"I thought ‘How cool would it be to put Robyn Lawley—a big, curvy girl—on the West Side Highway, naked with bunnies.'"
The idea for Kenneth Willardt's first solo exhibition came to him upon meeting 6 feet 2, "Amazonian Aussie," plus-size model Robyn Lawley. "Right away," Willardt explains. "I saw that it was going to be nudes. Very powerful. She's a curvy girl and we don't see enough of them," he continues. "They're all very skinny. I could have done it with one of the other girls, but I just thought it would be more interesting for everybody to see this."
Titled "Size Does Matter," the show had its grand opening last night at Willardt's studio, formerly a gay club named The Glory Hole on 21st Street and 11th Avenue. The show features eight images of Lawley posed with different animals, from bunnies and tarantualas to a miniature horse to an octopus. When the series is finished, Willardt tell us, there will be 20 images in total.
The Danish photographer has waited a long time to stage his first solo show. In the commercial and editorial world, Willardt is very established: his shots of celebrities such as Milla Jovovich, Diane Kruger, Freida Pinto, Doutzen Kroes, Gwen Stefani, Claudia Schiffer, Eva Longoria, Jennifer Lopez, Rachel Weisz, and Julianne Moore for cosmetic giants L'Oreal and Maybelline have been seen by millions of people. "What I do becomes my personal work," says Willardt. "I feel very free when I shoot for the big companies."
"Size Does Matter," however, is more than just a show of images. Each photograph has a corresponding 4-D barcode you can activate with your cell phone for what Willardt dubs an "augmented reality." Through the shrunken lens of your screen, you can add motion to the image: bunnies scampering in circles around Lawley, the horse moving. "There's a lot of things in this world where we don't know what's really going on because we can't see it or hear it or feel it, but it's still there," he notes.
Willardt has never been afraid of technology. When photography shifted from anologue to digital, Willardt created his own, online editing software. "You have to embrace everything," he tell us. "The world is not going to change for you; you have to change with the world." Now, the photographer has moved on to 3-D mapping with $200,000 projectors. On the show's opening night, Willardt and his team projected the images onto the 12-story warehouse across the street, along with a scenario featuring a fat cat jumping around the windows. "Creativity is like a conveyor belt of ideas," he says. "You take it and put it into motion, and if you don't, they stop."
"SIZE DOES MATTER" OPENS TODAY, NOVEMBER 8 AT 558 GALLERY AT 558 W. 21ST STREET, NEW YORK, AND RUNS THROUGH DECEMBER 8. FOR MORE ON WILLARDT, VISIT HIS WEBSITE.