Meet Hugo, the digital alter ego of photographer Till Janz
Meet Hugo, the digital persona and star of our September Style Issue cover, and alter-ego of photographer Till Janz
The photographs read as ordinary snapshots of two housemates messing about at home. Except that the home is a spectacular concrete monolith, dotted with icons of furniture design; that the housemates wear A/W 2021 Gucci and Balenciaga to eat breakfast, Fendi to arm-wrestle, and Bottega Veneta to take selfies; and that one of the pair, his lips full and luscious, his brow and cheekbones razor-sharp, is clearly not human at all. The series is the work of photographer Till Janz, whose experiments in art and technological innovation led to the conception of Hugo, a magnificently antagonistic digital persona who has entered into this fantasy world explicitly to make Janz’s life difficult.
‘I’ve always been really interested in the intersection of storytelling and technology,’ the Germany-born, London-based image-maker explains. A few years ago, Janz began to explore the possibilities of 3D avatar creation. ‘Hugo was the first character I created once I learned how to use the software,’ he says. ‘I kind of fell in love with him.’
Hugo became an alter ego of sorts for Janz. ‘It’s an interesting coexistence,’ continues Janz. ‘I’m living in my head with him all the time now. I even reply to people on Instagram as Hugo. He’s my second half, but he’s the half that I can’t live out in reality; he’s a bit more rude, he’s kind of arrogant.’ Through Hugo, Janz gently lampoons the fashion industry, interrogating its hypocrisies, tongue firmly pressed in cheek. ‘I’ve spoken to a few model agencies who are interested, so I’m in talks at the moment to get him onto the roster,’ he adds, earnestly.
Make no mistake: during shoots, the role of Hugo is performed by a body model, whose head is then replaced with that of Janz’s meta-human. But in the age of Instagram, in which digital portraiture is often filtered and edited beyond recognition, Janz’s creation of Hugo is akin to our own experience of our identities. ‘It’s not about perfectionism,’ the photographer explains. ‘It’s like creating an alter ego in the digital space. Which feels quite natural nowadays, because the way we present ourselves to the outside world through social media is a new reality. All of us have a second persona.’
Hugo is far from Janz’s only foray into digital imagery. With his ongoing body of work Generations, the photographer and artist manipulates familiar faces, ageing them up and down and tweaking them to create new, alternate realities. It’s executed so flawlessly that the artifice would be almost imperceptible, were the images not placed side by side. The triptych, seen here, is his first set of self-portraits within the series, created specifically for Wallpaper*.
He’s also working on an ambitious digital exhibition within Cryptovoxels, a virtual world powered by the Ethereum blockchain. It’s all of the fun of gallery representation, without any of the obligations, contracts or commission, he tells me, smiling audibly. Now all he needs is to make sure Hugo behaves at the private view. §