“It begins with a feeling – a small one that grows over time into a strong one that compels me to say something about that feeling. Most times, the feeling comes from injustice – ethical or moral – and I need to make a permanent record of the situation and societyʼs relationship to it. “
Fine art photographer Gina Genis talks to us about what inspires her award-winning images.
Q. How old were you when you realized you were in love with photography?
GINA: I took a class in school when I was about 15. It allowed me to explore the world in detail and experience a different aspect of weather, places, and people that make life so wonderful. The problem was that I am an outdoor person, and I hated being in the darkroom for hours and hours. I gradually switched to painting because I didnʼt have to be in a cave all the time. When the quality of digital photography became professional, I gravitated back to it. The digital darkroom of the computer can be used in any location – light or dark.
Q. What was your very first camera, and what is your preferred gear now?
GINA: I shoot with whatever camera is necessary to get the effect desired. Most commonly, a Canon 5D, a pinhole camera I made myself, a Canon Powershot G1X, and a Calumet 4×5 View Camera. People ask what my first camera was, and honestly, I canʼt remember. Iʼve had several in my life, and traded them in when I wanted an upgrade.
Q. How do you decide on subjects to shoot?
GINA: It begins with a feeling – a small one that grows over time into a strong one that compels me to say something about that feeling. Most times, the feeling comes from injustice – ethical or moral – and I need to make a permanent record of the situation and societyʼs relationship to it. Once I start working, I shoot extensively. I look at the images after each session and throw out the unsuccessful ones. When I have a big block of time, I start editing. I try printing proofs to see what is working and what isnʼt. When I feel there is enough of quality to show, I invite curators for studio visits.
Q. Your series “Tunnels” really caught my eye. Where were these photos taken and what inspired you?
GINA: The Tunnel series sprung from the work I was doing called June Gloom. I photographed the beaches from San Diego to Malibu during May – October of 2009. While I was shooting the beach in south Laguna, I had to walk through a tunnel to get to the water. The tunnel captivated me, so I stopped to do some test shots. I posted one image on Facebook, and got such a positive response, it encouraged me to do series. The tunnels are located all over southern California, from the beaches to the mountains. I want to continue photographing the tunnels, but I need to find out where more are located. If anyone out there knows of some interesting tunnels, please contact me.
Q. Something I like is that you often incorporate people’s opinions into your art. For example, your series on “Economy Portraits” [Pictured above]. Can you tell us about this series?
GINA: Economy Portraits is a project I started for an Artist In Residence stay at the Huntington Beach Art Center from March 1 through April 9, 2011. I took portraits of anyone who comes into HBAC and ask them the question how has the collapse of the economy affected your life?
The following is taken from my blog:I was interviewed by the Huntington Beach Independent newspaper, and the writer posed a question that has come up many times. “What inspired you to do this project?” The answer is annoyance. I am highly annoyed with the news about the American economy. One night I hear that the recession is over and jobs are coming back. The next night, there is a report that thousands workers have been laid off from a large corporation. I thought it would be interesting to find out from everyday people exactly what is going on. The project evolves in two phases. As I take the portraits, they hang from the ceiling of the gallery in rows, at eye level. Each portrait has the answer to the question written in the personʼs own handwriting. The portraits are photographed on three different colored backgrounds, red, white, and black. The purpose is to construct an American flag on the wall. I chose to use black instead of blue as a metaphor for our dark economic times. When the portraits fill the middle of the gallery, they are replaced by newly printed images. The first ones take their place on the wall. I photographed 245 people during the six-week residency. I thought the wall was big enough to use all the portraits, but it turns out a wall looks a lot larger when you see it in an empty room. I used less than half of the portraits to make a flag that measures 11 feet high by 18 1/2 feet long. I hope to take Economy Portraits to a museum that has a space that will accommodate a full flag with all 50 stars and 13 stripes.
