Marta Beltowska

Marta Beltowska is a photographer originally from Sweden, of Polish descent, currently based in London working as a technician at an arts university. Marta's main priority throughout her work "is to tell something through my images, regardless of if it's through a candid street photograph or a staged composition." In her project A Partial Print, she examines the change in family dynamics after her father became ill.

How did A Partial Print come about?

A Partial Print originally came about when I was handed my first self-initiated brief at university. During the same time I went back home for a month in the spring, the first time since my father had become ill the previous winter. I had also just ended a very long relationship so with all of that going on, I was in a rather sombre place. With the freedom of a self-initiated brief, it felt very obvious for me to focus on something personal like the state of my parents.

Was it instinctual for you to pick up the camera when you discovered that your father was ill?

When my dad became ill, I was bottling up a lot of emotion - my relationship with my father was always very distant as he was (and still is) a major workaholic, and he's never been very talkative. Then all of a sudden his mortality came into focus, with this sort of emotional baggage unresolved. To express what I was dealing with internally, it felt like a natural reaction, but also like it was the only way for me to express anything at all. Photographing at this point was like the only way for me to focus myself - my feelings and my energy. Anything else feels as if I would have exploded, if that makes sense. The camera was my tool to catharsis.

Did photography enable your family to bond at all over the shared experience of your father's illness?

I can’t say that it did. My family is very awkward with showing affection, and weakness of any kind. Even if this work revolves around my parents and family, it’s like this very remote thing that doesn’t read on the family radar.

How do your parents feel about the work?

Even though my parents have seen the work, I’m not totally sure they understand what the work is about or what it’s trying to deal with. It’s partially my fault, I think - I’ve never explained it to them bluntly. I think they would take it as a personal criticism, which I can understand.

You cite science fiction as a great visual inspiration for the project. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

I've always found film a major inspiration, and with this work I really wanted to tell a story - without the presence of people. Classic science fiction films often depicts the presence of something unfamiliar and alien in the form of a disembodied light, and I felt that use of light fit with the mood I was aiming for. At the time I was really into story telling and narratives, as well as heavily staged scenarios - some images involved rearranging existing rooms in my parents house completely - watching sci-fi wasn’t just inspiring but also comforting.

There's a real sense of absence in the work, despite it being about family. Was that intention?

That was the intention, yes. Looking at family albums and incorporating these as props into the images, there is absence in what these family memories show and what was going on during the beginning of my father’s illness. I couldn’t use family members in my images because the situation was much too new and raw to handle, but in the end it suited the purpose of the work.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I’m mainly working on two longer projects, one looking at the history and meaning of neon signs and the other about the significance (or insignificance) of a certain South London building to the people that work in it. I'm trying to turn my focus to external stories and the experiences of others rather than my own nowadays, but I am planning to expand A Partial Print as my family dynamic continues to change.

martabeltowska.co.uk


Elegia

Elegia is a self-taught artist from Scotland, currently residing in Manchester, working with analog and mixed media processes to explore body dysmorphia and her bipolar disorder.

How did you initially get into photography?

I got into photography in a roundabout way via modelling in late 2011; in an effort to get more comfortable in front of the camera. I know that it sounds contradictory for a model to struggle with having their photograph taken, but most models that I know and have met have issues with how they look. Photography was what really got me interested in modelling in the first place, because I came from an artistic background and I saw this a creative outlet similar to that. I wanted to be a good model and to feel at ease with the camera. I quickly discovered that my main issue was with having my face photographed and so I started shooting some basic self-portraits with a little compact camera that I had at home. I didn't have a tripod, so I'd just tape it onto a lamp stand and do the best that I could with the tools I had at the time. I probably produced little more than a handful of images in those first few months that I was happy to upload anywhere, but they were enough to get the attention of other models who then asked to work with me. Soon after I was pretty much only shooting other models and put my self-portrait work to one side, whilst I tried to improve and gain more experience behind the camera. I came back around to doing self-portraits a couple of years ago and it's now the bulk of my work.

Can you explain a little about what body dysmorphia is and how it affected/affects you?

Body dysmorphia is a mental disorder which affects how you perceive your appearance. It works in the same way in which my OCD does, in that it create obsessive and compulsive thoughts. The main effect that it has had on my life is that I have problems with being looked at which creates social anxiety and panic attacks, and in my teens I was very much housebound for most of the time. During this period I developed Trichotillomania, which is another obsessive compulsive disorder that involves hair pulling. I have never recovered from the Trichotillomania, but I have found physical ways to deal with it like shaving my hair off.

What is it about the photographic process that results in catharsis for you?

Photography has enabled me to tackle, manage, study, but also document some of the disorders that I have. It has helped to desensitise me to my own image because I have had to look at so many photographs of myself from so many different angles. Whilst I still perceive myself as flawed and the things I see wrong about my appearance still very much exist, I'm able to see past those in order to create work. I think one of the huge things that it has given me is the desire and want for something, a sort of sense that I'm aiming and working towards a goal. I've had to travel a lot to shoot with people. and that's meant I've discovered ways to manage my disorders away from home and around strangers. I enjoy photography so much that even things that scare me I find that I can face in order to further my work. In my teens I wasn't able to leave the house just to go to the shop without four hours of preparing myself, whereas now I can get on a train or an aeroplane on my own. Even though I still have the same fears and anxieties, I am able to take them on in order to do the things that I want to do.

Is there a particularly poignant time where photography has served a therapeutic purpose for you?

