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Photographer Captures the Feeling of Disorientation in Conceptual Photos

Seb Agnew's conceptual photo series "Syncope"

Photographer Seb Agnew has created a photo series about people deeply lost in their world and unaware of their surroundings. To tell these surreal narratives, Agnew used intricate set designs, lighting, and carefully crafted compositions.

Photo Project About Today’s State of Mind

Artist Agnew, based in Hamburg, Germany, specializes in staged conceptual photography and is no stranger to elaborately composited images. His latest project is called “Syncope,” a medical term that refers to fainting or blacking out. The project title and idea arose from Agnew’s own personal experience and inspired him to portray it in photography.

Syncope (the medical term for “fainting” or “passing out”) examines the feeling of “being disoriented” and puts it into the context of our modern everyday life: Again and again, we lose track of what is happening around us – and when we concentrate the most, we often find ourselves thinking nothing at all. This metaphorical temporary loss of consciousness has become a daily companion for many people in our fast-paced society.

“One morning a couple of years ago when I was preparing my breakfast, I caught myself breaking eggs very intuitively into the dustbin instead of the frying pan,” he tells PetaPixel.

Seb Agnew's conceptual photo series "Syncope" Seb Agnew's conceptual photo series "Syncope" Seb Agnew's conceptual photo series "Syncope"

“And, more absurdly, I only took notice of it when I closed the dustbin, opened the fridge, and tried to put the dustbin in it. Obviously — and luckily! — it didn’t fit, but it struck me right away how concentrated I was thinking about something totally different and that I did not realize what I was doing right at that moment.”

Although he can’t recall what distracted him that one morning, he feels that people experience overstimulation on regular basis, which can lead to moments like these.

“It’s not easy to stay focused nowadays and the reasons are manifold — like distraction caused by social media, rapid technological development, increasing professional challenges, or working towards your own personal goals in a world so full of possibilities,” he explains.

Turning the Initial Idea Into Complex Scenes

Agnew started his project in 2017 without foreseeing the challenges the world will endure with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent restrictions, changes in work and home balance, lockdowns, and more.

For Agnew, a creative project like this consists of long sessions of brainstorming to generate concrete ideas and careful preplanning of the shooting process. It’s not as simple as hiring a studio for a day — Agnew designs the scenery, selects the right props, and decides what type of models he needs.

Seb Agnew's conceptual photo series "Syncope" Seb Agnew's conceptual photo series "Syncope"

“But very often, there is also a lot of intuition involved,” says Agnew. “I’m always looking for interesting and inspiring places and I love to discover such places by accident. These are the moments when ideas can arise very quickly and without much preparation.”

Seb Agnew's conceptual photo series "Syncope" Seb Agnew's conceptual photo series "Syncope"

Each location, although ordinary at a first glance, helps Agnew set the scene and establish the narrative. “Once turned into a scenery full of metaphorical and symbolic meaning, they serve as the stage for my models who are supposed to express a unique but still universal feeling and situation,” he explains.

Agnew used Canon EOS 5DS R, Hasselblad X1D II 50C, and Fujifilm GFX 100S, which helped him make sure every little detail is captured and well rendered. To light the locations — all of which are real — he used a couple of speedlites, which he picked due to their flexibility and ability to light small rooms.

More of Agnew’s work can be found on his website, Instagram, and Behance profile.

Image credits: Photos by Seb Agnew.

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