Daily Inspiration #361 by Kedgar Volta

ǝɯ embellished

As an artist, I am fascinated by the extent to which the cultivated identities we project align with public perception. With this project, I hope to show how our most careful calculations of identity can easily become exercises in tolerance and adaptability. The subjects I chose willingly abandoned their usual appearances in favor of embellished poses that emphasize the strange and uncomfortable. By assembling this large-scale amalgam of transmuted egos and faces in a public setting, my intent is to show how our perceptions can clash with reality, especially in how we regard those outside the mainstream of society.

About the Project

In our digital age, with smart phone cameras so readily available, it’s likely you have lots and lots of photos. How do you decide which ones to keep and which ones to delete? Typically, if I look good in a photo, I will keep it. If I look bad, I usually don’t. In terms of our public identity on social media or other public outlets, if we don’t like how we look in a photo, we often discard the image. We’re all concerned, to some degree, about what other people think about us.

So, what if you were asked to have a photo taken, knowing ahead of time that you were not going to look good? And, to top it off, you knew you couldn’t even glance at it before it went on display as part of a public art exhibit for anyone to see. Would you still pose for the portrait?

We presented this exact scenario to hundreds of people by asking them to embellish themselves in a different way, and in the process, give up any concern for what others may think of their image. We encouraged them to shift their paradigm of what they think looks good, if only for a moment.

More than 600 individuals – of varied ages, sexes, races and walks of life – were up to the challenge. We took photos at various locations around town, letting each participant know that if their photo came out bad enough, they would make the cut and be featured in a photo exhibit during downtown Jacksonville’s Hispanic Art Walk. You can see the 300 individuals that made the cut at www.facebook.com/kedgarvolta. We applaud them for stepping out of their comfort zone, messing up their hair and starring insanely into the camera. They dared to be seen in a way that was sometimes disheveled, sometimes ugly, but always different.

As humans, we are constantly confronted with people, situations and beliefs that are different from ours. Sometimes this challenges our personal cultural norms, values, and aesthetics. But, at the end of the day – art is in the eye of the beholder, and beauty is always subjective.


Vanessa K. Harper



Adianez García Campos


Thank you,

Kedgar Volta


  1. Wow, it really gets on my TIT-ENDS when people shoot down other peoples work and especially when they give really petty tech reasons for their negative spiel.

    I love your work in concept and execution and the final quality and presentation is excellent IMO.

    Thanks for SHARING.

  2. Oh Stanis, no need to make silly guesses and would-be insults about my work. Steve’s blog will continue to grow with robust critiques of images and not with compliant acceptance of anything that comes along.
    The important thing is that these images and all the others still get posted, but I’m sure Steve is not after just unconditional praise for them. That would be very, very boring.

    So cheer up, stanis, and start to appreciate and support diversity of opinion.

  3. Perhaps I had to elaborate: of course, when done well Lomography is a beautiful work of art: any personal expression is, if done well (prob is, as every new method of expression widely available to many people, lomography, as iphoneography, has an abysmal level of “white noise” so the beautiful examples are lost amid a sea of casual uglyness). And an ugly image is just ugly, even if pushes the boundaries or break the rules.

  4. Post processing is just a scientific adjustment of the already taken image. It is ok to make things darker or lighter to enhance the tonal quality of the photo, maybe straighten a photo a bit, but it never changes the quality of any photo..well not in the photo qualities that do count. The problem arises for some one doing PP with things like cutting and moving around shapes or moving other objects or lines or other things added or subtracted in computer PP, which begins to become a form of computer graphic design. If that is someones fancy, they should get into graphic design instead.

    Another critical problem in photographic PP is that many photo people have learned or have been told that PP makes photos better. It does, but only in a technical clinical aspect. Sure, one can make night into day, and vice versa, one can bring up more detaisl or less when burning or dodging, but all that really does is “enhance” an already good, bad, or mediocre photo. It does not, fortunately, make a bad photo into mediocrity or a good photo into a great one. A photo should stand on it’s own legs the instant after it is made. No amount of PP can save a boring photo. No amount of PP makes a good photo any better. PP stands on a really a fine line and when it’s crossed, when does a photo stop becoming a photo and turn into something else? How much PP do one have to add before it is no longer a photo but a graphic design? People have to understand too that one can paint their car into a completely new color or even into a better design, the car may look more cooler or better, but how good the car is does not change. One can PP the hell out of their car but it sure aint gonna to change their Pinto into a Lambo.

