Clink, clang, clatter! Make way for the mythical human totems. This marvellous photographic series entitled Totem de Vie sees French snapper Kate Fichard transform her subjects into living sculptures. Masking their identities beneath a carefully curated selection of objects, this curious medley of balls, pots, books, hoola hoops and fine feather crowns bestow glimmers of their true individual spirits. We caught up with the talented Ms Fichard to find out more…

Inspired choice of subject! What sparked off the Totem de Vie project? I wanted to do something personal about the monumental strength of the human being. To represent the weight of life. I had the idea of making a portrait of a person raised as a sculpture with their own symbolic objects. Those objects had to represent their passions, environment, past, memories, family and professional activities. 

So how do you turn a human into a totem? Spending time at my models’ homes I’d say : “If your home was on fire, what would you take with you?”. We chose all the objects together and then I asked a set designer to build me a wooden structure – like a backpack – so I could fix all the objects to it.

If we had one super-human totem to represent all of us in the West, what would feature in the collection of worn objects? I’d think about a human who has to be protected in front of political or ecological problems. So it would be a human completely wrapped in solar panels to survive the consequences of climate change. Or a human fully armed with an accumulation of guns.

What drove your decision to hide the faces? I wanted to do a portrait in a different way, not a social portrait of a person in their own environment, but something that represented them. I wanted to extract their symbolic objects and “magnetise” them to their bodies. With these installations, I was trying to express the essence, the passion, like a caricature of my subject as a mask. The spectator has to imagine the person behind the totem.

What do you think about fashion? An authentic personal expression? Or a socially-constructed vehicle in which to hide our true identities? I’m divided between the two. Fashion is a form of personal identity. We are what we wear with our means, our character and origins, and we choose what the market offers us. On the other hand, fashion is created by people who want to spread a trend, a market which can’t be suitable for everyone.

What glimmers into the deeper workings of humankind shone through during this project? My favourite moments were when my models were discovering their totems. Seeing their reactions, what they were like in front of the mirror, these were touching and surprising moments for us. Also, making a totem is full of physical and technical confines, you can’t fix all the objects you want, they could be too fragile, too big, too heavy to carry. I needed constant solutions and creativity.

And finally, we’re really nosey…what would your Totem de Vie self-portrait look like? It would feature my grandmother’s bag and coat, my books, my dear family who I love and my ex-boyfriend who supported me. So I have to eat lots of spinach to be strong enough to carry all of it! ∎

Take a peek at Kate’s other work here.

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