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Why This Artist Swapped Clothes with 100 People

For his series “Selbstportrait,” Simon Freund switched outfits with a whole crowd of people to explore how clothes impact identity.

The small details of everyday life are a recurring theme in Simon Freund’s work. For a recent series, the Munich-based artist photographed himself wearing the clothes of 100 other people. His own wardrobe is very minimal, and he typically wears the same basic outfit every day: navy pants, a white t-shirt, navy pullover, Birkenstocks. Freund asked the participants in his Selbstportrait project to don this outfit while he put on theirs.

The result is a portrait series that’s both funny and revealing. Freund’s uniform look feels like something of a blank canvas; it becomes hard to guess much about people’s personalities when they’re wearing his clothes. On the other hand, the variety of different styles that Freund tries on lend him a number of possible new personas: businessman, retiree, club kid, student, fashion blogger, athlete.

We got in touch with Freund to learn more about the story behind the project and what it felt like to try on so many different people’s styles.

Who are the people photographed? How did you approach them to be in the series?

The photographed people are mostly friends or people that happened to be around while I was shooting because they are somehow in the same circle of friends. I started asking my friends, as I felt most comfortable approaching them with the question to exchange their clothes with me. Wearing other people’s clothes is a pretty personal thing, and an experience which might be more difficult to share with a complete stranger. However there are also people in the series I more or less met for the first time while we were undressing to change clothes.

How did everyone select their outfit?

My idea was that everyone would bring their most distinctive, most favorite outfit. Something you would wear when you go on a date or to a photo shoot, to show you from your side that’s most you. However, many people came directly from work, or it was too hot or too cold to wear their most favorite outfit, so I would say it’s more or less their favorite outfits. Definitely something that is characteristic for them.

You describe this outfit as a uniform . Do you pretty much wear this, or a similar look, all the time? What does a uniform mean to you?

Exactly. I have a very limited wardrobe and a very limited amount of things I own in general (For All I Possess, another artwork, I photographed everything I own). So my outfit looks more or less the same every day, which made me think of my clothes as sort of uniform.

Although I might not yet fully understand why, I really like the idea of a uniform. I find that people wearing uniforms are often better dressed, nowadays, than if you were free to choose. Also, it makes it very easy in the morning, if you always know which outfit you are going to wear. It gives you more space to think about other things.

Did this project make you think differently about clothing and identity?

I feel what I really learned during this project is that you simply can’t contain a person’s true identity in a single picture. I mean, of course you can learn certain things about someone’s identity by looking at a photo of them, but one’s full identity is something that can’t be captured by a single image. In that sense, I’m still challenging the idea of a self-portrait. How much of your self is actually portrayed in a self portrait?

I also found it interesting to wear so many different clothes for a change. I’m always dressed very much the same, but it’s fun to wear different outfits. A super skinny top makes you feel different than a wide jacket, and leather boots have a different feel than sneakers. I especially liked some of the female outfits, which felt very nice on the body—like the skirts and dresses for example—or just make one feel very sexy.

See more of Simon Freund’s artwork at his website.

More portraits:
Poppy Marriott Photographs Gender Beyond the Binary
Finding Freedom and Obsession in Chih Han Yang’s Self-Portraits
Intimate Portraits of London’s Diverse Young Women

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