    The things that count in photos are not how many tones you can achieve in PP, or how dark or lighter you can make it, it is something else that has to do with the hand and eye before the camera shutter is pressed, that’s all. The camera hasnt changed as a light capturing device since its inception. We went form glass to film to now digital (excuse me if i missed one) but it’s still primarily a light capturing device. The craftsman that moves the device and when the shutter is pressed ( yes, i know there are different lenses, apertures) are the only things that seperates one photo from another in terms of quality of artistic content. For example, someone can chase all the tones in PP they want but I’d rather look at one great photo with just 8 tones and apposed to a boring photo with 39 tones.

  5. Conceptually, this has some legs on it. However, I’m also of the camp that the execution leads me to a some confusion.

    The post work is done fine but was it entirely necessary?

    It’s rather different to have the subjects pimping themselves out differently but another entirely to artificially enhance their image beyond what is actually possible outside of heavy stage makeup. It makes me think the artist had a preconceived end-state they were trying to attain rather than discovering it through rigorous (& artistic) process.

    It’s not bad mind you; it’s still interesting at least visually, but the concept sort of gets lost in the post processing. Where it could have been about the subjects, instead, I now know, you have some pretty elite photoshop skills! *which isn’t at all a bad thing, mind you.

  6. I think this is a refreshing post! Would have loved to see the whole project in real live ! Great work Kedgar !

    But what surprises me are all these nasty comments, also on previous reader’s posts. Shouldn’t we show some more respect? Everyone has his/her vision, approach, view on his/her art or photography or whatever… Luckily!!!…Otherwise all posts would be very very very boring.

    Anyway , I chose to think positive. I started learning in art school 35 years ago, I am still constantly learning each day and will do so till the day I’ll die, so I have no time to leave nasty comments 🙂

  7. at least a topic that out focus gear and speak of picture, you like it or not, but at least we read about inspiration and NOT about the love of a guy for its gear, wish to read only these kind of inspiration everyday and not a show out of a deep pocket man owning a luxry camera and taking pics of a bin to see if it s camera produced IQ. well done Vanessa, sweet inspiration at the right place

  8. thats the kind of look you will find on these folks after just witnessing an A bomb that went off at a nearby town…

  9. I never though there was that much of a world between photographers aspiring to make great photos and artists aspiring to make great art with photography.

    I love this art project. I can’t say it inspires me as a aspiring photographer, but it definitely made a lasting impression on me.

  10. The photos are interesting and it is a commendable attempt, but the point is outlined specifically in great, well written detail in the text. I feel that point was not fulfilled IMHO

  11. Interesting project, I feel however by asking people to deliberately look bad, it takes away from the point of the exercise of exploring the fact that people dont like looking bad in photos. It gives the willing participant control over their outward appearance and removes them from the everyday and inserts them into a fabricated reality where they are going to part of a social group where everyone looks bad. Therefore its acceptable and therefore becomes something other han the original concept.

    Fascinating project tho, maybe by not giving the volunteers so much disclosure as the final outcome of the project may have deliver more awkward portraits based in the real world instead of simply lots of funny faces.

    • Just for example, a different way to have approach the subject may have been to give people a camera with no LCD or a film camera. Get them to take their normal going out with their friends photos which would usually end up on Facebook following The aforementioned cull of ugly photos of themselves, however have them surrender the camera to you first and use photos that they haven’t seen of themselves and the photos that may have previously been deleted. just for example this may explore the social implications of outward projection of personalities in photography than staging bad photos in a studio. IMHO I may be way out.

      Ps the photos are very well done, nice technique, I just think they miss the mark conceptually.

    • I don’t, totally, agree. The point is making an interesting image. Whatever it takes. This is a commendable attempt.

  12. Like it or not, that is art. It’s not because it’s not according to your taste or main stream or according to what we usually see that it’s not art.

    The idea and technic are excellent, it stands out in itself.

    Thanks, great serie, I enjoyed it.

  13. Goodon ya on the exhibition!! Looks grand. Might i suggest that u back off on the vignetting and clarity slide in lightroom. It makes people look like zombies and is cliched. Great expressions and effort on photographing 600 people

  14. I like the concept, but am confused about the execution. In the text, the subjects were “asked to embellish themselves in a different way” – but in the photographs, it seems that they were all embellished in the exact SAME way – same hair, same facial expression, etc. I would call it “600 people making the same wide-eyed expression”. I find it interesting, but if I was going to look at all 600, a little more variance in expression and pose might hold my attention longer.

    I really like the PP work, and would like to see a step-by-step write-up on how it was achieved. Would be good for stylized portraits overall.

    • If you look up Kedgar’s site you’ll find he takes a “no embellishment” stand. Maybe embellishment is his favorite word.

  15. It’s not entirely impossible that an ill conceived concept, multiplied by 600, turns out to be a good concept. I doubt if that is the case here. I found the images no more than mildly interesting, and not really worth a third glance.

