Featured Artist : Liza Ambrossio

Journey to Rome ~ Traversing the ominous to conquer the darkness

(You know what they say about London buses, wait for one and three turns up. I’ve been so fortunate to be able to feature three amazing photographers recently, and this is the third.)

Donning a baseball cap and wearing a bright yellow t-shirt, she smiled and said hello to me at the Camucia-Cortona train station. She was the only person smiling in the 30c heat, and introduced herself. Then I recall seeing her at the Cortona-On-The-Move festival but apologised that I had not talked with her during the last three days. She showed me her photo book The Rage of Devotion, a recent winner at Arles, and it clicked. This is Liza Ambrossia. Our journey to Rome took slightly longer than 2 and a half hours, so we chatted about her awards, projects, her book and about life in general. She was also trying to arrange accommodation in Rome at the same time. She kindly offered me plums from her landlady’s garden.


 

Q. You have just completed your ‘festival’ tour in Europe where you have been awarded a couple of major prizes, the FNAC Talent Award 2018 for your series Blood Orange and also at Arles, scooping the best photobook prize from the Voies Off Awards with The Rage of Devotion. I’d like to wish you many congratulations on receiving these prizes. Thank you for saying hello to me at Camucia-Cortona railway station and showing me your book, otherwise, I would not have discovered your wonderful work!

The success of your works depends on the amazing esoteric imagery that you produce, and the non-linear approach to editing your projects into fantastic, almost dream-like stories. How do you inspire yourself to create these images? Do you have a set formula following the story outline, or do you make the images randomly and put together at a later stage?

LA : Free association is the key to my line of work, a psychological process that gives independence to creativity in a mental state of emancipation directly related to the emotional state of the person who practices it. What we manage to retain from life not only from photography has to do with three essential points according to my criteria, what can be seen, what we want to see and what is revealed to us. To this I adhere structures of my contradictory personality: ease to live and radical when it comes to projecting stories.

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Q: During our two and a half hour train ride to Rome, we chatted about many things – UFO’s, chupacabras, demons, death, eagles, snails, narco killings, Manila, Marcos, about your childhood and the scholarship you gained in Spain. Your influences to your work are clearly derived from many experiences and circumstances in your life and travels, growing up in Mexico and Spain. However, the overall theme of your works is about identity, longing and a sense of regret, I feel. Is there any truth in this, and are your photographs a sort of self-reflection or examination of your personal journey as an artist, always in search of the unreachable?

LA : Extraordinary memory yours, my dear friend … But I must emphasize that from my perspective my work does not speak of repentance; but speaks of revenge, of madness, of the monstrous thing that lives in our souls and how to reach freedom after destroying the universe in which chance has placed us (family, religion, homeland, name or physical). I intend for my work to be what I am as a person, someone who believes that social structures are a drag on imagination and growth. My work talks about what I have lived, suffered, loved, hated, dreamed and desired. I am not afraid to speak with my images of my dark, comedic or immoral inclinations. My ambition is to achieve the greatest freedom that the religion of art can give me.

 

 

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Q. You write that ‘reality is overrated and fantasy underrated…”. The imagery of your works can be said to be ‘Lynch-ian’ in some respects, even nightmarish. eg. the arm with snails, the eagle eating the frail hatchling, and the numerous masked faces in The Rage. Is there a sense that you wish to provoke a reaction, any reaction from your viewers, that leads them to question your work or the images are purely to illustrate the concepts that you have to tell your story effectively, (ie. not caring about your viewers).

LA : Artists like me are beings led by demons and we are aware that these demons also observe us (the spectators). I like to write, make videos, images, tell stories, talk to strangers, the football and travel like a dog without a house as if I did not have tomorrow. I am an extremely passionate and passionate person for love and hate, to celebrate and to desolate, to live. I grew up in an atmosphere of chaos and exhausted my childhood and adolescence in that triangle of self-destruction; I currently know that there are many images that I already have inside and when I find them I collect them knowing that I am showing my demons. Demons with the ability to scare or fascinate.

Q. You also write that you are searching for the ‘transgressive aesthetic of the strange and the ‘every day’. I think you have succeeded in many ways, looking at your works in Blood Orange and The Rage. What is your next project and will you continue with this aesthetic, or perhaps go in a new direction altogether?

