creative projects with his camera to cope with the limitations imposed by the pandemic. And he’s come out with a visual parody to show just how much we depend on masks in our daily lives.
Face masks have become part of our everyday fashion. There’s always one within arm’s reach for me. A box of disposable masks is at home. A spare in each of my camera backpacks. And a handful in my car’s glove compartments. I’d rather not be outdoors without wearing one for my safety and that of others around me. But this surge in mask usage has led to their careless disposal everywhere. Masks are even seen littered more commonly than cigarette butts in many places. It’s essential to mask up, but it’s equally important to ensure they aren’t discarded carelessly. Niko took a humorous take on this for his photo series, Pandemic Lifestyle.
The Essential Photo Gear Used by Niko
Niko told us:
I’m not a techno geek who wants the latest camera or latest better lens of the world. Unfortunately I don’t have enough money for that. I just need tools to bring to life my ideas. I use modest but efficient gears.
The Phoblographer: Hi Niko. Please tell us about yourself and how you got into photography.
Niko: I am Nicolas Bigot, a professional UX/UI designer in Brittany (France). I have created images as an amateur photographer under the pseudonym Niko Photographisme, for more than 10 years. I work mainly on surrealist, offbeat or funny compositions based on real shots supported by photo manipulation (Photoshop).
I consider photography as a playground for my imagination. My designer job has many constraints and users’ needs and expectations. Digital photography and retouching, as well as photomanipulation, offer me great freedom of creation, especially because I mainly work on my own personal projects.
The Phoblographer: It’s self explanatory what brought about the idea for this series, but at what stage of the pandemic did you decide to start the series?
Niko: I wanted to work on this subject after the first lockdowns, which took place in France. During these lockdowns, it was logically complicated to take pictures. It was while finding a little freedom in the spring that I took the first photo of the project. Basically, I thought I would take only one photo. Then I had new ideas. Another of my projects takes place by the sea. It is, therefore, while working on this project with my models, that I added some shots for this project. This project is in progress; I still have a lot of ideas, but it’s currently winter here, so I’m on a break.
The Phoblographer: How bad (or not) was the lockdown situation in your hometown? Was photography a way of coping with this?
Niko: The first lockdown was very strict. No going out, very limited outings, and no possibility of meeting people. I tried doing photo montage challenges on Instagram to stimulate creativity and keep in touch with people. It was not easy because people were not very motivated. The outdoor photos that I really like were not possible. A little frustrating.
The Phoblographer: A lot of photographers and creatives encountered a lot of tough times due to the lockdown restrictions. How did you reinvent your business during this time?
Niko: Photography is my secondary activity, so I did not suffer from an economic point of view. My main work as a designer could be done remotely. I thought a lot about my professional photographer friends.
The Phoblographer: Take us through the making of your favourite image from this series.
Niko: I can talk about the first photo in the series, the one with the girl taking off with a mask as a paraglider wing. The idea is quite simple. As I said, this project was born back to partial freedom with the beautiful days. I wanted to symbolize this return to freedom and, at the same time, the leap into this new world. I wanted something simple and uncluttered. Next to my home, there is this paragliding spot that I wanted to use in my photos. The concept came quickly. I also wanted the model to be just suspended in the void without security to illustrate the fragility of the situation and the still-present risk.
The photo shooting for this image took just 10 min. I prepare a lot in advance to be efficient. Some photos were needed to complete the assembly. I made a small “making of” video to show the achievement.
The Phoblographer: How complex were the edits to make the masks look realistic at these sizes?
Niko: I’m used to working on enlarging or shrinking objects or people. With practice, it is not very complicated. It is necessary to take the objects to be enlarged in fairly good quality in tight framing but without blurring effect due to the shorter depth of field in “macro” mode. The interaction between the model and the mask takes place at the level of the hands. For that, I gave the model pieces of white pipes so that she really held something in her hands. The integration was easier that way.
The Phoblographer: I like how the bubble images were shot outdoors, almost in direct contradiction to the idea of the bubble itself. Was this intentional?
Niko: Yes, of course. We were confined to our homes without being able to go out. It was our protection against the virus. Once outside, we discovered barrier gestures and social distances. This bubble symbolizes this safe zone around us that we must have at all times in our activities.
The Phoblographer: We’re probably going to get back to regular living someday, but do you think we’d ever get over the paranoia that wearing masks in public brought about?
Niko: I do not know yet. You can forget things over time. Everything will depend on the time taken for the return to a totally normal life, the life before. If she ever comes back. In any case, I wanted to mark this time by making a few images so as not to forget and to bear witness to our states of mind during those moments. Lots of artists have done it, and that’s good. Inevitable but essential.
The Phoblographer: What are some of the ideas you thought of that didn’t make it to the final series. Are there more similar series planned?
Niko: I will not reveal the ideas that I would like to realize next summer. I haven’t planned any other series yet. I will continue this one and the one on the seaside and ocean pollution. These projects are linked to the level of masks as waste!
The Phoblographer: The widespread usage of these masks has also led to an unintended consequence – the improper disposal of them. Do you hope to bring awareness to this issue with your work?
Niko: I do not have such a claim, but it can contribute modestly to make us think. Every day I see masks thrown on the beaches, the edges of the paths, in the forest … it annoys me. My photos are a way of expressing myself on the subject. I hope that with a little humor and poetry, the message can get through.
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