Stunning Photos That Show the Intimacy of Undressing

Photographer Alex Thebez's two series here, "A Handful of Unfulfilled Wishes" and "Undressed," both address the ambiguity and fluidity of our identities, on the internet and off of it.

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Jun 18 2018, 3:51pm

This essay originally appeared in the Privacy & Perception Issue of Vice Magazine, created in collaboration with Broadly. You can read more stories from the issue here.

Alex Thebez has always been drawn to how virtual spaces provide us with new ways to show who we are. Growing up, he often spent time in online worlds, and the two series here, “A Handful of Unfulfilled Wishes” and “Undressed,” both address the ambiguity and fluidity of our identities, on the internet and off of it.

“Wishes,” specifically, is an homage to Thebez’s childhood, and it’s primarily focused on the idea of avatars: How do we create our personhood in digital spaces? How do those versions of ourselves influence our physical bodies, and how we construct ourselves in real life?

“I played a bunch of MMORPGs, both Western and Eastern—from Ragnarok Online, to Star Wars Galaxies, to World of Warcraft,” he says. “Physical archetypes and expected behaviors that are communicated through animation—and designs of clothing, weapons, and abilities—of these avatars allow people to play out different roles that may not be available to them in real life.”

Inspired by all the avatars he had as a teenager, his images are what he labels as “anonymous portraiture”: a person wearing a blond wig reminiscent of Usagi’s hair in Sailor Moon; a skinny white boy in Japanese school boy cosplay; and unidentified men whose clothes are being removed. The bodies in his work are stretched, distorted, morphed—their personhood forever in flex.

As a queer Indonesian immigrant residing, mainly, in the Western world, Thebez understands that our online identities, just as our ones in the real world, are much more ever-changing than most people tend to think. He continues with this theme in “Undressed,” which more explicitly addresses his queerness. Using strobe lights and a stark, uniform studio setting, he says, is a technique to “clearly impose the act of looking”—“to intensify the intimacy between the subject and myself.”

Portrait (Japanese Schoolboy), 2014
from “Undressed”, 2018

Torsos (Ocean), 2018

Portrait (Kaz), 2013
Bending Over (Black Pants), 2018
Tan Shirt, Black Pants. 2018
Portrait (with Waterfall), 2014 - collaboration with Marisa Gertz