Photographer, Alma Haser, spoke to us about the art of origami in her practice, the making of the second edition of her book 'Cosmic Surgery' and her upcoming show at The Photographers' Gallery.

PW: Your approach to making work is very playful and multidimensional, how did you come around to that way of working?

AH: Probably because I always make work I enjoy making. I don’t like to make life easy for myself, so a photograph is never just a photograph with me. I love making things, so I’ll often add other elements before, during or after taking a picture. For example, printing my photographs and painting onto them, folding the photographs into origami shapes or just re-photographing them so they have a natural and grainy soft texture that I love.

PW: Your series Cosmic Surgery uses origami to mask the faces of your sitters. Can you talk about the importance of making your sitters anonymous?

AH: I sometimes start projects by taking self-portraits to see if my idea works properly before bringing in other people to photograph. With Cosmic Surgery, I did just that. I made a mask of paper flowers that covered my face. In all my self-portraits I’m either hiding my face or disguising myself, mainly because I don’t want it to be about me, but more about the picture. The same thing applies to the Cosmic Surgery series.

© Alma Haser, selected prints in Cosmic Surgery postcard pack one of the Kickstarter rewards, 2016
© Alma Haser, selected prints in Cosmic Surgery postcard pack one of the Kickstarter rewards, 2016

PW: Can you tell us about the importance for you of the relationship between the photographic image and three-dimensional objects.

AH: I’ve always been interested in Japanese culture, films, and stories. I started using Origami in my graduation project, after becoming fascinated by the story of Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who became sick with Leukaemia and started folding 1000 paper cranes, which in Japanese culture is said to grant you a wish.

She folded 644 before she sadly died, but to this day, people from all over the world fold a chain of a thousand paper cranes and lay them on her grave. I was taken by this story, the sadness, the ritual of folding and the meaning behind it.

© Alma Haser, from the series 'Cosmic Surgery', 2016
© Alma Haser, from the series ‘Cosmic Surgery’, 2016

PW: Your self-published first book Cosmic Surgery a pop-up book, sold out in just a few days and you’re now making the second edition. Can you explain the process of making these 3-D portraits into book form?

AH: It just seemed to make sense at the time. I was so sad people couldn’t see the portraits in their 3d form, so I thought a pop-up book would allow that to happen.

It was an amazing book and I wish I could have made more, but Emily Macaulay, the designer, and I, hand-made each and every one. It would have been too expensive and out of our control to get them made in Asia.

The second book has fewer pop-ups, but it includes other design features and a brilliant story created with the writer, Piers Bizony.

© Alma Haser, Cover of the 2nd Edition 'Cosmic Surgery' book, 2016
© Alma Haser, Cover of the 2nd Edition ‘Cosmic Surgery’ book, 2016

PW: With your show at The Photographers’ Gallery Print Gallery opening later this year, how do you envision the works translating to the gallery?

AH: I am planning to exhibit four different stages from the project. Some of the original 2D portraits will be on show. One portrait will be in a box with the origami shape attached, so people can see how it looks when I re-photograph them. Visitors will be able to open a life-size pop-up and experience the work at a large scale. Plus a selection of resin coated origami structures will show in a display cabinet. I have my work cut out for me, that’s for sure!

PW: Finally, what’s next for you?

AH: I’ve many half-finished ideas and projects in my head, so it’s just about picking one to continue with. But I’ve a feeling it might have something to do with masks (without any traces of origami!).

To support Alma’s Kickstarter for the new edition of the book click here.

For the related ‘Cosmic Surgery’ app click here. Website design by Josh Merson. 

For more of Alma’s work, click here.  

For other articles from our Ideas Series click here. 


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