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The Romanian photographer Nicolae Cosniceru puts a new spin on commercial and fashion photography. His images are stylish and polished, yet also have a rough, urban, element that takes viewers by surprise and makes them look closer at his pictures. They are often a study in contrast, in juxtaposition. Take, for instance, his high fashion photo shoot that takes place in a prison. The gorgeous models, dressed for a red carpet event, elegantly step out of the prison cells as if they were leaving a fancy restaurant. Next to them we see several prisoners, dressed in dingy prison uniforms, sitting calmly on a bench and getting their buzz haircuts. From their facial expressions you’d think: life as usual, for both the glamorous women and the imprisoned men. But the incongruity of the setting for the high fashion shoot adds an element of surprise that makes you do a double-take. Whatever may seem familiar about the world of entertainment and high fashion–which has almost taken the place of politics on the news–becomes, once again, refreshingly new.

Many of Cosniceru’s images also have more than a hint of humor. In Self-Portrait, featured above, the subject poses with the insolent manner of a European artist and intellectual: cigarette in hand (à la Jean-Paul Sartre?); in a spiffy black jacket; white striped shirt not buttoned all the way (only businessmen do that); gaze oriented upwards, most likely lost in profound thoughts. But the setting, once again, is rather unexpected and incongruous. The intellectual conducts his artistic contemplation not quite on the throne, but close enough: in a public restroom. For an added humorous touch, the toilet paper on the table is offered at a discount. And just to make sure viewers know they’re dealing with an Eastern European context, the bathroom door is smeared with the word DEFECT.

In a recent interview, Nicolae Cosniceru told me that he plans an artistic image to the same degree of detail that a painter would plan his painting. Self-Portrait includes relevant details, such as a cockroach on the floor, symbolic of the misery of the communist era. The photographer also revealed that he thought about placing a female model inside the stall, so viewers could see a woman’s feet and shoes instead of a man’s, to heighten the effect of the juxtapositions of the image. Devoted to the art of photography and a passionate aesthete–as well as, simultaneously, a loving and devoted husband and father–Cosniceru gives it his all, both in his art and in his family life.

Bakhtin, the famous Russian literary critic, argued that good literature (and art) is great at rendering the familiar new again. He coined a word for this process: defamiliarization. Through its surprising and innovative contrasts, Cosniceru’s photography defamilizes every concept and context it portrays, obliging viewers to look at his subjects with new eyes: not just once, but twice. Because when you look at Cosniceru’s provocative images it’s nearly impossible to resist doing a double-take. You can see more of his photography on his websites http://cosniceru.com/ and  http://www.fotofactory.ro/

Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com