In Julie Poly’s version of overnight train travel on the Ukrainian railways, journeys become portals for seduction, play, fantasy and fetish. Through this collection of vivid and lively images, the artist positions these spaces somewhere between comedy and sincerity, straight documentation and the pictorial sublime, the banal and the fantastic. She describes “the trivial things, everyday events, and stories from the lives of friends” as the inspirational mainstays in her work

Sonya and Misha © Julie Poly

The trivial side-line happenings and seemingly inconsequential moments of everyday life that lead toward bigger events take center stage. While this ‘behind-the-scenes’ look nods towards the constant documentation of reality in our time of social media, Poly drops visual cues that hint at the staging behind the photographs challenging this idea of authenticity. The artist uses the term ‘mockumentarian’ to describe her work, and the process of revealing the underlying grotesque atmosphere of the transitory spaces she works in, such as the railway station in Ukrzaliznytsia or the arcade in her other body of work Kosmolot.

Ivanofrankivsk-Kiev © Julie Poly

Poly’s approach to photography is playful, inventive and tongue-in-cheek, stretching it into other forms and public and social spaces. From making a card game of photographs to producing editorials for advertisements imbued with a passive-aggressive, confrontational style of fashion, Poly’s comedic sensibility takes a stab at the intense banality and often acrid regimes of life in contemporary Eastern Europe. To bring this vision to life, Poly collaborated with professional stylists, from Vogue UA employees, Vena Brykalin and Ola Zhyzhko, MSBHV designer Yelena Polyvian, and Freelancers Stas Soulkeeper and Nastia Gutnik, sourcing clothes from thrifts stores, designer labels and garments from local wedding shops.

Marina Odessa-Kyiv © Julie Poly

Blue eyeshadow, direct lighting, animal prints and lurid colors seep into her frames, which are arranged into sequences familiar enough for both travellers and regular readers of fashion magazines, blogs, and social media to notice a ‘pre-filter’ look. Occupying a fuzzy boundary between documentary and fiction, Poly’s aesthetic fearlessly mixes different historical moments from the high-glamour of late 80s to 90s New York fashion and advertising to the current trends of social media.

With their direct eye contact, Poly’s subjects are looking at us looking. We get the sense that we’ve seen something we shouldn’t have, but are also invited to linger a little longer at the spectacle of what happens when the curtains are closed and reality is left to indulge in its own fantasy.

Editor’s note: Julie Poly was one of the winners of the LensCulture Emerging Talent Awards 2019. Check out all of the other projects to discover more inspiring work!