Text JF. Pierets Photos Charlotte Lybeer
From 2003 until 2008, Charlotte Lybeer photographed gated communities and actual “theme parks” in the US, South Africa, Europe, China and the Arab Emirates. ‘The success of these ‘enclaves’ proves that in a society without boundaries, we still desire controllability. It seems that happiness is only possible in an artificial reality where everything is under control of its makers. An architectural décor is being built; a scene in which the inhabitants step away from everyday reality.’
Charlotte Lybeer studied photography at the Academy of Fine Arts Ghent and the HISK in Antwerp. For the series ‘The furtastic adventures of the cabbit and the folf’ she submerged in the world of furries. ‘Each of my series is a logical continuation of the previous one. In this case it was a continuation of ‘Larp, taking a holiday from everydayness’ from 2009. A series of portraits from LARP (Life Action Role Playing) players.
Charlotte uses photography to research the capsular aspects of our society. In her projects Lybeer takes an aesthetic, as well as a social look at people who form groups and/or separate themselves from others. In this case; Furries. The furry fandom is a subculture interested in fictional anthropomorphic animal characters with human personalities and characteristics like intelligence, facial expressions, the ability to speak, to walk on two legs and wear clothes. During the 1980s, furry fans began to publish fanzines, developing a diverse social group that eventually began to schedule social gatherings. By 1987, there was sufficient interest to stage the first furry convention and throughout the next decade, the Internet became accessible to the general population.
To create ‘The furtastic adventures of the cabbit and the folf’, Charlotte had to infiltrate into its fandom. ‘I became a member of different forums and online communities related on the subject matter and went to conventions in England and Germany. They’re gathering yearly in large hotels which they rent for private use.’ For this series the individuals were taken out of their safe groups and placed into their personal and intimate habitats. The contrast between the costume, which the person uses to tell us something about his or hers virtual identity, and the homey interior is an approach rarely to be seen. The setting reveals the personal identity and daily reality of the player, yet he is still in character.
‘The hardest part of this project was gaining that trust. If it would have been easy, there would be much more series like this.’
Gaining those people their trust is a tour de force since they are often described as freaks in mainstream media. ‘The hardest part of this project was gaining that trust. If it would have been easy, there would be much more series like this. The first step was to become a member of the group and talk openly and clear about my work and what I wanted to achieve. The second part was to prove that I was serious on the subject matter. That can be achieved by being humorous without being flippant. The hardest part was to get personal so they would trust me enough to let me into their houses.’
‘The furtastic adventures of the cabbit and the folf’ is part of Charlottes project to get her doctors degree. It’s called ‘Lifestyle Supermarket’. She’s photographing different fandoms that are related to virtual, three-dimensional worlds such as Second Life, in which players can create a second identity. ‘It’s a very intriguing given. People can transform themselves into a superhero, a monster or and animal with human characteristics such as furries. The unique feature of these fandoms is, that these trans human identities are nowadays also assumed outside the virtual world. For me, those are examples of how contemporary men tries to fit in the image imposed by mass media such as movies and games. All my projects are inspired by how people react in a world that is changing. Not only geographical, but also on an imaginary level.’
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