LA : My aesthetic continues to grow and is increasingly derived from film and short films because it is a language in which I recognize myself more. Although I will continue to make photobooks. My next project will talk about another dark moment in my life, suicide a personal complex because my father committed it and I could address it in a different way by living a few weeks in Switzerland two years ago when I discovered that deciding to die is a legal and even possible human right to pay. So I’m generating an optimistic opinion around the subject, in a project that will not take long to hang on my website more than a couple of months.


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LIZA AMBROSSIO, Rome Termini, July 2018 © Steven Lee

www.lizaambrossio.com

BIO

(B. in Mexico City, Mexico) Liza Ambrossio is a Mexican artist who lives and produces in Madrid, Spain. Winner of Voies Off award 2018 prize of the photography meetings in Arles, France, she is the winner of the FNAC New Talent Award, Spain, 2018; and the Discoveries award 2017 of the PHotoEspaña festival and La Fábrica. Her body of work mixes macabre archive photographs with cryptic paintings, performance, intervention, videos, psychology, nightmares, science fiction and witchcraft that unites by free association.

Liza’s work has been published on the network of Center of the image (Mexico City), Fototazo (Colombia-United States), Espacio Gaff (Mexico-Venezuela) and L’Oil de la Photographie (France). Liza has been granted a scholarship to study production residences in Iceland and the United States (2017). She has been selected as a finalist in the 50 best young promises of the Emerging Talent of Lens Culture 2016 in Amsterdam, Holland and selected in New Visions 2018 of the Cortona On The Move festival, Italy. In March 2018 she presented her first photo book ‘The anger of devotion’ (The Rage of Devotion) edited by Desiertas Ediciones (México) and La Fabrica (Spain) within the Fotofest of Houston, Texas, United States.

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Featured Artist : Ranita Roy

An inquisitive mind.

Ranita Roy is a young photographer who aspires to be a photojournalist. Based in West Bengal, India she is constantly seeking out social issue stories – education, poverty, flood, environment to document.  Already having a string of accolades, awards, and publications after her name, she strives to have her most deserved works seen. I asked her a few questions recently, most notably about her black & white projects, which I feel are her strongest and most accomplished. Her work is mature and filled with emotion.

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Q. When did you first discover photography and its ability to tell stories?

Since my childhood, I liked the camera. Numerous times I played with my father’s camera. Be as it may, I never thought I wanted to be a photographer or turn out to be extremely enthusiastic about photography. When I was in college, amidst a discouraging time, one day I left my home with a compact camera and began shooting, and I understood that it gave me a certain delight and helped me to overcome that circumstance. From that point onwards, photography turned into a sort of contemplation for me and became part of my life.

Since I started photography, for one year I was trying every genre, but somehow I realized that photographing in the street is challenging and I started to focus on photographing regular people in exaggerated situations that highlighted aspects of who they are. Later, I started to following documentary photographers and their works and found this genre to be a powerful medium to show reality with artistry. Gradually, my interest grew in narrative photography.

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Q. What was your very first project?

My very first project was photographing backstage of a drama play. But it was not planned and it happened within a fraction of second’s decision. Reaching the stage to look around, I found that work backstage, behind the scene, was very interesting.  I thought the images could also be a story for the performers.

But as a first planned project, I must tell you about Chhordima, my grandmother. Ever since my childhood, I witnessed her pain, sorrow, joy, excitement and enthusiasm. How positively she lived with all sorts of social restrictions. I learn from her.

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Q. Who are your influences in art and photography?

It’s very difficult for me to name a single person. There are many people who has influenced me a great deal. It is not only from photography, but also in filmmaking, documentaries, and painters. I am inspired by Satajit Ray, Stanley Kubrick, Ritwik Ghatak, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Vittorio De Sica etc. In photography, I can say, Lynsey Addario, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ron Haviv, Raghu Rai, Kevin Carter, Alex Webb, Raghubir Singh, Ren Hang and many more.

I would like to name Sudipta Chakraborty, my photography mentor, whose continuous support has helped me a lot. I am inspired by his works.

Q. How do you identify a story to pursue?

Actually, I go to search out the burning issues. The issues that need special immediate attention. Firstly,  I decide on the story, and then begin gathering research and data on that particular issue. After analysing the data, later I visit the place, do a recce. Then I plan for the shoots. The duration of preparation for the story depends on the subject matter. For the floods, it was planned on ahead of time and I start shooting immediately when it happens. As most of the issues I deal with are on long-term basis, I always get time to prepare for the next level of shooting. For child labour stories, it took a lot of time to cover, as I had to keep in mind the political, administrative and local issues.

