One Day Every Day – Photographs by Zuzana Pustaiová | Essay by Joanna L. Cresswell

“It started in the Autumn of 2020, during one of the many Covid-19 related lockdowns. At that time, I was at home and contemplating the things and the situations around me. I knew that it was necessary to go shopping, cook lunch and clean the apartment, but I began to feel grossed out by how much time I spent doing these things. I started to think about how society behaves, what we do in situations that are out of the ordinary, and societal expectations in general. The starting point of the series was therefore a moment in time that strongly irritated me.”

Workout © Zuzana Pustaiová

It is this deeply personal moment of frustration in a time of collective crisis that sparked Slovakian photographer Zuzana Pustaiová’s One Day Every Day—a playfully subversive photo project exploring the absurdity of the repeating societal roles, patterns and cultural stereotypes we engage in (often without realizing) through brightly colored, staged and collaged images. Working mostly with herself, her family and her friends as models for her pictures, Pustaiová says she became interested in the role-playing we take on in our everyday relationships after observing both her own tendencies and those of the people around her in different social settings—from home to work, family to colleagues, friends to strangers.

Touch. I crossed 30 years. Baby boom and being asked questions about pregnancy and giving birth are almost an everyday routine. Lots of women feel attacked by this questions and not all of them are ready to answer and accept this part of life. © Zuzana Pustaiová

Embedded in the scenes that Pustaiová dreams up are a broad range of thoughts and feelings that, despite being very close to the photographer’s own experience, may feel familiar to women across the globe. Going on to describe some of her images in the series, she points to a photograph entitled Touch in which a woman in her bedroom is surrounded by masses of cut-out images of crawling babies. “I turned 30, most of my friends started to get pregnant, and I felt really under pressure,” she says, adding that “the question ‘when are you going to have a baby?’ still makes me angry—so many women my age are asked about it when it’s a private decision and we shouldn’t have to answer.”

Ice Smiles. Smile, smile, smile. Everyone is smiling but is it real, honest and natural? © Zuzana Pustaiová

Then there’s the image in which Pustaiová has cut out pictures of perfect smiles from magazines and frozen them within ice—a witty, tongue-in-cheek way of representing the smiles we plaster on our faces as we head out into the world, despite what we may be feeling inside. And elsewhere, we see a woman quite literally overwhelmed with her to-do list, visualized by post-its of various chores and jobs completely covering her face.

There are also a couple of images in the series in which Pustaiová has collaged a sort of mask over the face beneath—her own face, in fact, as her mask images are all self-portraits. “I create these masks by cutting out portraits from different magazines, collaging various parts together, and then physically taping them to my face,” she explains. All of the images in One Day Every Day are actually as a result of physically collaging scenes together before the camera in this way, and not done in post-production as we might initially expect. “I love this kind of process of preparing each detail in the scene which then becomes a photograph,” Pustaiová says.

To Do List © Zuzana Pustaiová

Masks are a recurring theme in Pustaiová’s work, and she has a separate, overlapping project entitled Masks consisting just of these portraits. The theme of masks is a long-standing visual research topic for the photographer, drawing on the dramaturgical sociology of the 20th Century American sociologist Erving Goffman and his theory that we all wear masks in everyday life. “People usually have many masks that they use during the day,” Pustaiová says. “They are different when they are at work, different in official situations, and different again when they are with family or friends. Sometimes it can even be that a person doesn’t know who they are because they have so many of these second ‘I’s.’” These are masks we wear in response to how we feel we are ‘supposed’ to look in different social scenarios, she says—the versions of ourselves we assume to fit in.

