First featured in BJP in 2010 with her graduation project, Alma Haser came to wider attention two years later with a work titled The Ventriloquist. Struck by the identical, bowl-cut hairstyles of two close friends, Luke and James, she took their portrait – and image earned her a place on the shortlist for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize.
Despite the attention, Haser became disillusioned with 2D images and began to incorporate a form of paper manipulation to create her signature aesthetic. Rather than flattening the world around us, she now folds it into something new.
“Experimentation has shaped my identity as an artist,” she says. “I’m always thinking about different sculptural approaches to photography and how I can build layers into the work.”
With this approach, Haser learned to be comfortable in the grey areas. “Everything I do is unknown,” she explains. “I never know exactly how I’m going to produce the work until I’ve spent hours experimenting. Most of the time it’s a happy accident that shapes the final piece.”
Born in Germany and now based in London and the south coast, Haser continued to develop her folding technique, which led her to produce the kaleidoscopic origami portrait series known as Cosmic Surgery. An imagined ‘medical’ procedure, combining photography, collage and origami, it disrupts the parameters of traditional portraiture and challenges our perception of identity.
“That project changed my entire practice,” she recalls. “The photograph became the first step of the process, followed by experimentation and seeing how far I can take something before photographing the final image at the end. I try to trust my instincts through trial and error – sometimes I know quickly that I have something, and sometimes I go too far and need to rein it in – but it’s crucial for me to push it all the way to discover that.”
The success of the project manifested into a series of exhibitions around the globe, representation by The Photographers’ Gallery, and Haser’s first monograph. But key to this success was Haser’s constant search for new ways of working. “I did feel quite intimidated about creating a follow-up,” she says, speaking of the period following Cosmic Surgery.
“Everyone was asking for origami portraits, but I felt the need to move on. Balancing where to go next with the demand and interest in the work is challenging. The main thing I learned was that there is no point in people-pleasing. Now, I just focus on work that I enjoy making, rather than trying to fit into a category.”
Her recent work, Within 15 Minutes, saw her creating jigsaw puzzle-based portraits of identical twins, carving images into 1000-piece puzzles by hand with astonishing attention to detail. Most recently, Haser has made social media a topic of discussion with her series Pseudo, where she once again expands on techniques of folding and layering in a visual metaphor for the growing concerns over ‘fake news’.
Finding the time for experiments can be both challenging and expensive but, with the growing demand for her services, Haser has found a way to use her editorial shoots and social media as a testing ground. “Instagram has become a useful tool to trial new ideas,” she says.
“I’ve used it as a professional blog that I can reflect on, as it has always been important for me to show the handmade quality of the work. Recently it’s become a way to gauge people’s interest in ideas and how they translate. I don’t commit to the feedback, but it is fascinating to see what’s resonating.”