Still Life Photography

Catherine Losing  |  London

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Hello Catherine, thanks for submitting your work to Women in Photography. Can you tell our readers a little bit about you and how you got into photography?
I’m a photographer and director, originally from The Isle of Axholme, UK but now based in London. I studied photography from the age of 16 at John Leggett College and after I graduated from Nottingham Trent University I moved down here to assist professional photographers. I’ve been shooting my own work exclusively for about 5 years now. I shoot personal projects, editorials, advertising and TV ads. They are usually based in still life.

You are a still life photographer - what fascinates you about this genre?
To be honest, I first got into still life photography because I preferred the pace of it. I was assisting a lot of fashion and music photographers. The shoots were always really hectic and involved huge crews. For my personal projects, I much preferred working with a small team and using objects and sets to portray themes and ideas.   

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Your work is very colourful with a unique style … How did you cultivate your sense of composition?
I like things looking clean and graphic. My boyfriend has a theory it’s because I grew up in the Lincolnshire fens where the landscape is extremely flat and linear! I get a lot of satisfaction out of planning and shooting interesting colour combinations. It’s always the colours that catch my eye when looking at other people’s artwork.  

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You have worked for Vogue, Lacoste, Moma, just a few to mention… There are many people involved in a photo shoot like this. Can you tell us a bit about your workflow? 
Magazines, advertising agencies or sometimes even clients directly, get in touch with myself or my agent. They generally have a specific project in mind and I go away and I create a treatment in response to their brief. In the meantime, my agent puts together a team and a budget. For commercial work it is normally a 3-way bid, meaning I’m one of 3 photographers or directors up for the job. If the costs and my vision for approaching their project all add up then they will present me to the client or brand. If we’re lucky enough to win the bid, we go into production. A producer is assigned to the job by my agency and we put everything in place; set designers, assistants or DOPs, technical teams, equipment, studios, post production or retouchers, food stylists, fashion stylists and cast any people that might feature. The whole time we’ll be feeding back to the clients on the progress and decisions we’re making. The shoot is almost the smallest part of a big commercial job!    

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Do you have enough artistic freedom on a shoot for brands?
It changes from project to project. Some get in touch and want me to just run with an idea and create images in my own style. But some people have a very specific list of requirements and deliverables, even down to the colours we include and the crops of the images down to the nearest pixel.   

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Many photographers don’t have any idea how long the process of a commercial photo shoot is. Can you tell us more about it?
It varies hugely. Sometimes I have 2 days notice for an editorial. I make a quick mood board for the Art Director and then it’s just me and an assistant shooting in my studio, the photos go straight to a retoucher and then onto the magazine in a matter of hours. With larger projects, the time between an initial meeting with an ad agency though to the work being published can be up to 18 months and involve lots of people sometimes up to around 50 on large ad campaigns. Both ends of the spectrum are exciting in their own way.  

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What advice would you give female photographers who want to get into commercial photography? 
Assist! It’s really hard to comprehend the work that goes on behind the scenes without being involved or seeing it for yourself. It is the best way to build up contacts, most of the people I collaborate with today used to assist the set designers and stylists that worked with the photographers I worked for. Also if someone tries to pigeonhole you because you’re a woman, don’t feel like you have to prove them wrong or prove yourself above and beyond a role, that person is a dinosaur that won’t change, there’s no time for them and you’ll be better off working with someone else. Opportunities are definitely getting better for women in photography, you don’t have to put up with people being sexist dicks anymore.  

Besides photography, you work as a filmmaker. What was the key trigger for this?
I’m signed to Blink Art, who are a branch of Blink Productions who have a massive reputation for fun TV ads and music videos. A lot of commercial jobs now aren’t just photographs, they want gifs, animations or films for social media and video billboards. I’m lucky enough that with Blink it just feels like a natural part of my photography practice. 

Last question! Do you have a dream project or brand you wanna shoot?
Lots and lots! But first I definitely want to get some more personal projects off my chest after such a busy couple of years of commercial work. My recent commission from MoMA for their ‘Is Fashion Modern?’ show was an absolute dream job that I could never have dreamt up! I think sometimes the best projects find you. 

 ‘Is Fashion Modern?’

‘Is Fashion Modern?’

Vanessa Colareta | Lima, Peru

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Vanessa Colareta is a still life photographer based in Lima, Peru. Her artistic education started with B.A. In Fine Arts in Polytechnic University of Valencia, Spain and continued with M.A. Visual Arts and Multimedia, Photography in the same university.

