French artist Alain Delorme’s Totem series features images of towering stacks of objects that appear to teeter perilously like totem poles. His project name is ambiguous because it almost indicates that the project is about the dazzling heights of the Shanghai skyscrapers. However, the entire project focuses on migrants attempting and struggling to ferry their towering wares and cargo across various parts of the megacity.
Migrants & the goods they transport
The migrants in the pictures that often go unnoticed by many are seen to transport unbelievable piles of goods on their bikes. Delorme utilized the precarious products that consist of cardboard, chairs, bales of clothes, and tires, just to mention a few, representing the new totems of society.
What do the subject of his photographs have in common?
All the subjects of his photographs (the men ferrying their items back and forth) are wildly different, yet they share something in common; their dream to live a purpose-filled life that amounts to something worthwhile. The migrant workers featured in the series live and work in a town without really ever settling in it.
Migrant workers depicted heroes
The workers, who arrive in Shanghai from all regions of China, represent the new breed of factory workers that seem misplaced in the brightly colored Shanghai streets. Alain Delorme manages to capture the essence and spirit of these workers in a way that allows them to stand out as the heroes of the factory world and as emblems of society.
How did Delorme create these images?
Delorme created the spectacular towers of boxes, tires and clothes using Photoshop. He managed to expertly embellish reality by neatly stitching each image in a manner that makes it impossible to differentiate the elements of the pictures that are real and those that are embellished. The artist exaggerated the loads in his photographs as a way of capturing the audience’s attention.
Meaning of the photos
He created the piles in the foreground to communicate the incessant development of modern buildings and skyscrapers in the background. By juxtaposing the piles of things against the buildings in Shanghai, Delorme also wanted to give his audience the sense of vertigo that he experienced after he first arrived in the city. The bright colors are intended to give the collection an almost fantastical and circus-like feel because the brightness contrasts well with reality.
Typically, totems have a spiritual and cultural significance; however, in this case, they illustrate how the contemporary consumer society has become obsessed with objects, particularly those that bear the label ‘made in China.’ Retouching the photographs to make them stand out was not an easy feat. Delorme managed to capture thousands of photos while in Shanghai but only used them to create the 18 photographs featured in the series.