Atlas, the Greek Titan, carried the weight of the world on his shoulders as a punishment cast on him by Zeus. This symbolic story has been retold through the shapes and stories of people who have taken part in ‘The Atlas Project‘ by Irish artist and photographer, Finola Cahill. Through her photography, she has discovered a way to shine light on the stories that might not otherwise be recognised or told.
All of the images have something in common. All we see is a naked back, twisting or contorting, bent over or stretched out. Each one is a reflection of the beauty of the human physique and a symbol of strength and at times, of weakness.
More than this however, each image tells a story. Those who agree to take part must also share a part of themselves by submitting a piece of writing in order to describe the weight they carry.
By shedding their clothes, the people involved in this project in some small way shed, or share the weight.
Based in Paris, Finola has been working on the project since last summer. ‘I always liked the idea that we were each an Atlas, holding up our own life, our own past and worries and pieces of the world… The idea of taking pictures of people’s backs… no makeup, just your back, just your spinal column, just the nerves and muscles that hold you up.’
There is uniformity to these images which makes it very visually engaging, each one is taken in black and white and the character is always naked, looking away from the camera. This undoubtedly creates sense of mystery and a feeling of ‘otherness’. There is a concern with projects of this nature, addressing the human condition. The worry is that by producing aesthetically pleasing images, the artist can sacrifice intent and the art can appear uninformed and can create a distance between the spectator and the subject. This is not the case for this project, whatever mystery that has been created is stripped away by the stories that accompany each image. The viewer can therefore understand the subject more. They see something familiar in each one and recognise the subject not as some ‘other’ but as a person, carrying a burden, great or small.
The project is ongoing and is a collective process, its success depends on those who take part opening up and sharing their stories. It cannot work without that commitment. Although it runs predominantly from Paris, Cahill sends a call out to anyone who wishes to take part on trips home to Dublin and when she travels throughout Europe. ‘There is no set timeline for the future of the project, for now I’m just enjoying the process of creating something beautiful and meeting many people along the way.’
View a gallery of Atlas Project images here.