Economy Portraits was awarded “Best Art Show of 2011″ by OC Weekly. A book of this project is available at: GinaGenis.com
WATCH A 2-MINUTE VIDEO ON THE MAKING OF “ECONOMY PORTRAITS”:
Q. Tell us about your series “Window Peeping.”
GINA: The series Window Peeping was born when I had to move into my motherʼs house in a retirement community to provide care as her dementia progresses. To get some peace of mind, I began taking walks at night. Open windows display lives in cubicles of warped time. I have become a fascinated voyeur of how these senior citizens spend their evenings. In many cases, you can actually see where time has stopped. Their homes are decorated in the style of the 1960s, ʻ70s and ʻ80s. Their TVs are tuned in to game shows of decades past. Some still have rotary dial phones. The most glaring factor is that they are so alone. In a large community of duplexes, three story apartments, and shared-wall condos, rarely did I see more than one person living in a home. Neighbors separated by just inches of drywall do not know each other.
Shooting this series made me face many questions about our lives. When do you stop living in the present? When do you start living on past memories alone? Are your memories interesting enough to carry you through your old age? How will you be remembered, if you are remembered at all? How is America dealing with the challenges of an aging population? What is your part in making a better world? I can only answer these questions as an individual. Presenting the photos has made others think about what they are doing with their lives, how they want to spend their last years, and what they can do for their parents as they age.
Q. In general, during a session, how many photos would you say you take –or go through — to find “the perfect one”?
GINA: Most of the time I cannot control how many photos I can take. The circumstances of the shoot determine that for me. For instance, the Kala series was shot outdoors at twilight. I only had a seven minute window when the sky was the perfect color and brigntness to make an image. On top of that, I was working with a model who had to handle temperatures as cold at 26° and windy conditions while trying to stay completely still for up to 13 seconds. As you can imagine, it is hard to get a perfect shot when mother nature, a model, and time are your photographic partners.
Q. How do you deal with critics?
GINA: I went to Parsons. Our critiques were tough. They prepared me for any kind of reactions to my work, whether it be positive or negative. The critics need to do their job. I donʼt make work thinking about what they will say when I am in the creative phase of making it. I do, however, think about it when I get to the production aspect of exhibiting. I donʼt spend weeks, months, even years working on a series only to have the presentation be substandard. I want my prints and their display to be the best they possibly can within my monetary constraints. Hopefully the critics and I do our jobs well.
Q. Have you had any adventures while shooting your work?
GINA: When I was shooting the Kala series, my model and I were stalked by a mountain lion, got lost on an animal path on the edge of a cliff with a 2,000ʼ drop in pitch dark, and had a wildfire crest a ridge near our location. I got the wildfire shot, and itʼs one of my favorites of the series. During the two years of photographing Window Peeping, I was chased by a pack of coyotes, almost sprayed by a skunk, and drenched by the sprinkler system of a golf course. I love adventures as long as my camera gear survives.
Q. What projects are you contemplating in the future?
GINA: I have a solo exhibit of two series of work, Window Peeping and Things We Leave Behind at Biola University that runs from March 19 – April 5, 2012. After that, Things We Leave Behind goes to Fellows Of Contemporary Art in Chinatown. The show is called Mnemonic Ritual and runs from June 16 – August 18, 2012. Opening reception is June 16 from 6 – 9 p.m. In September, I will be part of When Iʼm 64 at the Wignall Museum of Contemporary Art. As of this writing, the curator is deciding on showing Window Peeping, Things We Leave Behind, or both. In addition, I have been working on a series of environmental portraits of people who live in Idyllwild. This is where my permanent home is. It is a small town of 3,000 wonderful, colorful, unusual, creative and interesting people. It is a long-term project that I will turn into a book and hopefully a museum exhibit.
MORE ON GINA GENIS:
Websites: for Fine Art – www.ginagenis.photoshelter.com
For workshops – www.ginagenis.com
For online workshops – TheCompellingImage.com
Thanks for this wonderful interview Gina!