FROM THE MAGAZINE

Photographer Tobias Zielony Explores How Fashion Can Manipulate and Conceal Identity


Photograph by Tobias Zielony; Styled by Alice Goddard.

The German artist Tobias Zielony often works at night, photographing teenagers hanging out in the phosphorescent haze of urban half-light—subjects whose sharp-edged cool is simultaneously dulled and enhanced by their intense vulnerability. “There’s darkness where you can hide, but also as a young person you want to be seen,” he says of nighttime’s paradoxical appeal. “So you go somewhere where you can show off.” Darkness also serves as a canvas for playing around with the possibilities of artificial light. “Neon creates its own kind of landscape,” he says. “It’s like a whole topography of different colors. ”For his first editorial fashion shoot, Zielony photographed club kids and members of No Shade, a Berlin-based collective of female and nonbinary DJs, dressed in trenchcoats that range from lithely tailored to voluminous and tentlike. (Trenches, he notes, have “a kind of universal character, both in terms of gender but also in terms of time.”) Lit by flashlights, disco balls, and overhead fluorescents on the empty grounds of the Kreuzberg nightclub Gretchen, the resulting images are a little bit David Lynch, a little bit David Bowie. Building on themes that Zielony explored in his photo series “Maskirovka,” for which he recorded Kiev’s underground queer techno scene in various states of disguise and display, his subjects donned masks—some pulled from flea markets, others crafted from latex and silicone by Zielony’s collaborator Suzanne Quesney. The term “maskirovka” comes from the Russian military, and it describes a doctrine of tactical deception. Zielony subverts it and applies it to those at the fringes of society, for whom disguise can mean both survival and celebration. “Masks hide identities at the same time as they create an image of another one,” he says. Presentation is something that Zielony, who addressed Germany’s migrant crisis at the country’s 2015 Venice Biennale pavilion, explores in all its forms: The ways his subjects dress, move, adorn themselves, pose, and make eye contact with the camera are all part of a charged, multifaceted performance. “Especially for people who face discrimination or are fighting for emancipation to be able to be who they want to be,” he says, “fashion is a political statement—both privately and publicly.”

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Photograph by Tobias Zielony; Styled by Alice Goddard.

From left: Coach 1941 jacket; Sunspel T-shirt; Chloé skirt; Wolford tights; Repetto shoes. Balenciaga coats.

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Photograph by Tobias Zielony; Styled by Alice Goddard.

Celine by Hedi Slimane trenchcoat, blouse, and jeans; vintage boots from What Goes Around Comes Around, New York. Bag by Suzanne Quesney.

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Photograph by Tobias Zielony; Styled by Alice Goddard.

From left: Miu Miu jacket; Jacaranda Living nightgown; A.P.C. scarf; Wolford tights; vintage boots from What Goes Around Comes Around, New York. Lanvin coat; Calvin Klein Underwear tank top; Re/Done x Levi’s jeans; vintage boots from What Goes Around Comes Around, New York. MHL by Margaret Howell coat; Gucci top; R13 dress; Maria La Rosa socks.

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Photograph by Tobias Zielony; Styled by Alice Goddard.

Balenciaga coats. Seed Phytonutrients Scalp & Roots Oat Mask.

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Photograph by Tobias Zielony; Styled by Alice Goddard.

Balenciaga coats; vintage boots from What Goes Around Comes Around, New York. Seed Phytonutrients Scalp & Roots Oat Mask.

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Photograph by Tobias Zielony; Styled by Alice Goddard.

Miu Miu jacket; Jacaranda Living nightgown; A.P.C. scarf.

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Photograph by Tobias Zielony; Styled by Alice Goddard.

MHL by Margaret Howell coat; Gucci top; R13 dress; Maria La Rosa socks.

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Photograph by Tobias Zielony; Styled by Alice Goddard.

Balmain coat; vintage hoodie and babydoll from Beyond Retro, London.

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Photograph by Tobias Zielony; Styled by Alice Goddard.

Burberry coat.

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Photograph by Tobias Zielony; Styled by Alice Goddard.

Burberry coat.

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Photograph by Tobias Zielony; Styled by Alice Goddard. Hair by Dushan Petrovich; Makeup by Sarah Hartgens for Kjaer Weis. Models: Alissa Dovgucic, Poly Maze, Begana Choi, Jasmine Fullerton-Smith; Casting by Kyra Sophie Wilhelmseder. Set design by Suzanne Quesney. Produced by Walandi Apoussidis; Production Manager: Michael Yosef; Photography Assistant: Amelie Rehm; Fashion Assistants: Donnika Anderson, Pina Riederer; Casting Assistant: Ananaya Nisbet; Select masks by Suzanne Quesney.

From left: Dior coat; vintage slip dress from What Goes Around Comes Around, New York; Jimmy Choo boots. Miu Miu jacket; vintage hoodie from Beyond Retro, London; vintage boots from What Goes Around Comes Around, New York.