All Photographs courtesy of Natalia Calvocoressi
Louisa Lee: When and how did you first become interested in photography?
Natalia Calvocoressi: I started to become interested in photography just before I left school where there was a darkroom. Then I picked it up again when I went to Camberwell to study graphic design. I took an elective in photography and from then on spent most of my college life underground in the dark room. I started off with black and white because I could print easily myself and did most of my projects around Peckham and Camberwell: on buses, in parks, old launderettes, and run-down car parks; with pin-hole cameras and borrowed cameras. I then bought myself a Pentax manual film camera. I did a project with my friend Sarah Cresswell, who is now a fashion photographer, in a field somewhere in Buckinghamshire, using mirrors to distort the landscape. That’s when I became really fascinated in creating pictures that blur the lines between fantasy and reality, that seem a little out of the ordinary. One of the first photography books that got me really into photography was the work of Anna Gaskell - I find the contrast of childhood innocence with a sinister undertone, in her photographs, intriguing.
LL: Which people or places inspire you most?
NC: I am very inspired by Scotland. I grew up in Edinburgh and go back regularly, particularly to the Highlands. I enjoy re-visiting places and seeing how they have changed. I often return to certain themes when re-visiting a place. For instance, some of my photos have quite a nostalgic childhood feel to them, perhaps a result of returning to somewhere that meant a lot to me as a child. I’m inspired by things every day. Often I’m reluctant to read my book on the bus because there are too many things going on out of the window I don’t want to miss. Recently, I was at the bus stop on my way to work and the morning sun was shining brightly through the trees and casting an intense glow onto the patch of grass outside a nearby block of grey flats. There were a few crows in the patch of light and quite a lot of rubbish and it looked really beautiful. I wish I’d had my camera on me! My friends inspire me – a lot of them are photographers, illustrators and designers. My younger sister is my ‘muse’ – she’s used to me pointing my camera at her. Like a lot of photographers, Antonioni’s film ‘Blow-Up’ made a big impression on me. It sparked off my obsession with discovering things in photos you don’t see at the time.
LL: Your work has a cinematographic quality to it. Are you mainly influenced by photographers or do other art forms influence you too?
NC: Photographers have a huge influence on me, but yes, I’m influenced by many other art forms too. I love Gerhard Richter’s paintings especially the ones which emulate snapshot photographs. One of my favourite films is ‘Morvern Caller’ by Lynne Ramsay – the beginning with the coloured fairy lights turning on and off, intermittently lighting up the dark room. Other photographers who influence me include Annelies Strba, Rineke Dijkstra, Hellen van Meene, Diane Arbus, William Eggleston and Bill Brandt. I’m also influenced by Andrey Tarkovsky’s photographs, video artist Pipilotti Rist and the London School painters like Kitaj.
LL: Mario Testino has said he very much likes your work and is looking forward to discovering what comes out in the years to come. How do you feel about this?
NC: I’m thrilled! I once showed him my work and he was really encouraging. He really liked my photos, which was great, was extremely thoughtful and took a great interest. That was the same day I found out I got into the RCA so I was very happy.
LL: Would fashion photography be something you’d ever consider getting into?
NC: I’ve done some fashion photography in the past. I took the photographs with another girl for the RCA fashion catalogue in 2003 and have worked on a couple of other fashion shoots. At the RCA I enjoyed creating the sets and finding cheap props. I wouldn’t like to be a fashion photographer though – I don’t think I’d be very good at it. Some of my photos are quite fashion y but I prefer to take pictures alone. If I had control over clothes, make-up (or no make-up!), location, props etc, then maybe… I also don’t like to be under pressure behind the camera. A lot of my photographs happen by chance – I catch an unexpected moment and grab my camera. I often think when things are too planned, staged or set up it can ruin the spontaneity of the photo.
LL: How do you achieve the grainy, vintage quality in your photographs?
NC: By using an old Pentax film camera and experimenting with different films – sometimes old, out-of-date film. Also experimenting with printing techniques. I like the feeling of nostalgia so try to create old-looking photographs, so a lot of the objects and locations that I photograph and look for are old. I like to try and tell stories with my images, and I also like there to be a sense of mystery and ambiguity which perhaps gives a vintage feel.
LL: Windows and mirrors seem to be a recurring motif, are you aware of this and if so is there a particular reason for it?
NC: Yes I know! I think it all started in that field with Sarah. I look for ways of framing my shots, and I therefore often capture scenes using the outlining effect of door frames, windows or mirrors. I look at the landscape through the window on a train and see it as millions of landscape paintings flashing by. I used to sit in the car when I was a child and draw the outline of what I saw – tracing it on my knee. There’s something quite intimate about a portrait of a person in a mirror, especially if they’re not looking directly at you. I like the idea of shrinking what I see into a frame – perhaps I was inspired by childhood trips to Bekonscot miniature model village, which happens also to be in Buckinghamshire! In ‘Scale’ by Will Self I found an articulation of my desire to distort scale.
LL: What’s the single most important thing you’ve learnt about taking a photograph?
NC: To be spontaneous and brave. I would like to be braver when it comes to photographing people, especially on the street. Sometimes I don’t have the nerve to point a camera at someone in the street close up. I need a spy camera!
LL: Is this the same advice that you might pass on to someone interested in getting into photography or is this specific to your working method?
NC: I’d definitely tell people to be bold and also experiment with techniques and styles as much as possible. I remember being told at college that some of my photographs were good but I should not be afraid to take hundreds and hundreds. That was really good advice because there is no point being precious about taking photos.
LL: What’s the next place you’d like to exhibit your work?
NC: My last exhibition was at the Islington Arts Factory in Holloway. It’s an old converted church and you can see the dusty broken church windows when you look up from the exhibition space – very atmospheric. Last summer I showed a few photos in the Royal Academy Summer Show. Next I’d like to exhibit in a small-scale, structured space. I really like the Victoria Miro gallery!
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