Interview with Lina Bessonova
To read this interview in italian click here.
Welcome on Fotografiamo Lina. Could we ask you to tell us your story and how did you approach the world of analog photography?
It was a total accident. I took a photography class at university, and it turned out to be analog. I was really surprised people were still shooting film! I really fell in love with the process. It was difficult and challenging, and it was exactly what I missed in digital.
What is important to photograph, and what value does photography have for you? Is it a way to communicate, to remember, to document, a fluid expressive form that takes the shape of his container or what else?
It’s a way of understanding myself, of putting random emotions into a visual form. I often don’t even know why I am drawn to a certain scene. Only when I start printing it, I understand what triggered me and what I wanted to express. All my non-commercial work is extremely personal, autobiographical, metaphorical, and never random. I don’t think there is anyone who knows full stories behind every print.
In commercial or documentary work I choose analog simply because I’m not into digital and don’t like staying in front of the laptop.
I know that for you the tool used influences the creative process. I completely agree. Could you explain better how this happens?
If you use an expensive pen and beautiful paper, you will be more selective and careful with the thoughts you put in writing. If you take a vintage pen that belonged to your great-grandfather, with which he wrote love letters to your future great-grandma, the experience of using it will take you to whole different levels of self-expression.
The history of analog photographic tools we use, along with the process itself, is extraordinarily powerful in unlocking feelings and capabilities we were unaware of.
Every different camera format, every different lens makes us see and act differently. Hide and ‘hunt’ for street portraits with a 120mm lens on a 35mm camera, or get closer and interact with subjects while holding a twin lens reflex with a standard 80mm lens. When handling various tools, we become different people.
What relationship do you think there is between analogue and digital photography?
They are pretty much like digital illustration and hand drawings. Both can be fantastic, both can be tasteless and badly done. The tool has to suit the photographer and the cause. For example, shooting events exclusively on film is plain stupid. The film handling in processing can go wrong, and a political protest or wedding or birthday won’t be repeated again. Digital photography is extremely important for those type of memories we don’t want to risk. Which doesn’t mean it can’t be an artistic tool. Everyone surely has seen fantastic images shot on iPhone. Analog introduces random errors and discoveries, uncertainty, a different approach to handling reality. It’s an experience rather than just a tool. Which naturally produces more careful and consciously created images. Analog and digital are great artistic and work tools that are simply different. To me, analog is more about the process, and digital is more result-oriented.
Which camera do you use most in everyday life, and which would you never be able to do without?
I shoot whatever I have right now, and quite often it can be a camera of the person next to me. Then we have to cut a couple of frames out of his/her film :) I am not gear-obsessed at all. I still use my first two cameras: A Praktica MTL-50 with Soviet lenses and a Yashica-D. If anything happens to that Yashica, I will have a heart attack. It’s my favorite baby. And I like shooting 8x10 a lot too. I have a nice Wista camera, but I’m thinking of upgrading to something more sturdy.
Just looking at your darkroom it is possible to deduce the enthusiasm and passion behind your work. It is not just any place, it is a work tool with an aesthetic that encourages the production of art and good results. Did it take you a long time to realize it?
I have regularly worked in three darkrooms before making my own, then made two of my own with help, and only afterwards I alone built my current one in Florence. Thank you for the compliments! I love it too. My home is a mess, but the lab is always clean and very organized :) It took me 5 months to bring the place to working condition, and since then I have been continuously upgrading it. Now it has better enlargers, bookshelves, some extra washing devices, and of course my students’ works on the walls!
Your Instagram account is followed by more than sixteen thousand people, and your Youtube channel has almost ten thousand subscribers. Analogue photography, of which the end in the newspapers was announced years ago, is probably more alive than ever thanks to social networks. Paradoxically, publishing is now in crisis due to social networks, and the digital camera market due to the advent of smartphones. How do you imagine the future? Will there be space for any form of expression?
Bad journalism and paparazzi shots will hopefully go online entirely. I also hope that magazines and books that are examples of good writing and quality visual content will remain valuable objects with a higher price tag and smaller market. All I know is that humans remain humans. We long for beauty, we seek connection to the eternal through art, we want to recognize ourselves in poetry, music, painting and photography. We want to be carried away and become better. And if books, magazines and printed photographs can provide that, they will never go anywhere from the offline world.
Florence is a city that has always kept alive every kind of traditional art form, and where the "Florence Declaration - Recommendations for the preservation of analogue photo archives" has been drawn up https://www.khi.fi.it/it/photothek/florence-declaration.php. Is analogue photography alive and in good health in the city where you live? Are there many dark rooms, analogue photo shops or communities of people dedicated to it? And in Russia?
Oh you hit my personal painful spot here. Recent story. The Florentine government allowed Fratelli Alinari, the world’s first and biggest photo archive, with thousands of glass plate negatives, daguerrotypes, hundreds of thousands of historical prints and fantastic vintage photo books and albums, leave their historical building and relocate the archives somewhere no one will ever be able to see them. It is unfortunately a privately owned company, so the decision of the owner to sell the historical building (with a big darkroom, glass plate rooms from 1852, authentic wooden floors and narrow stairs) and earn from copyrighted scanned negatives was not opposed. I don’t know where all those cultural institutions were looking when that disaster was happening. On the place of this archive of world’s importance will be a new hotel. Officially the archives are being ‘relocated”, but some sources claim they are to be separated and sold in parts to different museums. So this is the state of analog photography in Florence in 2020.
I haven’t lived in Russia since 10 years so I am not very aware of how things are there. With the crazy customs, chemical products are really hard to import. I always struggle finding good developer and fixer, so I started bringing powder chemistry in my suitcase. I know quite a few amazing large format photographers from Moscow and Saint Petersburg. In Saint Petersburg there is a gorgeous ArtOfFoto gallery and darkroom with top level equipment and analog exhibitions.
[Above: photos of the Alinary archives]
Could you tell us about your "What we know nothing about" project?
I love sociology a lot. It’s my second big love after photography. My favorite author is Marshall McLuhan, whose phrase «what the fish knows nothing about is the water» has been quoted and re-quoted a million times. So we are a bit like this fish. Living our lives and trying to understand the logic of the events, putting things together, but never truly seeing the big picture. I was taking pictures at certain moments in my life, and they spoke to me metaphorically. They all meant something. The ‘Cinderella» shoe in Florence (not staged!) is about running away and wanting to be found. The boat on top of the hill in Capraia with sea in the faraway background has lost the purpose for existence. It can only look at this water and dream of sailing again. But no one knows if it will happen. Closed entertainment park against a grey Swiss sky is about childhood and adulthood. A church with «riservato» written on the bench — like there are VIPs in faith and God isn’t for everyone.
And another abandoned church with an altar where people still leave notes and ask for help. It’s all pieces of a puzzle. Our lives are random emotional pieces. And we have no clue where it all goes. I don’t know where my life goes. To discover, I have to keep photographing.
Will you hold courses in Rome or Florence soon? Where could we keep up to date on future courses and workshops?
In 2020 I decided to take a break from workshops to dedicate time to other very exciting things. Always analog-related. if I take part in any events, I always announce it on instagram and my website in «events» section. So stay tuned! ;)