Tara Sellios • Photographer, U.S.A.

Lessons of Impermanence

Landscape Stories: Where does your interest for photography come from / was there a special moment you can remember, a triggering element to it? How did your fascination with photography begin?
Tara Sellios: My interest in photography was a gradual process. I unfortunately did not have that romantic moment with the medium that some photographers do; it was something that I learned and that I practiced over time. After much trial and error I realized that photography was the medium that was suitable to pursue for my work. My artistic practice began in drawing and painting, and it was not until a while later that curiosity persuaded me to begin learning photography. I did not love it instantly to be honest, I was actually really intimidated by it, but something would not let me give it up either. It was a challenge.ha instillato un desiderio di scoperta che non avrei mai avuto se mi fossi dedicato alle scienze.

Untitled No. 1 (from the series Impulses), 2012, 50×40 inches, Digital C-print

Landscape Stories: What poetry or artist influenced the most your beginnings? Where can the roots of your work be found?
Tara Sellios: I have a deep, life long love for old paintings. Art history is a passion of mine, and I am especially attracted to intense, majestic religious pieces. I continuously go back to Matthias Grunewald's Isenheim Altarpiece, Hieronymus Bosch, Michelangelo and the like. In the realm of literature, I constantly refer back to Dante's Divine Comedy, which has itself influenced a lot of the art that I look at. I do have many contemporary artists that I am extremely fond of, and interestingly enough, they too seem to be inspired by the Old Masters, which I think is the general root for all of us.

Untitled No. 2 (from the series Impulses), 2012, 50×120 inches, Digital C-print

Landscape Stories: What excites you most about the medium? What do you find most frustrating?
Tara Sellios: There are many aspects of photography that attract me to the medium. I love the ritualistic practice of it, and how much precision it requires in both the camera/film aspect of it and also in the arranging of the subject matter itself. As a photographer, I have a natural attraction and sensitivity to light, even in every day situations. My photographs are made with natural window light. Using light to "paint" an image has a magical element for me that is irreplaceable with any other medium. In a more conceptual sense, the medium excites me because any slight surrealistic elements in the image are amplified because of photography's frequent purpose of depicting an actual moment that once existed in time. I feel this heightens the mysterious, uncanny nature of the image, and in my own work, the use of photography gives the imagery a specific striking, visceral quality. The flesh, blood and various textures of the objects are real and tangible, and the strange arrangement actually happened. I want the viewer to feel as if they may have walked in on something they were not supposed to see. It sounds silly, but sometimes the medium can leave me frustrated for the same reasons that I enjoy it. I do get impatient to see the final result at times. With large format photography especially, there are quite a lot of steps to go through to get from film to final print. It can also be a very unforgiving medium. Overall, however, the frustrations that I experience with the medium only make it more satisfying in the end when the desired results are achieved.

Sketch for Impulse No. 7, 2012, 12x18 inches, watercolor and ink on paper
Untitled No. 7 (from the series Impulses), 2012, 40×50 inches, Digital C-print

Landscape Stories: Do you think a lot about your work before you actually start making it? How you develop your sketches book? Do you draw and write a lot to define and focus your work?
Tara Sellios:The preplanning of my work is actually the longest, most time consuming part of my process. It is also probably my favorite part. I do a lot of research, writing, and planning. I read and look at a lot of art history. I also go through a period where I am hungry to go out to see and experience art in galleries and museums. A couple months are spent traveling to various cities to seek out and enjoy the work of other artists. I keep a personal notebook where I scribble out thoughts and concepts. It is not until I have a solid foundation of what I think the portfolio is going to look like that I begin sketching it. I usually have some form of a shot list before I do my sketching. Each sketch is usually a well thought out photograph in the making. The sketching is done to make the process of photographing easier and more organized, but also, the narrative and concept of the work is very important to me.

Sketch for Impulse No. 1, 2012, 18×12 inches, watercolor and ink on paper
Sketch for Impulse No. 3, 2012, 18×12 inches, watercolor and ink on paper

Landscape Stories: Referring to your work "Impulses" (2012)... How does the project evolve since you start shooting? Do you feel like you spend a lot of time thinking about your work prior to making photographs or do you experiment things as you go along?
Tara Sellios: "Impulses" was very pre conceptualized before I began shooting, as I had a very clear idea of what I wanted the body of work to convey. I always plan and sketch the entire portfolio prior to photographing it. I get the experimenting done in my pre planning and in my sketches so as to not be extremely wasteful of time, props and money. The concept behind "Impulses" was that of love, and the frustrations, tensions and struggles surrounding coupling. I was at a point in my life where this was something I needed to make work about. Themes of attraction/repulsion, love/death, and the erotic/macabre were all things that I was thinking about. In my research, I came across August Rodin's sculpture "The Gates of Hell", which I felt an instant connection with and very quickly became obsessed with. It is a complex, striking work of art that portrays lovers in various emotional and physical states within the confines of Hell. I felt a strong dialogue with the piece and it certainly inspired me when I was making "Impulses".