In 2013 she was named Still Life Professional Photographer of the Year at the Sony World Photography Awards, London. Vanessa has participated in exhibitions and events related to the visual arts such as “ArtLima” Art Fair at The Army School of Lima (Peru, 2014), "Sony World Photography Awards 2013" as part of the Month of Art, at House of Culture in Bratislava, "Lima Photo" Art Fair at the Image Centre in Lima (Peru, 2013),"Sony World Photography Awards 2013" at Somerset House in London and "Cafe Dossier" at La Tabacalera in Madrid, among others. 

Hello Vanessa, thanks for submitting your work to Women in Photography. Can you tell our readers a little bit about you and how you got into photography?
I started studying painting at the Escuela Superior Autónoma de Bellas Artes in Lima, Peru. During my second year, I realized that I wanted to get some experience abroad, and thus I applied to a scholarship. In 2005, I got accepted at the Polytechnic University of Valencia and therefore was able to continue my education in Spain. It was there that I began to take photographs.

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You are a still life photographer - what fascinates you about this genre?
When I was conducting preliminary research for my first project about female migration, 'Migrant', I was looking for different ways in which I could address this complex topic through photography that were not mere portraits. I was looking for something more poetic. Still Life came up as the perfect genre. Through food and flowers, it is possible to talk about society, economics, culture, politics, colonialism, and other relevant issues. 

Furthermore, during the research stage, I interviewed many women facing migration. Some of them lived in Spain undocumented. Keeping their anonymity was crucial if I wanted to obtain their testimonies. 

Finally, throughout history, Still Life has been considered a secondary genre, not as important as historic and sacred paintings. The connection between topics and gender is pretty obvious in these three cases: food and flowers (the house) related to the feminine sphere; war and religion (power), to men. 

You submitted your project „Exodus“. Can you tell us more about it? 
Exodus addresses female migration from Spain due to the recent economic crisis. 

When I first came to Spain in 2005, I realized that Spaniards felt overwhelmed by the waves of immigrants arriving from different countries. They seemed to have forgotten how thousands of Spanish citizens had travelled abroad during Franco's dictatorship and before. I started 'Migrant' series in 2011 having that in mind.

A couple of years afterwards, I started 'Exodus'. Ironically, the direction of the migration flow had changed because of the economic crisis: Spaniards started to travel abroad looking for better opportunities. 

Before both series, I interviewed all the participants in order to get some background information. I asked them about their experiences with migration in relation to family, work and society. Then, I started thinking about a picture that fits each story and selects the items that will appear in the composition. 

What were you looking for when you started that project? 

During my studies in Valencia, I met many foreign women who lived in Spain. Some of them were students like me, some others came to work in order to improve their life. Also, during my research for 'Migrant' I met women who left their own children and travelled abroad so that they could give them a better future. Listening to these stories of bravery, one could only feel admiration and the urge to share them, to give them a voice. 

Your photographs express a kind of poetic look - how did you cultivate your sense of composition?
My photographs are inspired by Still Life paintings of the 16th and 17th century. Thus, when I create each composition, I tried to keep certain chromatic and lighting. As a result, the pictures instil a deep classic vibe, even though elements which are traditionally associated with Still Life were combined with contemporary items such as plastic bags or cell phones. 

Lighting has an important role in creating the atmosphere I was pursuing to achieve. In the case of the 'Exodus' series, it was done in my studio in Madrid. There, I had big windows and when I first came in I considered for a second covering them in order to use the flash. Later, I realized how complicated it would be, so I made some tests with my camera and realized how beautiful was the light I had! If you see that place you could never imagine that pictures like mine were made there. I love using natural light for Still Life. In my opinion, it has the perfect warmth.

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Did you have a certain workflow?
The most important part of the series (and the most difficult) is to collect the testimonies. I really enjoyed this stage because it gave me the opportunity to meet interesting people and hear their stories. 

After that, I made some sketches in order to visualize the composition and to get the stage props and food needed. I cooked most of the dishes that I photographed, so the day after each photo shoot I usually invited friends to dinner.

What is your intention behind this presentation?
My intention was to represent these women's journeys, through a genre that is historically connected to the feminine sphere. 

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In 2013 you were named as Still Life Photographer of the Year for the Sony World Photography Award. What does this honour mean to you?
eing named 2013 Still Life Photographer of the Year was a unique experience. I was able to share 'Migrant' (which was the awarded project) with many people worldwide. Also, I had the opportunity to meet artists, art critics and editors, as well as to show my photos at Somerset House. That year,  William Egglestone received an award to recognize his trajectory. I was delighted to participate in an exhibition with him.

After the prize, interesting projects came up: an exhibition in Lima (at Alliance Française), a solo show in Belgium (at Nunc Contemporary), a publication for Exit (a photographic magazine from Spain), an invitation to participate in the online project Master Piece Edition in Germany, among others.

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What advice would you give young female photographers who are starting to become a photographer?