I got myself out of an abusive situation in 2012 and soon after suffered a complete mental breakdown. Whilst I was dealing with and recovering from that I had my photography to focus on. Models would be emailing to ask to work with me, and so I'd have shoots booked in that meant I had something to look forward to each week. In a very basic way it gave me a purpose and an outlet for what was going on in my head at that time. I think it would have been very easy for me to shut myself away during that period, but photography kept me outdoors and out meeting new people despite all of the anxiety and depression I was fighting with. I didn't realise that this is what was happening at the time, that I was stopping myself from getting more ill. I just knew that I had found this new thing that I loved doing and nothing really seemed scary enough to stop me from wanting to do it.

What is it that draws you to analogue and alternative processes in photography?

The only camera I had when I started photography was a broken compact that I'd taken with me during a trip to America. The screen was broken and the back was held together with a hair tie. So when I used it on my very first model shoot, I couldn't even check on the screen to see how the images looked! I didn't have any real funds to buy myself a DSLR, but I found so many used film cameras on Ebay that were within my budget. So I gradually bought a few and taught myself how to use them. With film photography you have to know what you're doing in order to get anything out of the equipment, so it was very much a learning curve for me and a method that I still thrive from. I love the hands on element of it all, from developing my film at home to then printing from those negatives. I guess it goes back to my background with painting; I love tangible imagery and the physical experience of seeing and touching a picture. Making something with your hands is such a wonderful experience.

Image by Elegia

Image by Elegia

How do you see your photography practice developing?

Learning is my favourite aspect of photography and I feel like I'm a million miles away from where I really want to be with my work. However, to me that means there is no limit to what else I can do and can learn. I've been working with moving film, although I don't have anything that I feel I'd want to show anyone just yet! I think this a format that I very much want to get better at and hopefully I can use as another way to express myself and my own experiences.

elegia.co
@iamelegia


Dan Wood

Dan Wood is a self-taught photographer from South Wales, UK. His video piece Hypnagogia consists of black and white hand printed photographs that predict a post-apocalyptic world, representing his anxieties and insomnia. Throughout Hypnagogia — the transitional period between wakefulness and sleep — Wood preys upon our inherent fears to create an unsettling world of dark dreams and haunting nostalgia.

How did Hypnagogia come about?

The series came about a couple of years ago when I was searching for some negatives in the darkroom. I don’t have any sort of filing system, so when I need to look for a specific negative I have to look through them all, which can take hours; I always find it exhausting but very beneficial. This particular time I started seeing several images that had been overlooked and never printed; so I decided to print them to see what they would look like. Very soon after I realised that a pattern was presenting itself to me and that the pictures were cohesive. I knew that I was trying to say something but couldn’t quite figure out what. It was a serious departure from what I usually do, so it was a case of trial, error and experimentation.

The images often play into common fears: ominous waters, dark open spaces, strange figures etc. Do these directly relate to your own fears and anxieties?

Unconsciously, and now consciously, yes. I’ve always been a fan of horror movies, death metal music and the darker side of life in general. Becoming a parent for the first time and the responsibility that comes with it was massive inspiration for the series, too, and I suppose a lot of my anxieties were brought on by parenthood itself. Open water, especially the sea, scares me, even though I’ve never had a bad experience involving water. It must come from a horror movie called Shock Waves which I saw when I was quite young; I remember that being pretty disturbing. Lone figures in the landscape is something that has always made me feel some unease too, although I have no idea of the origins of this particular fear, even though it’s something that has been there since a young age.

How did you come up with each image and its concept? What is your process?

The pictures themselves date back as far as 2004, so I guess that this whole series is a documentation of my own life over the past 12 years. Each picture had to be relevant and also tell a story, whether it was dream/hypnagogic related and/or anxiety/depression driven. It's all about different periods of my life and how I was feeling during these periods. The main period fuelling this series was 2003-08 when I was going through a decisive transition from old life to new. There is also a supernatural element to some of the pictures as the house I lived in for 16 years was undoubtably haunted.

Sleep is such an integral part of our well-being. Has there been any therapeutic benefits from working on Hypnagogia?

Absolutely. There has been significant therapeutic benefits throughout the whole process. At the start of the project I had no Idea that I was self medicating, but it soon became evident when the pieces started fitting together; when I made the first draft of the video I knew that this was exactly what I had envisioned right at the start of the work. In regards to sleep, the hypnagogic visions are now expected but have in no way become less horrible; they definitely don’t cause the same rate of anxiety as they used to.

I found the video both oddly soothing and anxiety provoking at the same time. What was the reasoning behind presenting the images as a slideshow with sound?

Once the series of photographs were made they just sat in a folder for a while as I didn’t really know what to do with them. Something was missing. I needed to find a way of presenting the work to complete my expression, interpret what I was trying to say and conclude the series; randomly putting the pictures up on my website just didn’t feel right. One evening I had an epiphany to make a slideshow with music and the search for a soundtrack started. I tried many different types of music from light jazz to roaring death metal, but nothing seemed right, until I stumbled upon the work of Simon Wilkinson (via You Tube). The subtle science fiction-esque creepy horror music that he makes fitted perfectly and really brought life to the series; it was the best 79p I ever spent.

What are you working on next?

After that delve into the darkness, I’m now back working on more documentary/topographic based projects. I’ve just come back from shooting a mini series in Wick, in the North East of Scotland. My Father in-law’s family live up there and we try and visit bi-annually. It's such a great, unique and interesting place that’s rich in history and I really felt that I had to make some work there. Another project which I’m currently working on is ‘Bwlch-y-Clawdd’ (Gap in the Hedge) which is a mountain pass that connects Bridgend - my hometown - to the South Wales Valleys. This is going to be a long term project which documents the villages each side of the Pass and also the Pass itself.

danwoodphoto.com
@danwoodphoto