    While we’re at the subject of concepts and multipliers, look up the glass negative work of Norman Post, a Dutch photographer. He doesn’t have his subjects make “funny” faces; they just stare into the camera and the immediately recognizable DoF of big format is strangely compelling.

    Look him up!

  16. imo, a great portrait should be able to show you someones personality. You can almost see inside of there soul, and meet them through the photograph. This almost reminds me of the funny yearbook photos we took as teenagers. I just don’t see it.

    • tim, you told Ibraar “..BTW, you need to learn when you use an apostrophe and when to use a quotation”.

      Might I suggest an apostrophe in your phrase “..someones personality..”, and perhaps using “their” in the phrase “..there soul”?

      And if you find these comments annoying, why bother annoying Ibraar by criticising his spelling just for the sake of it?

      As a courtesy to him, you might even spell Ibraar’s name correctly.

  17. With todays amazing sensors and resolution, coupled with the availability of stellar lens from several manufacturers, and the infinite possibility of digital processing, it is not that complicated to put someone in front of a camera and have super precise images with out of this world colors. The real challenge of the current portrait photographers is to convey an emotion. I don’t feel much of anything here. Just my opinion.

  18. It’s done millions of times a day. Every time we take a picture of a child without their consent. I doubt they even care.

  19. A fascinating exhibition that breaks rules and photography’s rigid conservatism. These portraits remind me of those early daguerreotype portraits that were taken over 150 years ago ; a time when people had not learned how to pose before a camera and had no idea how they looked.

    • Interesting to see that, when one has failed to find any content or merit in a thing, the USUAL expression that is used in the end is that “breaks the rules”.
      Anyone of us, continuosly, beak the rules when he/she chooses to disregard the Rules of Thirds, or a canonical balance in light and shadows, or any of the little things they teach you at school…
      but we all know that sometimes the result will be a good shot, sometimes a bad one.
      The bad ones are bad shoots. Period.

      • Andrea: I’m principally a painter, not a photographer. I plan a painting – in my head – from start to finish, sometimes for years, before actually putting oil onto canvas. Composition in my work, is one of my biggest brain-draining activities; because structure in a picture can radically influence how an image is read. I never use the ‘rule of thirds’ in my painting. In my photography, I avoid it as much as possible. To my mind, the rule of thirds is akin to the 4/4 time (4 beats to the bar) used so often in pop music: familiar, comforting, safe…and perhaps, at times, boring. That beat can, of course, give rise to great music (in pop and classical music), and the rule of thirds can be seen in great images, but there is no law, no holy decree saying that it must be followed. Beethoven’s 5th symphony is in 2/4 time; and hey just look at the geometry in Cartier-Bresson’s pictures – he didn’t follow the rules: he bent them, twisted them, knotted them and pulled them through. These compositional ‘rules’ are established formulas that produce a result that we find aesthetically pleasing and these rules often create useful boundaries, but they can also lock our minds into a limited way of thinking and stifle creativity.
        Here’s a painting by Edgar Degas (1834-1917) – that pesky French impressionist painter who broke all the rules. You can see in this painting how deeply influenced he was by… photography:
        http://www.ricci-art.net/img002/569.jpg Dégenerate, n’est pas?

        • People always misunderstand what the “rules” in art are or not. The saying is there are never any “rules” in art. That is true but it refers to the fact that there is no a rule or guide line of how one should go about doing things, there are No limits or borders on creativity…BUT.. within a medium there are always rules or “principles” of design. There are always element of design one has to learn, just like there are things that one has to master. Picasso could paint academically at the age of 16 or so and broke the conventional “rules” or ideals how painting should be. Arguably, Cezanne was the first western painter to do this as he is regarded as the grand father or western modern art.
          No matter how many “rules ” one wants to break, one has to understand that if one is doing a painting, they are painting on a rectanglular 2d flat surface. You can’t paint past the borders of the canvas, so there are constraints, for every artist or as i prefer, craftsman.

          The rule of thrds in art is just a guideline so that people don’t start putting their main subject right in the tiny corner of the canvas. You of course can, but folks are jsut gonna say you have absolutely no design sense. So there are “rules or guidelines” of what works and what does not. Painting is not infinite like the universe…it is painting on a 2d surface. If you look at every single great painter, and there arent anymore since Picasso, you can see that in every great painting there is a sense of design, you can tell the painters know their “craft” even though they did not follow conventional “rules” of ideas or how to apply paint.