I think it is important to learn about the history of women in arts as well as to do research on female artists because there are tons of interesting ones excluded from books and exhibitions. Also, it is important to participate in photo contests in order to get visibility worldwide.

You’re from Peru. Can you tell us a little bit about the photography scene in Peru? Are there any female photographers you can recommend?

There are interesting places where you can see what's going on in photography, like The Mario Testino Museum (MATE) and Lima Photo Art Fair. Talking about Peruvian female photographers, I really like the work of Leslie Spak and María María Acha-Kutscher.

Thanks a lot Vanessa for the Interview!

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Marisa Culatto | London

Hello Marisa, thanks a lot for submitting your work. How did you get into photography?
I think I was interested in “producing images” from an early age.  I started taking pictures with a small compact camera I was given at the age of 11. Then, when I was 17, in my last year at school in Gran Canaria, I got my first reflex camera and attended a year long photography workshop organised by my senior school with an amazing local photographer – we even had a darkroom!  I did modern languages at college, but spent most of my spare time reading about art and experimenting with mixed media and alternative photographic/printing processes, sometimes even “borrowing” other people’s images from newspapers and magazines to work on them. Then I got a job as assistant to a fashion photographer who was very experimental.  I learnt a lot about technical matters in those years with him, but the most important lessons he taught me were that there are no fixed rules, and that hard work is the base of everything.

But it was really the encounter with the digital realm what consolidated my artistic practice, as it helped me think of the camera as just one more of the elements of my process.

You said, that you have an ambivalent relationship with the photographic medium. Can you explain why?
I’m always surprised – almost uncomfortable – when described as a photographer, which could seem strange as I work exclusively with a camera.  I think this is because my language – my imagery - and my work processes don’t fit comfortably within the classic territory of photography. Since the advent of the digital, there’s a lot of talk of what is or isn’t photography (let alone what is or isn’t art!).  I have heard opposite approaches: that only photojournalism is photography, or that anything lens based is photography.  I think both approaches talk about the same fact: that there has been an explosion within the medium. I’m not sure where I stand on the theory… I just want to do what I want to do.

Let's talk about your submitted project Flora. First of all congratulations for these unique compositions! How did you get the idea for Flora?
Then, first of all, thank you: I’m delighted that you like them.  I had been thinking about tackling the genre of the still life for quite some time.  I wanted to do my own take on it and eventually concluded that the way to do it was to photograph frozen compositions. I tested different approaches until deciding that these would have to be based on vegetation.  This decision came about after doing another project called Ophelia, in which I photographed clusters of seaweed floating in small puddles in the sand… So, in this case, refining the process took a while.

The photographs look very well composed. Every single flower seems perfectly arranged.     How did you cultivate your sense of composition?
I think the sense of composition is something that one just has, like being able to sing in tune, or being good with words. The rest is just working at it, and looking a lot of other people’s work - I’m sure it helps train the eye too. 

What is your intention behind this presentation?
The conceptual intention has to do with beauty, and the loss of it, and the futile attempt to hold on to it.  It’s my way of trying to come to terms and accept the inevitable process of getting old…  In the end, it also speaks about the act of photography itself: the freezing of the moment.

What do you find is the hardest challenge when taking pictures?  

My biggest challenge is producing what I want to produce with limited resources.  I am not very interested in technique or technology, and I don’t like having too much equipment, as I find all that too encumbering and distracting. So I have to find a way to do what I want to do with the resources available.  This is generally possible and, also, for me, limitations are helpful, in that they provide me with a framework and help me focus.

Is there a photographer which has influenced your thinking and photography? 
I’m never quite sure of who or what has influenced me the most.  I think I’m not always aware of what has an impact, as I feel that this sometimes happens at a subconscious level and in a cumulative manner.  I tend to resonate with very different visual artists, regardless of the medium they work on, so not just photographers.  Having said that, I remember a Keith Arnatt exhibition I saw in the early 90s, which included works from his Canned Sunsets and The Tears of Things series.  It had a massive impact on me.  It would take too long to explain how or why, but the fact is that I left the gallery finally certain that, if I ever allowed myself to be a practising artist, my medium would be photography based. 

Do you have any upcoming projects that you’d like to share with our readers?
At the moment I’m working simultaneously on two very different projects. One is a long-term, ongoing nature.  It’s called In Order to See, and deals with a more “photographic” behaviour in which I carry a camera with me to take pictures of the world, but obviously with a twist…  The other one is another “staged” body of work, like Flora, in that I put them together in the studio, but the idea behind it is completely different, and, formally, it happens in a dark background, rather than the very bright white of Flora…  It’s in its early stages, so I cannot say more about it yet.

Thanks a lot Marisa for the Interview!