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From Upanayanam

 

Q. How much research do you do before you set out on your projects?

I have already replied in my previous answer. After identifying the story, I first collect data and information from the internet. I also try to search for the reports and news of that story to understand how much has already been covered. The next phase, I generally visit those places a couple of times to understand the scenario and prepare my approach. For stories which need immediate action, I directly visit those places and start shooting at the same time during my recce, to determine what are the major issues there and if possible, I may stay back there or make continuous visits.

 
Q. You have achieved a great deal in terms of awards and recognition, and also have worked published internationally. How do you reach out to these organizations and what which genre of photography would you like to see yourself getting into further?

Generally, I receive enquiries through the mail from those organizations. They get to know my work from either my website or from the contest pages, where my story or images were published.

I have grown interested in narrative photography and I would like to work as a photojournalist.

 
Q. I especially like your two black and white series – Upanayanam and Chhordima. They are very intimately photographed portraits with strong visuals, and the images tell the stories very well. These stories are truly unique and deserve more exposure. Why did you use B&W for these?

I could make both series in color but I chose black & white just because I would like to show the varying shades of only two colours, black and white. In Chhordima, as you read the story, the lady crossed many hurdles and restrictions of society in her life. Thus I wanted to contrast positivity & negativity, by using these two ‘shades’.  In Upanayanam also I used black and white to show the transformation of a Brahmin boy, from his colourful childhood, he enters into a very strict disciplined life, where he can visualize the future paths of life. The rays indicate the positive ways for him and black & white referred to the very simple, straightforward and strict disciplined life he entered into.


 

www.ranitaroyblog.wordpress.com

Brunch with Herlinde Koelbel

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I was in New Zealand recently, attending the Auckland Festival of Photography, by a kind invitation from festival director Julia Durkin. In its 15th year, the festival is well established and featured over 100 gallery exhibitions, international presentations, workshops and portfolio reviews. The festival center is located at Silo Park, where the specially curated thematic ‘Control’ exhibitions were held, literally in two giant disused concrete silos and a metal gantry in the surrounding open space by the water’s edge.

That was where I met Herlinde Koelbel, the respected German photographer known for her lifelong portraits of Angela Merkel and her series ‘Jewish Portraits’. In Auckland, Herlinde was showing her recent project Targets, part of the Control theme, as noted in the program  :

     “For years Herlinde Koelbl travelled around the world, and in a total of thirty countries, made photographs of the military targets used in the training of soldiers. As icons with which the various armies of the world learn the craft of war, everyone considers himself to be on the right side. In the reality of war, the soldiers themselves are always ultimately the target. For Koelbl, it was thus obvious that exhibited beside the mechanical targets are portraits of the soldiers – for they are the living targets.”

I spent my first morning in Auckland enjoying a delicious brunch with her in a cafe on North Wharf and snapped this portrait. We chatted about her project and discovered she had traveled to many countries, liaising with their militaries and consulates to gain access to their training and practice locations to photograph. Encountering obstacles and being passed from one department to another she nevertheless obtained permission in many of the prominent nations. ‘Targets’ attempt to show the ultimate futility in armed conflicts, the power play and arms race amongst nations. By portraying and comparing methodologies and practice targets used in various militaries, a powerful insight about the ‘art of killing’ and the soldiers trained to do so, only to discover that they are the very targets that the others are being trained to kill.

www.herlindekoelbl.com

Featured Artist : Sheila Zhao

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I met Sheila Zhao at the 2017 Mt.Rokko International Photo Festival  in Kobe, Japan and discovered her exhibited series The East Was Red for the first time. This series comprises of scanned vintage black and white photographs she collected in China depicting mainly the youth of the period during Mao’s reign, in various formal and semi-formal poses.

Each photograph has a patch of ‘communist’ red purposefully hiding propaganda symbols and objects used as props in the making of the original photographs, which presumably, was the intention of the photographer at the time.  These found photographs could be dated to the 50s – 70s during the height of Communist Party’s control.

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I found the work intriguing and steep in historical commentary, nuanced interpretation and concepts, and posed a few questions to her.

Q. What did you major in at Indiana University?

SZ. Journalism with a minor in anthropology.

Q. How or what made you go into photography the way you did?

SZ. I entered photography rather recklessly. I was interested in the arts in secondary school, but never pursued it in university, apart from a weeklong photography course in a media class. I bought a camera post graduation and was photographing during holidays I got from my public relations agency job. That’s where my love and interest for photography took root. I wasn’t cut out for a PR job in that capacity, and when I decided to find a new career, I looked towards photography.

