For a writer, a painter or a sculptor white is the beginning. It is the blank page, the empty canvas, the untouched stone. For a photographer the opposite is true. White means overexposure, too much light, too much information — so much so that we cannot even bear its sight. What we see is a white surface where all the elements of the photograph are indistinguishable, melted into one single colour. We are blind in front of whiteness.
Oleg Dou stops just one step before the sketches point of no return. He operates digitally on all his portraits, turning all the faces into ghostly masks reminding us of those used in the traditional theatre of ancient Greece, in which the expression of all emotions was conveyed by the shape of the eyes and the mouth. But Oleg Dou’s subjects do not show any feeling or thought on their faces, they just stare at the observer. They are silent and still. Their faces do not tell anything. They do not give us any hint about themselves; they let us guess who they are and what their story is. Sometimes they even try to conceal themselves by putting on sunglasses (Freaks) or shawls (Nuns). They only offer what is necessary to prove that they exist: a few facial features emerge from their white skin like small hills rising from the monotonous snow of Russian flatlands, counterbalancing the non-communicative load of information of a white picture. They seem to say I am here, but I do not want to tell you anything more. I exist. That is all you need to know about me.
Thanks to the digital manipulation, Oleg Dou’s models look artificial, almost inhuman. We do not feel at ease when they look into our eyes. Too deeply rooted in our imagination is the visual legacy of the so many disquieting white faces we have seen before: dead and sick people, zombies, clowns, Pierrots, skulls… White is the colour of purity, infinite light, peace, and the photographer himself agrees on that, but when we see a pale face we cannot but think about sickness, bloodless flesh, or an insufficient exposure to sunlight. There must be something wrong with such a person. That is why Oleg Dou’s subjects seem to threaten us. They are not like us: their look is cold, their skin does not have any flaw, they do not have eyelashes or eyebrows. They are either not yet human or beyond human. Either incomplete human beings or an evolved new species. So we wonder whether they are staring at us like wild terrified animals or looking upon us like a more intelligent form of life.
For this young Russian photographer, white is not the colour of enlightenment, epiphany, total communion, or complete understanding. In Oleg Dou’s pictures, white is the colour of doubt, mystery, and of an impossible distance to cover.