You know when you're looking at a Petra Collins photograph. You experience a nostalgia for a moment you were never present for. Traffic light green and blood red cut through hazy lavender and saccharine pink. Her subjects are beautiful, but there's always something slightly off: a jarring bloodshot eye or a melancholic expression that hints at something sinister beneath the surface. There's a relentless unease about her work – she seems to capture a tension that most of us feel but cannot articulate.
Collins, 26, rose to prominence in the early 2010s, her dreamlike work both born out of and shaping a particular internet aesthetic via image-sharing platforms like Tumblr and Instagram: "A lot of what I was capturing was something I felt like I had never seen represented before. From the lives of teenage girls to my 24 Hour Psycho series, to all the editorial and commercial work I've done, I made it my mission to change our visual landscape a tiny bit at a time."
We're familiar with the kinds of people she unpicks with her camera; now, she's teamed up with Baron magazine on a series that explores life on the other side of the lens. "I've been photographing other people for 12 years now but had never really flipped the camera onto myself," she tells Refinery29. Why Be You, When You Can Be Me? is perhaps Collins' most disorienting work to date: she invites us into her inner world, uncanny and disjointed, brimming with perversion and alarm.
Working with sculptor Sarah Sitkin, who uses silicone, resin and latex to create moulds of the human body, Collins had her own body made, and uses the hyperreal second skin (Michael Myers-esque face mask, severed feet, removed breastplate and all) as a vehicle for exploring our relationship with our own image.
Click through to read our chat with Collins, in which we covered how apps like Facetune have twisted our self-image into an unreality, how diversity may seem to have been achieved online but only to the detriment of women IRL, and how her body dysmorphia led her to want to confront herself.