The Alchemy series is an ongoing collaboration between photographer Michel Leroy and a wide range of professional athletes with varying body types that explores the tension between physicality and identity. The images are simple in form, but rich in ideas and emotions. Each moment captured is a celebration of athletic confidence and vitality at its most pure. Moments of sculptural balance, anticipation and strength define the graceful lines and organic gestures of these vivid Black and White images.
In this figurative series the artist creates body-positive images that are exaggerated and explicit without sexual objectification. By emphasizing form over identity, Leroy seduces the viewer to reveal empathy for body acceptance that transcends the self-image obsession of social media.
In the view of the artist it is vital to preserve what makes each of us unique and push back against imaging that reinforces the cycle of negative self-objectification where people view themselves as products for consumption. Therefore, Leroy is optimistic that by sharing photographs, videos and publishing stories from the Alchemy series viewers will be uplifted regarding their own self-image, challenge preconceptions about size and embrace a fresh perspective on the singular beauty of the human form.
The creative process is of great relevance and bears witness to the labour-intensive technique reminiscent of a Daguerreotype in the pixel age. The photographic style was developed over a year of experimentation with a mixture of analog and digital elements including camera, lens, lighting and post-production workflow to achieve the unrelenting clarity and unique dark metallic look. The images are also notable for the tactile permanence of flesh revealed through the in-camera technique that enhances textures and brings out details unseen by the casual glance.
The choice of dark bodies against a dark background focuses the viewer’s attention on form and shape over the sexuality and eroticism of typical nude photography. The physical process of transmuting the skin metallic unites the constellation of skin tones to illuminate physical radiance and emphasize the physical similarity of bodies over ethnic diversity.
Intentional shadowing and the ambiguous mixture of masculine and feminine posing further blurs the lines between gender and identity challenging viewers to question their assumptions. The result of these creative decisions are images that are familiar at a glance but invite critical inspection and are open to more than one interpretation.
The collaboration between Michel Leroy and the 75+ athletes he has photographed for the Alchemy series started in early 2017. The creative decision to keep the project discrete and hidden from public display for a year allowed for total creative freedom. Without the distraction of praise or criticism Leroy was able to explore the artistic process without influence and let the strength of the images reveal themselves as the series grew.
The goal of the Alchemy series is to create visually captivating, body positive images that celebrate the physicality of the human form and speak to the cultural relevance of body acceptance in the social media age.
Artist Michel Leroy recognizes a need for openness and exchange around body imaging. The Alchemy images embrace the conversation and set an example for figurative photography that is relevant, inclusive and provocative in the ongoing dialogue about identity and self-confidence.
The more viewers who experience the images through exhibitions, videos, talks, articles and social media the greater the opportunity to explore the issue of mutual respect for every body type that helps build a support system of acceptance for people both in person and online.
Michel Leroy Photography Editions