          With Bresson’s work, what make them special is the fact that underlying his compositions, which are not neccessarily unconventional, is his “timing” or has he called himself, ” the decisive moment”. This is from a man who studied painting and drawing first and considered BW photos to be no more than ” instant drawing”.
          Compositional aspects of anything , whether in design , or painting or photography cannot be ignored, there are of course no rules on which angle for instance you should take a picture of somehow, or how you should go about painting someone, but THERE ARE principles of design one must learn to master in each work. Because if there is good composition, there is bad compostion. Back to Bresson, he not only has composition and design elements similar to paintings, he had the the “spark” within his subject which makes his best works shine. You take away that “spark” from any of his great works, and all you have are boring run of the mill cityscapes, or lanscape or stuill life photos. Anyone can shoot a flower or a landscape wth a good composition, but how many can have a picture with that and more? Something special? there are very few indeed. I have seen tonnes of good compositions, anyone with a design sense can make a good composition or bad one, but I have seen very very few great photographs. If making great works of art is easy, we’ all be great. It’s neve that easy, it’s more than just conventional, to understand what great art is we must understand what makes great art great.

          Look at any of Bressons work in any of the books and you dont get one bad composition. Are they different, yes, but those designs were used by painters long before and painters before them. there is only so much you can do in terms of design in a 2d rectangle that hasn’t already been done before . We are only repeating in desgin what Bresson repeated in painters long long long before.Desing and composition are just ONE aspect or side the artistic coin.The painter Francis Bacon said that painting has a duality, like 2 sides of the coin.one side has design, the other side is subject matter, you can never escape from having to deal with both of them. Even if you say you dont want to paint a subject, by merely putting paint on a canvas you already have a subject, a dab, a blob, lines…those are all subjects as well.

          Picasso was a great innovator, but he could draw and paint, Vangogh was not a draftsman, but he could draw damn well. Drawing and copying are two different things. All great artists can draw, lousy artists can copy or not even that. Great artists seem to be able to master two sides of the coin, desing and subject matter, no matter how it is…and within thos two things, something makes them sing. You can call it creativity that works, as not all creativity can work. Even the apprentices of great painter hundreds of years ago were great, because they could draw and paint. even if they are lesser known. We don’t have this today because everyone thinks everything is subjective. Everyone thinks everyone else or themselves to be great. Western painters, from Picasso back all the way down to Piero della Francesca could draw or paint. Impressionsim broke the “rules” of IDEA…an idea of how lnascapes should be painted. This ideal was supported by traditonal academic painter of the time.But in ever Impressionist lanscape you always find good design or composition, you can never escape it unless you make a bad composition. Even..even academic painters were great painters because their paintign were great. But the impressionists were also great painter and they, like many great painters broke the rules of creative constraints. We call this “INNOVATION.”

          Man has always put contraints on himself or others, especially creative constraints. We wouldn’t have any artitist breakthroughs if mankind isnt so ignorant and unwilling to change. But it’s all been done now. We can only make things a little different, re-examine things like Bresson for photography. we can’t reinvent the wheel. There are no rules in art but there is always a craft to be learned.

      • anger is a useful emotion in politics. but not in a community like this one which is clearly invested in the life force that is photography. it’s thriling to see such varied visions as kedgar’s realized in this medium. is there any other medium so ripe with creativity? books, films, paintings are rigidified by the money culture into adhering to what is conventionally beautiful and saleable. kedgar’s work is thrilling because it is so strange. and it is sublime that steve huff opens the doors to so many odd visions.

  20. One or two portraits made in this way can be interesting… but 600 of them? All of people “making faces” and with the same filter applied? Sorry but IMHO it looks too much like the works of the so-called “lomographers”, a.k.a. a confused concept realized in a poorly conceived way and supported by a convoluted and “artsy” explaination…

    • Andrea, I think your statement describing ‘Lomography’ as confused concept realised in a poorly conceived way is absolute and total Bunkum, and ignorant. Lomography, done properly is beautiful, is artistic and I think it’s far better than the great majority of the work of so called ‘Photographers’ who snap away and call that ‘art’.
      Sorry, I had to say that, as I disagree with you.

      • Ibrarr, just because you don’t like the opinion of Andrea does not mean you need to cut down the work of others. BTW, you need to learn when you use an apostrophe and when to use a quotation.

        • I didn’t cut the work of others down, I’m just reversing what Andrea said, as it can apply to anything. And as for the apostrophe – it’s called laziness! (I have to press the shift key to tap in a quotation mark). 🙂

  21. Can I get in before the “Thanks for Sharing” brigade arrives? Kedgar’s namesake, Allessandro Volta would be proud. It would appear a couple of wires from a stack of his electro-chemical piles have been applied to each subject and then the shutter was tripped. Actually, the tones are interesting, anticipating the outcome pallor of such electrocutions. But inspirational? No.

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