Bizarre or trending subjects, catch a break with our curiosity of the week. In Nostalgia for the mud, photographer Chase Middleton portrays complete strangers and shows, not without humour, an existence as banal as it is absurd.

“Barbaric” is how Chase Middleton, an Australian-born photographer based in New York, describes her artistic approach. It was during her childhood that the artist discovered the medium, notably through her father, who was passionate about it. “It then became a way for me to escape from childhood. I absolutely hated school, it was a complete joke and an utter waste of time. You could often find me hiding in the darkroom on my lunch break”, she recalls.

Since then, she has developed a disturbing and grotesque work, romanticizing the drama of everyday life. Absurd and timeless, her creations summon the nonsensical into a familiar space. Nostalgia for the mud – a series named in reference to the term “nostalgie de la boue” coined by the poet Émile Augier in 1855, describing a certain attraction for low-life culture – is a perfect example of this. “For me, the title refers to being unable to escape one’s past”, the artist adds. A way of plunging into the meanders of a collective memory to extract its absurdity.

An assumed voyeurism

“The story of this work spans a disparate range of subjects: ritualistic gatherings, encounters with strangers, hallucinatory artifice, and the heightened drama of myth in the domestic uncanny. I use photography as a vehicle to enter into an unsettling world where it is uncertain whether one is viewing a glimpse of an imagined afterlife, alternate reality, or if it is the simple recording of everyday banality”, Chase Middleton tells us. Finding inspiration in vernacular images, but also in corners of her native country, now curiously forgotten and “suspended in time”, she imagines sceneries with complete strangers. “I work with them because I find the unknown so much more dangerous than the familiar. A lot of the time I only meet these people once and they never follow up on getting their pictures. It’s almost as if they do it out of pure loneliness”, she says.

Deserted hotels, dimmed-lit living rooms, old-fashioned carpets… The photographer places her subjects in an old-fashioned setting, captures their empty gaze, builds ephemeral sculptures with unimportant objects. With an assumed voyeurism, she seems to reveal to the world the mediocrity of our existence. “I love looking through people’s drawers and medicine cabinets. Nothing is stranger than encountering someone uninhibited. Sometimes I think photography is simply a way for me to get my foot through the door and into people’s homes”, the artist jokes. Cynical, hypnotic, Nostalgia for the mud opens the door to a decadent universe, where any desire to feel alive fades away. Strangely static, frozen in incongruous positions, the models send us back to our own shortcomings, and become the allegories of contemporary men, stuck in the irrationality of their own routine.

© Chase Middleton