Mask 2. How many masks do we use by everyday? Masks are visual research to the question “How many second I’s do we have?” based on the dramaturgical sociology of Erwing Goffmann and the theory of wearing masks in everyday life I’m looking for this answer. © Zuzana Pustaiová

For Pustaiová, the empty frame is a space for projection and creation rather than capturing the reality of what is in front of her. Born in 1990, the photographer grew up in Levice, a small city in the South West of Slovakia. Her first forays into photography were in high school, and then she went on to study it at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bratislava. The first photo projects she made were under the tutelage of the art photographer Gabriel Kosmály, which deeply influenced the way she uses the camera to this day. “The most important thing he showed me is that photography is not just a way of capturing, it can also be the creation of your own vision, and your own ideal,” she says. “The same as a painter starts with a white canvas, I start with an empty frame to fill.”

Under the Sight © Zuzana Pustaiová

Working against a vivid backdrop of primary colors like bright red, blue and yellow, Pustaiová does indeed use the photographic space a little like a painter—an abstract one, perhaps, or a pop artist—filling each frame with blocks of primary color that work as graphic backdrops. In terms of settings, meanwhile, all of the images in One Day Every Day are shot within the domestic space—in bedrooms and living rooms, bathrooms and home gyms—which is a decision Pustaiová made because it suited the theme of the everyday better than anywhere else. All of her ideas come to her while going about her daily activities too, while riding the tram or watching a movie. “Then, after I’ve had the initial idea, I think deeper about the topic, read psychological and sociological texts, draw sketches, write notes and come up with the composition, lighting, colors and space in which I’ll shoot,” she says.

New Armpit. Sometimes I think about the hair on our body, how do we feel natural or how does society navigate our habits and behaviors. © Zuzana Pustaiová

When looking at One Day Every Day as a series, Pustaiová explains that while each of the images has its own story, they are all also working as a part of the greater narrative. This was important for her, she says, because, “it’s the same for all of us on a daily basis…we all have all of these situations that happen alone, but they all influence each other.” And ultimately, this interlinking constellation of actions and happenings, from the small to significant, affects the way our lives unfold—think of the sliding doors philosophy or the butterfly effect.

There is a long history of socio-political, subversive and feminist impulses towards the practice of photographic collage (take Linder Sterling, Hannah Hoch or Barbara Kruger for example), of which Pustaiová could be seen to be some part of. On a personal level, though, she sees her work with collage as something more intuitive and less overtly feminist than this—and that is, in part, because the stereotypes she responds to aren’t just related to gender, but also to other factors like age and culture too. “I have worked with feminine topics many times because I’m a woman, but I don’t see my work as feminist—I just react to situations that life brings me,” she says, adding that her work with collage came more from a continuation of wanting to do something tactile. “I always need to do something with my hands,” she laughs.

Empty Smiles. Covered by empty smiles is currently as natural as drinking water. © Zuzana Pustaiová

Based now between her hometown and Bratislava, Pustaiová is currently preparing for several forthcoming solo exhibitions, including a display at Belgrade Photo Month in Serbia and at Budapest Foto Festival in Hungary, and she’s also continuing work on her Masks series too. She has also begun a new project with the working title Safety Report, which, she says, “deals with nuclear safety and the real risks associated with it, as well as the apparent risks perceived by the public.” Pustaiová grew up within the 20km radius area of danger from a nuclear plant so questions about it were always a part of her and her family’s lives, she explains. It’s an aspect of her daily reality that she’s wanted to explore for a long time.

Stick to the Wounds. When your have physical injury you use some sticks or bandage. What do you do when you are broken emotionally? © Zuzana Pustaiová

In the end, Pustaiová’s images may best be described as full of visual wit, and when asked about the notion of humor as it relates to her practice, she says that it is absolutely integral part of her approach. “Knowing how to make fun of yourself is very important in life, and this is my key,” she says. “I have problems verbalizing things sometimes, but with humor in my visual language it goes more smoothly. I love when shooting is full of fun—that’s why in One Day Every Day I used my sister, my dad, many friends, my partner and myself, because they are all open to my crazy ideas and we have a funny time whilst shooting.” Of course, humor is also a powerful device with which to explore life’s big themes and that’s something Pustaiová does consistently. “Through smiles, humor and irony, I uncover the answers to many of my questions,” she says.

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