By Ira Lupu
In 2020, relationships have been rendered increasingly remote, occurring over video calls on the other side of a screen. "On Dreams and Screens” investigates how intimate and real you can get through a web camera, and what emotional patterns are likely to be formed after hours spent in the online fantasy machine. It scrutinizes the liminal space where a real body transitions into a virtual one, and vice versa.
Online webcam models turn out to be experts in the field of screen-based human bonding — their livelihood depends on it. I focused on a group of seven Ukrainian girls in their twenties who have extensive camming experience. I photographed them and talked to them in moments of self-contemplation — in the places of their childhoods, favourite nature spots, and at home. What have they learned? Who are they? What do they have to teach us?
Ultimately, I seek to understand the paradoxical relationship of intimacy and distance, connection and disconnection, in a world newly transformed. As someone who has much experience with long-term, long-distance relationships, these are questions that I have long been asking myself. How do these relationships affect a person’s self-image? How does the virtual gaze seep into our day-to-day existence? Who do we become when we exchange desires over a keyboard?
Eastern Europe is one of the biggest hubs of web models. So additionally, I strived to demystify sex work in my native country and to provide a more nuanced portrait of my roots. To navigate consent and privacy with careful attention, I was looking for visual strategies to avoid straight portraiture while sustaining an intimate connection with the viewer. All to celebrate the “On Dreams and Screens” girls, who became my dear friends, beyond any fantasies or clichés.