Photographer Julia Keil decided to turn the camera on herself, making a series of self-portraits inspired by paintings, the cinema or other photographs.

Having been in London for a couple of months, Keil arrived back in Paris just as it was going into lockdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

“Rather than going out and reconnecting with the streets I love to roam, I found myself abruptly bound to the constraints of my sixth-floor flat,” she says.

“Like many, I was suddenly isolated and uncertain of tomorrow.

“I felt as if in a dream, living somewhere between the real and surreal with the only guidance being news stories, hearsay and the changes I observed happening around me from day to day.”

“I quickly realised that with no work and no social life, I had gone from having no time to having plenty.

“All excuses I gave myself for not pursuing my creative ideas prior were now void.

“Each day, I decided on a portrait – I’d immerse myself into that world.

“I researched, listened to the music from that era or movie soundtrack and watched movies and documentaries.

“I studied the pose and emotion which a chosen image or painting exuded and, of course, gave myself the time taking the picture and processing it after.

“Having the world slow down, despite the tragic circumstances, on some aspects can be taken as a gift – a gift that can be filled with not just fear but with hope and an opportunity to reflect, to learn and to re-connect in ways we perhaps had pushed aside in the world that used to be.”

“Everything which formed each image I improvised with what I already had at home with the exception of a couple wigs, which I awaited eagerly from Amazon.

“Pursuing this ongoing project has given a structure and a playground to my days in lockdown as well as a means to visually communicate what I and others could be currently feeling or experiencing.

“This portrait was both inspired by the news that all non-essential orders from Amazon had been suspended in France but also by the Greek myth of Pandora, who gave in to her curiosity and released disease, death and misery upon the world from a mysterious box bestowed upon her by Zeus. She hastened to close the box but realised there was something left inside which felt different. As she opened the box once more, the last thing fluttered out, full of light and spirit, spreading a sense of calm over the previous panic and pain. This light was hope. And hope is a gift we humans have flowing through our collective veins, urging us to keep going while filling us with a knowing that this too shall pass.”

“Gerhard Richter’s works have always been an inspiration to me, from a young age. Ironically, so has hiding the face from the camera. For this portrait, I decided to be without costume and to recreate this wiped-paint effect using lip balm and cling film.”

“Originally, I thought of just recreating Lady Lilith, by Dante Rossetti, and waited for the precise moment that the evening light turned golden. However, as I took the image, rather than holding a mirror as Lady Lilith does, I grabbed my phone, which has become a sign of self-reflection and communication allowing us to stay connected in isolation.”

“This picture was inspired by the film Pulp fiction, directed by Quentin Tarantino. I wanted to recreate this iconic movie poster with objects representative of today. I titled it Real Fiction due to the many surreal, tragic and at times sensational stories that keep flooding through our feeds.”

“While brainstorming iconic images, this beautiful painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Johannes Vermeer, came to mind and, as I didn’t have any big pearl earrings, I improvised with what I did have – a pair of egg earrings and the blue towel I wrap around my head after every shower.”

“I watched the vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive, directed by Jim Jarmusch, the night before taking the photo. I felt it too reflected the current climate, with few people going out during the day and being in states of isolation, like the character of Adam. I recreated the opening scene and surrounded myself with books of fiction and dreams, to comment on the surreal, dreamlike world I sometimes feel like I and others are in.”

“I spent the day in the sunshine by my window clutching my broken disco ball in the hope of catching the right reflections, all while blasting tunes by artists such as Sister Sledge, Blondie and Chic. This was followed by a home screening of Saturday Night Fever.”

“Some days are blue. Picasso’s blue period stemmed from his fall into depression. The subject in his Femme aux Bras Croisés, who could be an inmate of the Saint-Lazare hospital-prison in Paris, carries a blank expression of someone who has been through much suffering and has fallen under a deep and dark spell. This blank stare and isolated state was something which I related to and sought to recreate.”

“This one was inspired by the character of Pris in the movie Blade Runner directed, by Ridley Scott. Nowadays, thoughts of the future are constant and filled with uncertainty. This film was released in 1982 and set in the then future of 2019. In many ways, it evaluates the meaning of being human in a watchful world, something which resonated with me in our current state of re-evaluating our ways of living and data collection.”

“I had been wandering through the Paris streets beyond my window through the words of Hemingway. Some days are overcome by fatigue and a mind filled with noise accompanied by a longing for inner silence and air.”

With Paris due to remain on lockdown until 11 May, Keil says she will continue taking self-portraits. You can follow her on Instagram @juliakkeil and see her other work on her website.

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