Various cultures believe that a photograph can rob the subject of their soul. As it turns out for Christian Fuchs, a man whose ancestry stretches many lands, portrait photography is the perfect medium to do some soul-searching. And not just of his own.
The Peruvian artist has made international onlookers do a double take with his unique portraits of family members of yore. The catch? That’s actually him in the photograph. From weight gain to beard growth, and countless hours spent in the makeup chair in order to achieve wrinkles and skin tones, Fuchs truly dedicates himself to the transformation.
“I got the idea one day while I was in my living room looking at one of the [family] portraits and I thought, ‘if we share the same genes, could we look alike?’” Fuchs tells Lonely Planet. He estimates that on average he spends about three to four months investigating each relative. Collecting photographs, traveling to original homes and visiting existing family members; it’s a time-consuming process that has caused Fuchs to become (admittedly) obsessed. “I can’t stop gathering more information [about my ancestors]. I have dedicated my life to this investigation…and I don’t think I’ll ever stop.”
And there’s plenty of surprises to keep him going. Though he resides in Lima, Peru, Fuchs’ genealogy can be traced well beyond the Andean nation, extending to Chile and Germany. During his research he was delighted to discover that his great-great-great-great-great-great aunt Dorothea even supplied the Brothers Grimm with many tales. Many generations later, his paternal grandmother would display great (non-fictional) storytelling herself, as she supplied young Fuchs and his siblings with stories of the family tree.
Today it’s Fuchs who is providing a narrative, once again proving that storytelling runs in the genes. His modern-day spin on history’s past has provided international audiences with a unique experience of time travel, and an opportune moment to reflect on what it means to exist. “I bring my ancestors back to life so they can live through me,” the visual artist comments. “Memory is the only place where we can’t die.”
Fuchs’ portraits are currently on exhibit at the Historical Museum of Psychiatric Clinic in Bremen, Germany (until November 26, 2017).
By Agnes Rivera