Photographer recreates modern Spanish paintings with Senegalese locals

Story highlights

  • Photographer Javier Hirschfeld recreates portraits by modern Spanish painter Julio Romero de Torres using Senegalese locals
  • Though the influence is Spanish, the props, the fabrics, the models and the setting are all local to Senegal

(CNN)Javier Hirschfeld has a thing for eyes. He is gripped by unflinching stares, by looks that belie dignity and poise.

"Even in street landscapes, I like pictures where the building is looking back at you," admits the Spanish photographer.
    It was this fascination that inspired him to photograph the women of Goree Island, off the coast of Senegal.
    "The powerful eyes of those girls; they are very dark and very deep. That's what attracted me to them," he recalls.
    The women and the landscape reminded him of a powerful portraitist who defined much of his childhood: Spanish painter Julio Romero de Torres.
    "La Chiquita Piconera is (de Torres') most famous painting, and one of the most famous paintings in the Spanish tradition," he says.
    "In the history of art, when women are portrayed, most of the time they're being looked at. I like portraits of women that look back at you, and the woman in La Chiquita Piconera is looking back with a lot of dignity and a lot of strength."
    Another defining feature of de Torre's paintings, says Hirschfeld, is the melancholy housed in their expressions. He found a similar sentiment in the Goree's architecture.
    "You can see that same melancholy in the crumbling buildings on the island," he says.
    The 'universal portrait'
    Though the influence is Spanish, the props, the fabrics, the models and the setting are all local to Senegal. Rather than recreate the Andalusian fashions donned by the women in de Torres' portraits, Hirschfeld picked fabrics from the Senegalese markets, and had dresses made by tailors on the island.
    "In Senegal, they have an amazing tradition of tailors, and they work really fast. In one day, they can create these beautiful dresses, which you can see in the pictures," he says.
    Hirschfeld's subjects also hold objects that reflect their culture. In de Torres' painting, "The Fortune-telling," for instance, one woman uses playing cards to give a psychic reading to her friend. In Hirschfeld's version, his models use cowrie shells, a traditional Senegalese fortune-telling tool.
    "I wanted to show that some emotions are universal, and create a more universal portrait, but I also wanted to create a more Senegalese scene," he says.