Interview with Alexandra Serrano, 2015 Photo Made Scholarship Recipient

portrait

Artist Statement

 

“ The Forest is a state of Mind.” Gaston Bachelard

 

Nesting in the Wolf Tree is a photographic series that depicts the forest as a space of the unseen and the mysterious whose immensity engenders admiration, contemplation and fright. The series starts as a journey of wander into the woods and slowly turns into a quest for identity scattered with obstacles, singular rituals and secret hideaways. Transcended by the timelessness of the natural world, the visitor looses himself into the darkest recesses of the forest. Carried by playing and daydreaming he invests, tames and transforms its landscape in an attempt to escape the monotony of everyday life.

In this game of hide and seek between fantasy and reality the hut, the cabin, the cave, play an essential role. Natural and unruly, these constructions are part of the forest a mythical land full of mysteries and illusions. They blend into the surrounding nature, taking up the colour of the seasons until their destruction. Temporary shelters or secondary homes they guarantee a quiet and protected rest, a timeless moment away from the world which can still be contemplated without the fear of being seen.

Interview

 

When and how did you start doing photography?

As a child and teenager, I have always been interested in art, mainly painting and poetry, but never felt any particular attraction towards photography. After graduating from high school I left my hometown for London where I started a BA. I was unsure about what I wanted to do and enrolled on a Creative Advertising course thinking it could be to a good carrier path. On the first day of class, I got lost and found myself in the university basement where stood the darkroom of the photography department. I chatted with the technicians and watched the other students working on their prints. This place fascinated me immediately. The silence, the smell and all these images appearing and disappearing under the red light. That’s when photography found me. After a week, I had changed my BA to photography and later completed a Masters in Photographic Studies at the University of Westminster. I now live Paris where I’ve been working as a photographer for nearly six years and had my work featured in various publications and exhibitions across Europe and North America.

 

What did photography give you?

To me, photography is like a magnifying glass. It enables me to look at the world more carefully for it stops time and reveals details of life invisible to most of us. It enriches me and stimulates my curiosity giving me a better knowledge of the environment that surrounds me. I also see photography as an escapism, a therapeutic tool that accompanies me through difficult times allowing me to express through images feelings and emotions which I struggle to put into words, thus helping me to be more confident with myself.

 

What is it that you try to achieve with photography?

I try to touch people. My work tackles themes such as intimacy, memory, and childhood. I believe these are universal themes that everyone can relate too. I also like to think that my photography can take the viewer out of the ordinary into the extraordinary.

 

What do you think makes a truly great image?

A great image is a photograph that touches you, that inspires you, that makes you think. As Roland Barthes said it rightly, everything is in the Punctum!

 

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I get my inspiration from everywhere: daily life, exhibitions, literature, cinema…

For this particular series I was greatly inspired by Land Art artists like Nils Udo, Andy Goldsworthy and Giuseppe Penone. I also relied on literature a lot: looking at old tales and legends set in the forest. Books like Bachelard’s Poetics of Space and Walden; Or, Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau were good references for this project.

 

What drew you to pursue a project on this subject?

The forest always had an important place in my life. The house in which I grew up stood at edge of the forest of Fontainebleau. Over the years it became a familiar environment, a place to which I became greatly attached. A home away from home. As a child it was my playground, the land of many adventures and extraordinary stories. As a teenager it became a place of freedom and escapism away from parental authority. Today it has become a place for peace and introspection.

When I moved back to France after my studies, I spent a lot of time wandering alone in this particular forest, going back to the sites of my childhood where I used to build huts, finding new ones made by kids just like me 20 years ago. That’s when the series started. I wanted to reinvest as an adult all these places, to go deep into the woods and photograph the unseen and the mysterious. I wanted to call back on childhood memories while playing on the symbolic aspect of the forest as a place of myths, legends and fairytales.

 

Do you leave any room for spontaneity during your photo shoots or is every detail and shot preplanned?

I work on film with a medium format camera. Setting up such equipment takes some time for it requires a tripod and both light measuring and focus are completely manual. This means that the subject, the composition and the lighting need to be thought through at least a little bit beforehand. This is why I rely heavily on sketches. I often draw the scenes that I want to photograph. Unlike digital photography, here you have a limited amount of exposures and no possibilities of checking what you shoot until you develop the film. This is undeniably restricting but at the same time terribly exciting for it requires a total investment of the self. The shooting becomes part of the emotional process of the project.  

 

How did your project develop and change between your start and end dates?

I started the project in 2014 and finished it end of 2016.  Over these years, the project matured a lot and the message I wanted to convey became clearer. It started as a project on childhood huts and expanded itself to the whole territory of the forest, to which huts are intrinsically linked.

 

What challenges did you face in the making of this project?

For me the most difficult part of the project was not the shooting but the editing. Which images do you keep and which ones do you get rid off? How do you build a coherent body of work and a strong sequence?

 

What are the biggest obstacles you’ve had to overcome in your career as a photographer?

I think the biggest obstacle you have to face, as a photographer is money. Photography is very costly especially when you work on film like I do. Photography is also very competitive: There are so many photographers out there and not enough jobs for every one. It’s a very unstable profession. You never really know what tomorrow will be made of.

Photography is also a very solitary activity, especially when working as a freelancer. You have interactions with others on shoots but most of the time you are on your own working on your images. This can be very tough. You need to be strong and self-confident in order to not get overwhelmed with doubts.

 

Do you think it is important to participate in photography competitions, awards, and scholarships?

Yes it is important. It enables you to build your career by putting yourself out there. It’s also a good way of getting professional feedback thus, helping you to improve your work.  However, there are so many awards that exist today and you need to be careful what you apply to and avoid those that have outrageous entry fees!

 

Has winning the Lucie Scholarship impacted your career, and if yes, how?

The money that came with the scholarship was a great help. It enabled me to finish the project and to start working on a publication. The Lucie Scholarship also had a very positive impact on me. It’s always nice to see that people appreciate what you do and believe in your work. It gave me great confidence to pursue my project and I’m very grateful for that.