Q. Your earlier photographs have a certain dream-like aesthetic to them (apart from Last Days). Did this come about accidentally or intentional?

SZ.The aesthetic initially came organically. I wasn’t intentionally trying to force myself to photograph in any certain way. However, once I recognised that this type of aesthetic came more naturally, I tried to focus on it and use it as a component to my photography.

Q. Coming to The East Was Red work, what was the source of inspiration for this series and, in terms of found photography, can you see this developing further, (perhaps a Soviet Union project?) or is this project dependent on the expansion of your collection.

SZ. The East Was Red was started after I began collecting found photographs from China. I would buy these photographs, usually originating from family albums, from vintage dealers in Shanghai and Beijing. I wanted to share the more interesting finds with a broader public – to make sure they wouldn’t be lost again – and thus began posting them on Instagram under the handle @chinalostandfound.

As my collection grew, I began noticing a pattern in photographs from the Cultural Revolution era in China, of what seemed like an enthusiastic incorporation of propaganda and the articulation of a certain mindset. It was from there that I decided to impose my own artistic interpretation. As for further development of this series, I certainly plan on continuing to collect found photographs as long as I remain in China. As for The East Was Red, there are still a few certain things that I’m looking out for that I think can better round out this work. However, at the moment I am only comfortable to make this kind of work about China, due to my personal affiliation with the country, as well as my family’s connection with it.

Q. The narrative of this series is simplistic to a post Mao viewer perhaps, but what about the older Chinese population? Have you thought about their response to this series? The ideas and topics of censorship, state apparatus, & symbolism plays deeply in this work if one analyses it closely. Do you prefer your audiences to make their own values and judgements, or like to lead them along with hints and pointers?

SZ. It’s funny you mention this about the older population. A Chinese friend of mine recently told me she showed some photos from this series to her (elderly) father. Apparently he was rather alarmed and warned to be careful where the pictures are shown. Of course this was only one person with his own memories of the past, but indeed it would be interesting to see how other people of that generation would respond to this work. As for the second part of your question, I think both points you asked about are mutually inclusive. But I think for the longevity of a body of work, it requires the audience to be engaged, for them to continuously be thinking and questioning themselves and the points the work brings up.

Q. Lastly, where do you see your photography in 5 years time?
SZ. No idea. Hopefully you’ll see The East Was Red in a book by then and I will be working on other interesting and relevant works.


More www.sheila-zhao.com

Featured Artist : KG Krishnan

I have known KG since 2014, when I mentored him for the very first Exposure+ Mentor Program. He produced a stunning series of stylised portraits of transmen and transwomen living in Kuala Lumpur called Continuum.

Much time has passed since then, and recently I discovered that he had been off the scene for some time, but has since produced this piece, which formed the subject of his presentation at the KL International Photoawards 2017 in Kuala Lumpur, titled loosely as Between Lust and Longing.

KG is one of those rare and extremely talented artists who, can and will surprise you, unpredictable and yet photographs with such personal conviction, and dedication, often obsessive, with every kind of camera he can find, and in this series, his phone, mainly. I think he often lives on the edge.

This project began as a body of work documenting my personal struggle with crystal meth which started in the year 2011. A quick search online for crystal meth will tell you a great deal of its dangers on the mind and body, the demographic, its use is usually associated with, and some statistics on the estimated number of people currently thought to be using meth in communities around the world – all of which would be completely misleading.” KG

“In the early days of my use, by chance I’d stumbled upon a group of users among the gay community which at the time I thought to be an isolated incident, though soon after I started realising that the community as a whole was on the verge of an epidemic and with it, my battle to stay clean started to decline.”

 


 

KG Krishnan was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1989. A journalist, photographer and spoken word artist, his art explores ideas concerning sexuality, gender politics and the intimacy of human relationships in the contexts of contemporary culture.

As a commercial photographer and art director, KG Krishnan’s clientele comprises design institutions, fashion designers, advertising agencies, filmmakers, musicians and lifestyle publications ­ for whom he produces images, film and fashion productions. His work, both writing and photography, has been widely published around Southeast Asia and occasionally appears in European and American publications.

He currently does visual consulting and art direction for production and advertising clients in Kuala Lumpur while working on personal projects.

His work can be viewed at www.kgkrishnan.format.com