The Art of Contortion
Dazzled by the enormous strength and flexibility of a young troupe of female contortionists, Hasselblad Ambassador Julia Fullerton-Batten brilliantly photographed these girls bending in all sorts of unimaginable positions. Utilizing her signature cinematic lighting set against spectacular rooms found around England, Julia’s images give us a fresh view into one of the oldest physical art forms dating back to ancient civilizations.
Tell us about this contortionist troupe
and how you found them.
The girls range from 12 – 16 years in age. I found most of them through their coach Pixie Le Knot who starred in Game of Thrones and in my 1814 Frost Fair short film. Some started training in gymnastics and then discovered that they were super bendy and now take contortionism very seriously. I have followed them on Instagram for quite a long time now and am always aware of any events they take part in. They are a wonderful, closely knit, cheerful group of girls.
How did you make such young subjects feel
comfortable for a shoot like this?
Most of the girls are used to performing on stage. Like all athletes it is very important for the girls to warm up properly prior to the shoot with exercises and practice stretching. I make sure that they have as much time as they want on set for their posing. I also rotate them; when one gets tired, she rests and another takes her place. It takes a lot physically to engage in their poses, especially a deep backbend as all of the other muscles are used to protect their spine. It was interesting to see that the girls eat only small amounts on the day they perform. Makes sense!
Tell us about the various locations you
have chosen to photograph the girls in.
One of my locations, the erstwhile Carmel College in Oxfordshire, was Europe’s only known Jewish boarding school. From 1948 to 1998 it provided a first-class education almost exclusively for Jewish pupils, initially only for boys; girls were admitted from 1986. It frequently topped the list of the most expensive boarding schools in Britain, and from 1970, was dubbed the “Jewish Eton” for its academic excellence and distinctive cultural affinity. It closed in 1997 for financial reasons and most of the buildings became derelict. I was drawn by the uniqueness of the rooms, but due to Covid, I had to wait for months for the opportunity to shoot there!
The second of my locations is a “members only” spectacular four-storey Georgian townhouse in East London that offers private liaisons - striptease, etc. A door hidden in a bookcase opens into exotically decadent rooms. You can easily get the impression that you are walking into a Baz Luhrmann movie set that oozes quirkiness with sophistication. The venue has been shut for months because of Covid but I got special dispensation to shoot there and grabbed the opportunity.
The final location is an architect’s award-winning home, inspired by a 1970s sci-fi film designed by architect Adam Richards. Set in a secluded valley, the traditional brick-clad building in the style of the historical ruins of a Roman villa contains grand concrete lined rooms that are modelled on those seen in the Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 science-fiction film, Stalker. A modernist house built in the countryside to replace an old farmworker's cottage, it is as far a cry from British rural architecture that one can imagine. I was permitted to remove most of the family’s possessions and artworks, converting it into a stark, brutalist gallery.
What do you focus on to bring
these images to fruition?
For most of my fine-art images the architectural setting is important to me. I try to remove as much as I can from the rooms and then repopulate it appropriately with props to construct the story that I am telling. It takes only subtle nuances to create the setting - cornflakes spilling from a package on the floor, boxing gloves hanging in the changing room of a gym, a fan standing on the floor, a girl holding a perfume bottle. I dream up scenarios for specific stories, then spend hours researching in prop houses for the best props. I don’t allow myself any compromise solutions.
How did you choose to dress the girls?
The girls’ wardrobes were challenging as they had to be able to bend in certain positions with ease and comfort, but at the same time, wear clothes that wouldn't hide their body shapes – otherwise the contorted figure would be hidden from view. We had a clothes-fitting day and tried out bendy moves in my garden in West London in the Summer of 2020. It was great fun and the girls were very excited!
How was using the H6D-100c
advantageous in this shoot?
In combination with the lenses and auxiliary equipment that I use, the H6D-100c personifies the ideal for me in respect of optimum of ease and the unparalleled image quality. The latter is essential for me as I exhibit very large prints (mostly over 1 metre in width). I love shooting with the H6D-100c.
ABOUT JULIA FULLERTON-BATTEN
Hasselblad Ambassador Julia Fullerton-Batten is a worldwide acclaimed and exhibited fine art photographer. Her use of unusual locations and highly creative settings accented with cinematic lighting are hallmarks of her very distinctive style of photography. She insinuates visual tension in her images and imbues them with a hint of mystery, which combines to tease the viewer to re-examine the picture, each time seeing more content and finding a deeper meaning. She has won countless awards for both her commercial and fine-art work and won the title of Hasselblad Master in 2008. Learn more about Julia Fullerton-Batten here or on her IG: @julia_fullertonbatten.
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