Photography and acting are kindred spirits in the new series by e2 (Elizabeth Kleinveld and Epaul Julien). Their current photographic project, In Empathy We Trust, presents viewers with re-imagined iconic images from the history of art. The collaborators re-envisioned the work of old master painters beginning with the Flemish Primitives and spanning nearly 600 years.
With subjects enacting roles with varied representations of race, age, and sexual orientation, e2 “remakes with a twist” works by artists such as van Eyck, Rafael, Velázquez, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Fragonard, and Manet. Inspired by the original paintings, e2 hopes to “jar viewers” into questioning their own perceptions. They invite viewers to see these images, and indeed the world anew, using humor, wit and playfulness. In addition, they hope that the viewers will see how stereotypes can lead to prejudice and discrimination.
The collaboration began in 2010, after completing work on the traveling exhibition and book project, Before (During) After: Louisiana Photographers Respond to Hurricane Katrina. This natural and man-made disaster brought social inequities in Louisiana into vivid focus. Conversations between Kleinveld and Julien revealed their mutual interest in issues of social justice.
Elizabeth Kleinveld is an artist and photographer from New Orleans who takes her inspiration from Paul Outerbridge: “Art is life seen through man’s craving for perfection and beauty.” For her, art is about creative self-expression and storytelling, allowing her to respond to what she observes in the world. While some of her work is about striving to express the beauty she sees, other work focuses on themes she finds politically important. Often, she uses art to transform her reality as she did in 2007, while working to come to terms with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Kleinveld later found inspiration from exotic flowers and their reflection in water, which gave the images from her Flower Reflections series an abstract and painterly quality.
Kleinveld’s current work with e2, In Empathy We Trust, arose from conversations with her collaborator, Epaul Julien, about how many things had not changed in four or five years since the hurricane. The work, which recasts classic paintings with different sitters, challenges the viewer to evaluate why they may feel jarred by e2’s new interpretations.
Her work has been featured in galleries, museums and private collections in Europe, Asia and the United States including the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Colorado Fine Arts Center, Houston Center for Photography, Museum Palazzo Fortuny in Venice, Royal Delft Museum in Delft (The Netherlands), the United States Embassy in The Hague, and the Dutch Embassy in Washington, D.C. Elizabeth Kleinveld is represented amongst others by the Italian galleries PH-NEUTRO and Galleria Bongiovanni.
Epaul Julien is an artist from New Orleans who began his career as a fine art photographer in 1995 when a near death experience changed his life. Creating art for him is a necessity, vitally linked to his existence. His method has also been shaped by the extremity of his circumstances. When the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina forced him to abandon his darkroom and bulky photographic equipment, he emerged with a new approach; six months of exile pushed him to use the images he had salvaged and to create a new form of mixed media.
In Empathy We Trust, Julien’s current work with Elizabeth Kleinveld in the photography collective e2, challenges stereotypes by reimagining iconic images from almost six hundred years of art history. Raised forty-five minutes from New Orleans on a family plantation named Africa, Julien was always keenly aware of stereotypes and racial divides. While the Africa Plantation was a spiritual place that put him in touch with nature and stimulated his imagination, and the place where his father taught him to use his first camera, he was also cognizant of its history. “I think growing up in the South makes you super aware of color and race,” says Julien, who uses this awareness “to explore life through a unique perspective.” Nowhere is this more apparent than in e2’s In Empathy We Trust.
Julien’s work has been exhibited throughout the United States and Europe in such venues as the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Houston Center for Photography, Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans, Photoville in New York City, Museum Palazzo Fortuny in Venice, Verona’s PH-Neutro, the Galleria Bongiovanni in Bologna, and has been featured in such publications as Black and White, the Houston Chronicle, and Before (During) After: Louisiana Photographers’ Visual Reaction to Hurricane Katrina (University of New Orleans Press, 2010).