Emon Toufanian only discovered his talents for the visuals two years ago – and by mistake! Composing these images has become even therapeutic for him, though he feels the pressure of conformity within the industry. His collages and fashion editorials, however, are truly authentic and each image is filled with character and even a little mystery. He chats with us about his creative process and how he has learnt to find his own vision; often inspired by music or designers like Raf Simons, Helmut Lang and Glenn Martens.
For our readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was born in Wasthington DC and I currently live in New York. My parents are from Tehran and work in education. I have been working with collage, painting, and photography for about two years, and spent the last one working in fashion between New York and Paris.
You were a musician before imploring into the visual scene. What challenges did you face during this transition?
I found the transition freeing actually. The visual art world was new to me, so I could experiment without judging or comparing myself to others. More recently I feel pressure to conform to certain aesthetics to please magazines or clients, but I try to maintain my own vision for my work.
What do you think defines your aesthetic?
I notice my subjects in fashion and collage all have a similar expression of being both vulnerable and threatening at the same time. I don’t aim for this, so I find it interesting that it happens across mediums. I assume it’s a reflection of some part of myself.
How did you get into working in fashion photography?
I found collage accidentally after a breakup with a Spanish painter. I’d thrifted old photo magazines in Milan years earlier, and pinned photos on my music studio wall. One night in an episode I tore them down and began to collage them. My anxiety stopped as I’d collage, it was a sort of embodiment process and therapeutic. When I settled down a couple months later I thought about trying photography to make collages and have enjoyed it ever since.
Who are your favourite designers at the time being?
During my first time at Paris Fashion Week I attended the Y-Project show and instantly fell in love. The designs walked a line between art and fashion much the way McQueen did, with elegance and a subversive punk spirit. I also love Raf Simons and attending his first New York show inspired me to experiment with collages for fashion design purposes.
What’s the creative process of your collage-making like, and how does it differ to photographing an editorial?
Collage is ritualistic to me; I need to be alone and with music. I look for a moment of transcendence when a character or story reveals itself, driven by whatever record is on. Editorial is collaborative so the challenge is finding a compromise between my vision and the reality of what’s possible on set.
You’re based in New York City and Paris, what do you love most about each of these cities?
New York is a real city, there’s love and sympathy between people and you can go out anytime. I love Paris, but the more time I spend there I notice that there is truth behind the clichés. I couldn’t leave either city behind, but I’m happy to call New York home.
How do you find inspiration?
I love the concept of stealing from other artists because it’s inherently flawed. You can never truly reproduce the essence of someone else’s work, but I found my style accidentally by ‘failing’ to copy artworks I love. Also music and fashion shows are a big inspiration. Attending Helmut Lang’s show recently inspired a collage series since the show production felt more like a beautiful nightmare to me than a fashion presentation.
If there’s one thing people can take away from your work, what would you like that to be?
I prefer art that’s visceral and lets you decide your own meaning. I try just to create an atmosphere that allows viewers to better understand their desires, pain, dreams, whatever. This is the reaction I want from music too.
Where do you see yourself in three years?