Thomas Weisskopf

The truth behind the make-up
With their long hair, pert noses and pouting lips, these photographic models embody the ideals of feminine beauty and masculine erotic fantasy. Perfectly made-up and with a serious gaze, they expose themselves to the scrutiny of their viewers. Whether models, cosmetics salesgirls or dancers: these faces fit any role which calls for gracious femininity and a seductive pose, and suggest the promise of a desirable life for themselves and others. As queens of the night or dream princesses, they let us forget blemishes on the skin and shadows on the soul for a while. But can we trust these eyes? And our own? What does the make-up conceal, and what does it betray?

"Cut" could be translated as "alienated reality", as "final polish", or as "wound". Photographer Thomas Weisskopf does not translate his project titles with words, but demonstrates their ambiguity in his photographs. Since 1996 this Basle-based artist has traveled regularly to Bangkok, where he consorted with ladyboys - transvestites and transsexuals who work in the red light district as barmaids and dancers, prostitutes or beauty-salon assistants. In time, they came to trust him and became his friends.
The result is a series of photos which documents, constructs and deconstructs the identity of these ladyboys. In these portraits, the search for one's own identity is superposed with self-presentation for others. Self-images become pictures of alienation and vice-versa. Like make-up and spots, illusion and reality blend in a scintillating semblance into which yearning is etched like a wound. A painful, irritating cut.

This is not the first time that Thomas Weisskopf, who was born in Basel in 1969 and trained at the Academy of Design and Art in Zurich, has examined extreme forms of self-presentation and self-assertion. In 1995 he photographed the Basle gang of football fans, the "Ultras", over a longer period of time. He succeeded in producing highly expressive images of men who brandish their masculinity like a weapon. Their tough-guy image of a clenched fist corresponds to the perfect make-up of the Thais: accessories for the starring role in their own lives. In 2000, the Photo Foundation of Switzerland acquired some of his works. Thomas Weisskopf has also received a number of awards.

Maja Peter, Zürich
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