Untitled No. 10 (from the series Impulses), 2012, 40×50 inches, Digital C-print

Landscape Stories: Do you have a method of working which you follow for each series, or does it vary for each different project? Please explain the themes in your artwork and your working process...
Tara Sellios: My method of creating a body of work from start to finish is quite ritualistic and remains fairly similar from series to series. As stated above, I begin with a period of research, writing and planning. From there, I develop sort of a shot list and sketch each of the images out to figure out color, composition and the props that will be necessary. From the sketches, I do a little more thought and in depth writing about each image. Finally, I photograph. I use a Zone VI 8×10 camera and color film. A shoot usually entails a few days of collecting props and tools for the image, but each shot is done in a day by window light. I am probably so neurotic about planning each shot because I do not have much time to build the still life and make the photograph. I have the film processed and drum scanned, so that I have digital files of the images.

Untitled No. 1 (from the series Luxuria), 2013, 50×40 inches, Digital C-print
Untitled No. 4 (from the series Luxuria), 2013, 50×40 inches, Digital C-print

Landscape Stories: The use of light is a very important thing. Referring to your last project "Luxuria" (2013), does the light help to create the story? Is there something special that inspires you and drives you in creating a certain feeling?
Tara Sellios: The quality of light in "Luxuria" is certainly intended to aid in telling the story, or at least in setting an emotional tone for the series. The term "Luxuria" is a Latin term found often in religious art history and means "self indulgent lust". This body of work is centered around the concepts of wine, sensuality, excess, and the struggle of trying to find pleasure in these things. I wanted the images to have a low key, earthy, seductive quality about them, so I photographed at a time of day when the light was beginning to escape. How I want a body of work to impact the viewer is usually specific to each series of photographs that I make. I think about my work loosely as a novel, and each series a chapter in a book; they are all related and possess a progressing narrative. As I carry on, the light and color seems to keep getting darker. The series that I'm working on right now is going to have very low key lighting.

Sketch for Luxuria No. 7, 2013, 18×12 inches, watercolor and ink on paper
Untitled No. 8 (from the series Luxuria), 2013, 50×40 inches, Digital C-print

Landscape Stories: The lessons learnt from Irving Penn's still lifes, European painting, Diego Velázquez, Eugène Delacroix or maybe El Greco and Caravaggio. What has been the import of these examples on your photographic interpretation of still lifes and its changes over time and light?
Guy Martin: There is a lot of still life work in the grand scheme of the art world from the past up until now, and a lot of it has been carried on into photography in various formats. Traditionally, the still life's purpose in art history was in the interest of "memento mori" ("remember that you must die"), and acted as a symbolic visual reminder of the fleeting nature of life. Dutch and Netherlandish painters seem to be most noted for this type of work, especially in still life, but it appears in various forms across the board. My intent is to carry on the tradition of the still life in a contemporary mindset and visualization.

Untitled No. 7 (from the series Luxuria), 2013, 50×40 inches, Digital C-print

Landscape Stories: Do you have a book to recommend to our readers? Which emerging photographer has recently interested you?
Tara Sellios: Mostly I read and collect a lot of artist monographs and art history books. My most recent addition is an exhibition catalogue called "Les Papesses" which is a beautifully laid out and image heavy survey of five female sculptors, one of which being Louise Bourgeois. I honestly do not look at very much photography. Most of my attention, especially in the contemporary world, is drawn to painting, sculpture and installation work these days. Off the top of my head, some of the work that I have seen recently in museums and galleries that had an impact on me were Darren Waterston's installation "Filthy Lucre" at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts and Gerhard Demetz's wood sculptures at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City. I try to see as much work as I can in person within my capabilities and love the powerful physical presence that some sculpture and installation work can have in a room.

Untitled No. 3 (from the series Luxuria), 2013, 50×40 inches, Digital C-print
Untitled No. 9 (from the series Luxuria), 2013, 50×40 inches, Digital C-print

Landscape Stories: Any current or upcoming projects you're excited about?
Tara Sellios: I am currently preparing to photograph a new body of work that is sketched out and ready to be made. There is no wine in this series, it is replaced with dirt and mud. There is a progressive growth of flora throughout the imagery which eventually gets out of hand. Insects also play an important roll. There are many introductions to elements that I have not really used before, and I am extremely excited about this work. It will be intense to make I think, and difficult at times, but I am thrilled to get going on it. I have a solo exhibition coming up in a few months and am going to begin some large scale watercolors to have to show in February. I would like to begin doing more drawing and painting aside from the preliminary sketches for my photographs. There is a lot of work that I am driven to get done right now, which is an really great, exciting place to be as an artist and I am thankful to be there.

Interview curated by Gianpaolo Arena