Cooper & Gorfer

UTOPIA or The Mistake of the Intellect

Fine art photography duo and Hasselblad Ambassadors Sarah Cooper and Nina Gorfer wanted to create an imaginary place – a constructed, utopic setting. Featuring young female subjects that have all relocated to Sweden due to some type of forced migration, Cooper & Gorfer explore the illusion of utopia; just as utopias are deconstructed and rebuilt, the same is done to the series’ protagonists who are cut and pasted into layered worlds of collages. Using the Hasselblad X1D-50c, Cooper & Gorfer overlap portraits with beautifully executed collage techniques and hand-drawn textures, blending photography and painting in their newest series, UTOPIA or The Mistake of the Intellect.

© Cooper & Gorfer
A Portrait of Jana
Camera: Hasselblad X1D-50c

THE PROJECT

Over the last 12 years, Cooper & Gorfer have traveled to Argentina, Iceland, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, among others, to explore various cultures that lay at the center of their projects. Intrigued by the notion of what a utopia means in today’s world, they dug deeper into this illusionary idea by, for the first time, exploring characters in their home base of Sweden.

© Cooper & Gorfer
Segal and the Tiger
Camera: Hasselblad X1D-50c

THE SUBJECTS

“The age of our protagonists was important; in adolescence, there is this possibility of obtaining utopia. We wanted to revisit that moment,” Cooper explains. The females featured in the series, all between the ages of 17 and 24 years old, all have a sort of forced migration background. Cooper & Gorfer visited various schools in Sweden, meeting with teachers and interviewing girls to cast in their series, asking them everything from their thoughts around utopia and what it felt like to what it looked like and if they believed in such a society.

Typically, Cooper & Gorfer ask their subjects to bring an article of clothing that has been part of their family and culture. In some of the subjects’ cases, due to relocating abruptly, they did not have more than what they could fit in their pockets. Just as a utopic society would be deconstructed and built again, the girls were also recreated with various textiles and props.

© Cooper & Gorfer
The Mountain
Camera: Hasselblad X1D-50c

It was really important that we create and put things on to the subjects, compared to our previous work where the subjects were more involved with how they wanted to be depicted. It’s also the idea that now they are here, in Sweden. They will be assimilated into the culture, clothed and constructed by the culture. And the society has their prejudices – how we want to put things onto them, how we want to see them.

THE PROCESS

The pair begin with photography, with the Hasselblad camera and photographing their subjects. This is followed by multiple states of collaging where they re-photograph the image over and over again. A mix of digital collaging and physical cutting and pasting and re-digitalizing is done in order to achieve their illusionary images. “As you can see in the photos, the bodies are multi-leveled, reconstructed from front to back. Parts of the arm are missing and then underneath you can see the layer of another world. The girls are locked in a labyrinth of this created world that we have imagined for them,” explains the duo.

Cooper & Gorfer’s process relates to this idea of a utopia – in the end, a utopia cannot be easily built. “It has to be annihilated and deconstructed in order to have the chance to experience it. It has to be dismantled and rebuilt, but ultimately, it’s always just an illusion,” says Gorfer.

© Cooper & Gorfer
Yohana Holding Scissors
Camera: Hasselblad X1D-50c

© Cooper & Gorfer
Roseline with Raised Arms
Camera: Hasselblad X1D-50c

© Cooper & Gorfer
Shadi or the Girl With Many Hands
Camera: Hasselblad X1D-50c

Using the X1D

We’re sort of collectors. We use the camera a lot to collect textures. And you never know when you’re maybe going to find something that’s good for the collection. This camera made it so that you always had the camera with you. And I have a lot of moments where, if it had not been for this camera, I would have had to go back and take certain shots. Being on the run all the time, the X1D was the perfect camera for this project.

–     Sarah Cooper

We were really, happily surprised by the quality of the X1D. We were in a lot of low-light conditions and it was very good to use there. The images are such high quality and the colors are really beautiful and natural. Combining the quality and the light weight, the X1D is very practical.

–     Nina Gorfer

© Cooper & Gorfer
The Sleeping Girl
Camera: Hasselblad X1D-50c

ABOUT COOPER & GORFER

Sarah Cooper (Pittsburgh, USA) and Nina Gorfer (Vienna, Austria) met in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2005 while studying their master, sparking their collaborative work and creative partnership. Gothenburg became their studio – an incubator of ideas. With backgrounds in fine art photography/music production and architecture, respectively, they led different careers before photography became their common base. “We released each other’s creativity, sort of that perfect storm,” says Cooper. Focusing on female subjects while exploring powerful, political and personal themes, the fine art duo is known for their visually rich collage portraits and free visual language. See more of their work here.

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