Masks & Facades – Perspectives on St. Petersburg is a book handling themes of jewelry and the pleasure of wearing it. The Leipzig-based photographer Olaf Martens has created this book that bears witness to a comical and eccentric form of aesthetics.

Olaf Martens

Regarding this book, the art critic Klaus Honnef comments that “it is only after detailed observation that the reader notices that there’s something not quite right with these pictures”. And, he is right. When flipping through this marvelously illustrated book, it seems to be a shrill panorama of dancing girls lounging about in armchairs and sofas, ballet dancers at the buffet or long-legged maids set in splendid scenery. Only when you take a second look you notice how perfect the photographer composed his pictures. There is nothing further from Olaf Martens’ mind than creating a photographic record of whatever happens to appear before his lens. He would much rather put his own stamp on the happenings. He places his model between a worker and a cook, he rolls a bouncy rubber ball through the magnificent scenery of a baroque stairway or has a dancing girl prance over a shabby street dressed in glorious colors. He is skilled at blending appearance with reality, mixed with optical incongruities and an aesthetics rarely seen in jewelry, fashion or beauty photography. That is why his book is a fantastic collection of precisely constructed iconic worlds that capture the beauty, glory and boisterously staged aura of St. Petersburg.

Jewelry – or what most people think is jewelry – does not figure prominently in the photographs of this free-lance lifestyle photographer. But his love of decoration reflects in every picture. Costumes painstakingly embroidered with paillettes, feather boas, shoes set with strass and followed up by a multitude of exotic headgear bear witness to St. Petersburg’s gushing lust for life and exaggerated artificiality. If we can tear our eyes away from the scene, from the semi-demolished, semi-magnificient city on the Neva River, we recognize that everybody loves adornment, no matter how attractive or unattractive the specific surroundings seem to be.

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