The work of Canadian photographer, Nathalie Daoust, that will be exhibited in Romania at the Muzeul de Arta Comparata Singeorz-Bai MACSB from the 21st of February to the 21st of April 2013.

Impersonating Mao

Photography by Nathalie Daoust

Supported by the Canada Council for the Arts

The work of Montreal-born photographer Nathalie Daoust negotiates the boundaries between reality and imagination, which she uses to address ideas of fantasy, identity and escapism. For her latest project, ‘Impersonating Mao’, Daoust is concerned with capturing and preserving the alternate life of Zhang, an impersonator who assumes the appearance and bearing of Mao Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic of China.

The term impersonator widely conjures up notions of joviality and entertainment however for Zhang the experience is a far deeper one, touching on the ritualistic and spiritual act of a personal homage to a by gone era. Meticulous in his execution of Mao, Zhang’s “performance” is much more craft and far less parody. The undertaking fulfills his desire to flee reality, offering refuge from the struggles of everyday life.

On first witnessing the impersonator posing as Mao in Tiananmen Square, Daoust was immediately intrigued by his careful construction of an alternate identity. Captivated by his quest for self-escapism and his embodiment of one of China’s most iconic historical figures, she returned to Beijing some time later and photographed the impersonator extensively. The settings and compositions of the portraits vary; some are a nod to the surreal and illusive nature of the situation while others reference the historical and political importance of Mao Zedong, by re-creating original photographs taken of Mao during his reign. In an attempt to capture what is both imagined and real, Daoust has juxtaposed well-focused areas against blurred and over-exposed areas. This is suggestive of the tug of war between reality and imagination, past and present and imitation and authenticity.

Through the photographic process Daoust has sought to participate in the impersonators journey back in time. Abandoning modern methods in favor of a traditional approach, she shot the images on a collection of expired Chinese film and processed them on archival fiber paper, the desired effect of an imagined past has to an extent become a reality. The portraits have attained an archaic look, a coating of amber resin serves as a seal – thus encapsulating the images in time.



Nathalie Daoust’s photographs reflect a love for random places and a wild, inexhaustible sense of inquisitiveness. Exploring, experiencing and documenting rarely visited landscapes and carefully hidden hotel rooms, Daoust spent the last decade producing voyeuristic insights into these otherwise veiled existences.

The Canadian Daoust, who studied the technical aspects of photography at the Cégep du Vieux-Montréal, spent two years in the late nineties living in the Carlton Arms Hotel in New York. The rooms, all themed and decorated with wild, colourful murals formed an excellent background for Daoust’s photographic projects which focused on the dark, obscure and, especially in those years, the ghostly. Daoust has traveled extensively and took photos not only of New York hotel rooms but also of Tokyo’s red light district, Brazilian brothels and Swiss naturists populating the Alps.

Daoust has created an oeuvre that is both diverse and intense. Seeking to translate her almost childlike curiosity, her perseverance and her highly individual interpretation of the world into fairytale like stories, Daoust single-handedly creates new myths about modern day society, as well as real-life stories of the underdogs.

Georgia Haagsma –


Artist statement

Since my very first experiments in photography I have been fascinated by human behavior and its various realities, by the ever-present human desire of living in a dream world. The aesthetic of my new project continues this visual exploration at the border between dream and reality, yet this time embraces personal escapism and the act of loosing oneself.

My objective as an artist is to push the boundaries of photography through experimental methods, working with new mediums and discovering new techniques in the darkroom.