The more pictures I look at, the less I am able to say why I feel attracted to some images. Sometimes the answer is not so much in the image itself but in the emotional attachment that forms between me, the viewer and the photo. It’s a strange umbilical cord that ties me to what I see, it has the power to turn me into the photographer who took the picture.
GL: Two pairs of feet, one black and white, the other color, two pictures from two different series but there’s some playfulness and intimacy that they share.
AB: These two images are parts of completely different works of mine, and also from very different phases of my life, both personally and photographically. There is not connection between them, at least not at a conscious level. The black and white image was taken at a spa in Argentina a few years ago. I decided I was going to work on my first proper photojournalistic story. I took a month and a half unpaid leave and I went off following a story about water, water scarcity and abundance. I had both a DSLR and a compact digital camera, for which i had a waterproof case. That’s what I used for this photo.
As If, the series this picture is part of, came together when I decided to format my hard drive and bin it all. I ended up being caught up in a crisis about the meaning of photography. I could not find myself in what I was doing and I didn’t like my photographs. I started looking here and there more with a nostalgic feeling than anything else, and all of a sudden I looked at some images in a different way. I had my little humble epiphany and As If came out.
GL: A photographer about to ‘burn’ her pictures? May sound romantic, but it must have been a huge crisis.
AB: I was feeling defeated in my hopes, dreams and ambitions. I was about to press ‘confirm formatting’ when a friend of mine phoned me inviting me out. I told him what was going on and he suggested to leave it there for the moment and go out. I did. I took the camera with me. I got drunk. I took photos and the following day I turned up at the last day of the workshop that I was attending that week with my series. The series wasn’t bad, and I never formatted the hard drives.
The color image is from My Star Wars Family. I took all the images mostly during the three months I lived with this family in 2011/2012. In this case the subject was quite clear from day one, even though it became clearer while in the process. As far as I remember I was helping one of the children taking a bath and Ibu, the little one, was messing around with us.
GL: How do you respond to the situations around you? How do your pictures get taken in the technical sense?
AB: I don’t have any mantra, any exercise. Sometimes I am luckier than other times. More often than not, when I really think I got a picture situation and all is there the result is pretty disappointing. At other times, as I go through what I shot, I find something I like. I see something that I didn’t really realize the moment it happened. But in all honesty, I wish I could draw and make all the pictures I didn’t take. I have the feeling those are the best ones.
GL: What are some of the best pictures that you didn’t take?
AB: Moments and portraits, some situations. Mostly portraits of people, interactions…. Those things you see and surprise you. You have no time to grab the camera, but also you may feel you’re intruding. I have this. And I let it go, I guess.
As for technicalities, I’m not so fussy about that. I try to get the best possible file so that afterwards I can work on it more easily. Having said this, I don’t post-produce much and if I think a picture works I get over the fact that it is maybe overexposed or underexposed, badly composed or focused and use it anyway.
GL: Technically: what camera(s) did you use? Film? Digital?
AB: A digital SLR, a Nikon D700. I mostly use a 50mm, f/1.4 and sometimes an old 35-70mm, f/2.8 lens. I used to have an old Nikon film camera, darkroom and all and when I moved on to digital I thought of getting a Nikon so I could swap lenses and carry on with both digital and film. I, regrettably, never did. The color image was taken with this camera, I don’t remember the settings, probably high ISO, around 1600 or so, and maybe f/2.8, but definitely no more than f/5.6 and 1/60.
The black and white image was taken with the Lumix GF2, which I use with the 20mm, f/1.7 pancake lens. The settings were on auto. The waterproof case wasn’t the most perfect and I could not control the camera at all.
GL: How do you choose what camera to use for a given story?
AB: So far, I have mostly used my Nikon D700. But I used the GF2 a lot during the family project. I really had to try to be ready all the time. I was staying with them as an au-pair, so I was also working and looking after 4 children. No time at all to plan anything and the house was quite big, three floors. So I would leave a camera here and the other one there and grab the one that was closer to me when I needed it.
GL: How do you prefer to operate your cameras?
AB: I rely on the camera’s light meter, shoot one image, check it, and compensate exposure accordingly. I mostly use aperture priority, or manual mode, depending on the light situation.
GL: You’ve mentioned that you don’t like to do too much in post. How much is that ‘not too much’?
AB: I don’t retouch my images very much, I get bored quite quickly so I do an overall adjustment and some details, depending on the photo. The color image is very close to the original, I balanced the white a bit better and added a contrast curve, just to adjust the image’s depth.
The black and white is a different story, I cropped it a bit and turned it into black and white. The series this picture is part of was my first attempt at translating feelings into images. In a certain way black and white simplifies your life, it’s both direct and evocative. I wanted the light in the upper side of the image to be like an explosion, so I stretched the contrast there playing with layers and masks.
GL: How do you feel about color? With the My Stars Family you are sticking to color. With the As If series, it’s all black and white.
AB: I think color and black and white. I’m not at all a fan of the strict rules some have about photography, about styles, signatures and all. Different stories deserve different approaches and require different expressions. My Star Wars Family had to be color, it was such a strong element in general, it would have been crazy to erase it. As If had to be black and white, and not only because the pictures came all from different series/times/places. Black and white and a few shades of grey were the right colors for transposing what I was feeling, and this is what it was all about.
GL: In my mind, there are two kinds of photography. One is more about the individual image: you happen to create something that is just right. The other is more about the act of photography: the beauty is in the series, in the repeated act of taking pictures.
AB: Yes, one is more about aesthetics and the magic of photography in itself, and the other more about the process. Evocation vs narrative, unless you are someone like Henri Cartier-Bresson and you get the two to marry and ‘live happily ever after’. I find fewer and fewer single images that ‘prick’ me. It’s more often series. Also a story on a page, the layout/design, the sequence and size of images – all that, which belongs to making a book grabs me more at the moment.
GL: How do you feel about photography now?
AB: It’s like an intense relationship. There’s always tension.
(To see more of Annalisa Brambilla’s pictures visit her website at annalisabrambilla.com. All images © Annalisa Brambilla and are reproduced with the permission of the author. This interview was first published on l1ghtb1tes.com on July 29, 2013.)