Ones to Watch 2019: Valentine Bo

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Each year, British Journal of Photography presents its Ones To Watch – a selection of 19 emerging image-makers, chosen from a list of nearly 750 nominations. Collectively, they provide a window into where photography is heading, at least in the eyes of the curators, editors, agents, festival producers and photographers we invited to nominate. Every weekend throughout May, BJP-online is sharing profiles of the 19 photographers, originally published in the magazine. Discover more here.

A tiny, naked newborn floats in a pale red liquid, suspended at the top of a test tube, clamped and attached to a condenser of sorts. It is a stressful image, but the baby in the test tube is, in fact, sculpted from polymer clay and painted with acrylic paint to imitate the pigment of human skin, in water dyed with food colouring. “I like how the image doesn’t look literal,” says photographer and artist, Valentine Bo. “It develops a sense of duality and raises more questions than it does answers.”

This is true of many of the Ukrainian’s photographs from the ongoing “mockumentary”, Your Next Step Would Be To Do The Transmission. It is an imagined fictional narrative, fuelled by his interest in Raëlism – a cult-like religion founded in 1974, which believes that humans were put on this Earth by extraterrestrials, whose return they now await.

Bo particularly concentrates on themes of “human conformity, manipulation, pretence and sincerity,” he says. “These concepts surround us, and with varying intensity, forming the cores of ideological movements, religious societies, cults, and their followers. I’m taken by the ability of people faced with estrangement in modern society to find some kind of transcendence in such cults.”

© Valentine Bo

Bo constructs his sets in a studio, using props and 3D printers to sculpt sexualised body parts, objectified and invaded by the lens in such a way that makes the viewer more acutely aware of their own. In one image, a model of a face constructed with 3D sculpting and printing software, lying on its side, bathed in green light, is so similar to a human one that you half expect its eyes to flicker open.

This is in contrast to the vacant stares of the real people – models whom he found walking around the streets and ea markets and on Instagram. “In Raëlian doctrine, scientific and technological progress and advanced technologies occupy a special place,” he explains. “Based on this, I decided to create an object by choosing an unconventional approach to the art of sculpture.”

Born in Lutsk and now based in Kiev, Bo spent his early years drawing and studying architecture, before finding photography in his second year of university. Your Next Step Would Be To Do The Transmission is the most comprehensive work that he has produced to date. It is the first time, he explains, that he has undertaken something that has totally consumed him.

“It’s like I was constantly searching for my own language, and by continuing with this project I feel reassured that I might have found it, or at least come close,” he says. “I can de nitely say that for me it’s a new stage, and all my past experiences are the stepping stones that led me to it.”

Read the profiles of more Ones to Watch photographers here. This article was originally published in issue #7884 of British Journal of Photography. Visit the BJP Shop to purchase the magazine.

© Valentine Bo
© Valentine Bo
© Valentine Bo
© Valentine Bo
Izabela Radwanska Zhang

Starting out as an intern back in 2016, Izabela Radwanska Zhang is now the Editorial Director of British Journal of Photography in print and online. Her words have appeared in Disegno and Press Association. Prior to this, she completed a MA in Magazine Journalism at City University, London, and most recently, a Postgrad Certificate in Graphic Design at London College of Communication.