We meet with the Turin-born photographer, whose work tackles social issues such as women’s right through staged photography. Guia will run a workshop on the topic at COTM Summer School, in collaboration with Canon.
Your works of staged photography –or mise en scène– have earned international recognition. How and when did you approach this genre?
Pregnancy was a key moment because of my reduced mobility. I naturally and instinctively found myself turning my thoughts into staged sets which depicted the reality I was living.
Staged photography can cross the boundaries of conceptual photography and mix with documentary photography by tackling current affairs; in your case, climate change and women’s rights. Is this a recent outcome of the genre? How do reality and representation interact with each other?
Artists have been tackling social issues since the early days of the genre. Here is an example: “The Two Ways of Life”, by Oscar Gustave Rejlander (1813-1875), a Swedish painter and photographer. Inspired by a painting by Raffaello, he used 32 negatives to make a photomontage with the purpose of depicting the different ways of life: religion, sensuality, virtue, wisdom…
From my point of view, to create a mise en scène is to distill a concept, an idea, a feeling or an opinion in a single depiction, thus expressing one’s thoughts on oneself or on the world. In other words, reality is not captured by the camera, it is captured by you using a tool, to tell the others what you see and how you see it.
I am interested in that place where fiction and reality meet to say something personal or something universal, something you were not aware of before, something which gives you different outlooks. There is a quote I love by Ralph Waldo Emerson which efficiently summarises this concept: “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures”.
How do you plan and create a project?
I work on two parallel levels: a practical one and an emotional one.The first one involves the practicalities (researching, location scouting…), the second slowly develops through emotions and feelings, giving shape to the work’s final atmosphere.
Location scouting and budgeting are a tough one; it’s not easy to find a location with the required aesthetical elements which also allows you to work freely. Besides, it is hard to scout locations on a tight or non-existent budget.
Then there is the emotional level, which includes finding my props. I will look for them in different moments and places such as flea markets, vintage shops, ebay, or through friends. People scouting is another part of it. Sometimes it is just somebody I bump into at a cafe and I recruit on the spot, it is that face that has got all you were picturing in your mind, taking shape all of a sudden.
For those unfamiliar with staged photography, please recommend two must-see artists working with the genre.
Cindy Sherman and Gregory Crewdson.
Your workshop at COTM Summer School will lead participants to explore the different kinds of “mise en scène”. How do you deal with teaching? Do you have any anecdotes to share?
I kickstarted my teaching career in Paris four years ago, at a local photography school. My method changes depending on the number of participants. We set a scene; I want to shed light on the personal world of each participant, whether in a group or individually. If the group is big I like to divide it into smaller groups, so each participant’s vision can emerge. At the last workshop I was able to work one-on-one and it was very productive. One of the students recreated his office and put together a very funny parody. Another student staged some songs; another one worked with real life panoramas and transformed existing buildings into abstract shapes. Another student worked with a stage actor using different rooms to tell different stories.
You have been Canon Ambassador since 2017. What are the advantages of this collaboration?
Being Canon Ambassador has made me more aware of my job, it has given me the chance to engage in discussion and to reflect on what I am doing. Moreover, it has made it possible for me to communicate with a broader audience through various talks and workshops.
In the past you crowdfunded a photo project of yours. Was it worth? Would you recommend the experience to another photographer?
I would definitely recommend crowdfunding to photographers working on a video or an editorial project. My best advice is to prep beforehand: set up a mailing list, choose the appropriate platform and gather up creative elements to give a spark to the campaign (videos, drawings, photographs…). Allocate four to six weeks to prep work.
Moreover, crowdfunding requires lots of dissemination work before during and after, so share, share, share…
Thank you Guia, see you in Cortona!
It will be my first time… I’m looking forward to it!
Guia Besana (b.1972) is an Italian self-taught photographer currently living and working in Barcelona, Spain. After studies in media and communication in Turin, Italy, in 1994 she becomes photographer and moves to Paris. With a particular attention to women’s issues she travels in different countries and joins Anzenberger Agency in 2005 and the Gallery in 2013. Her work is regularly published in international magazines and blogs: CNN photo blog, The New York Times, Huffington Post, Marie Claire, Vanity Fair, Le Monde, Courrier International, D di Repubblica, Esquire…Her work has been recognized by several international awards: Los Angeles LADCA, MIFA, MarieClaire International Award, AI AP, PWP – Professional Women Photographers, finaliste au Julia Margaret Cameron Award, finaliste au prix Leica Oskar Barnack . With her personal project Baby Blues she won the Amilcare Ponchielli Grin 2012. Her images have been exhibited in New York (USA), Los Angeles (USA), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Italy, France, Spain and Malaysia.