Interview with Anastasia Samoylova
Anastasia Samoylova is a Miami-based artist working with photography and installation. Samoylova has exhibited internationally, including Aperture Foundation in New York, Griffin Museum of Photography in Boston, and in photography festivals in Belgium, Brazil, France, Netherlands, Israel, China and South Korea. Her work is in the collections at the Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago, Stanford University, Yale University, and Art Slant Collection Paris. Her book, Landscape Sublime was published by In the In- Between Editions in 2016. She completed an artist residency at Mass MoCA in 2017 and she is an artist in residence at the ArtCenter South Florida for the 2018-2019. In 2018 she was the finalist for the Meitar Award for Excellence in Photography and received two grants for her ongoing documentary project FloodZone, the South Arts Fellowship and Michael P. Smith Fund for Documentary Photography. Samoylova is represented by Julie Saul Gallery in New York.
Visit Anastasia Samoylova's Website to see more of her work.
First, let us know how your journey with photography even start? When the first time you realized photography was your medium of choice?
In Russia, at college, I was making model sets of various architectural environments that I designed as part of my program, and I would photograph them. Seeing how the camera converted three dimensions into two, how it framed and flattened was fascinating. I found I preferred the resulting images over the actual models. Many artists step sideways into photography from another field. I think of Man Ray, who taught himself photography as a way to document his paintings and sculpture.
In your project ‘Breakfasts with’ you create compositions that include photographs by well-known artists. You wrote of the work that this is your way of creating a conversation with these artists over breakfast – could you elaborate on this notion for us?
When you’re curious about someone’s work and creative journey what better way to ask them about it than over a cup of coffee? I’m a morning person and I often look at illustrated books over breakfast, to get inspiration for the day. It wasn’t such a leap to pick up the camera and photograph my morning setups, each with a book surrounded by coffee and toast and fruit. Making an image that contains an image is a very obvious but also complex way of coming into a relationship to that image. I think viewers can feel that when they look at pictures of pictures.
What I found most appealing in the work is how your personal aesthetics and the art worked together. Your styling and composition is not trying to mimic the art but create a balance between the worlds. You truly were able to immerse yourself in the photographs creating a new visual that both enhances the art history value of this, but also embraces new photography. This might not be a question per say but I would love to hear you point of view about this notion.
I’m always thinking in images when I look at things and sometimes those things are themselves images. Susan Sontag once wrote that “Photographs are perhaps the most mysterious of all the objects that make up, and thicken, the environment we recognize as “modern.” Photography is actually a good way of reflecting on those photographs that “thicken” our environment. And there’s something about actually looking through the camera viewfinder and focusing on another image that is deeply pleasurable in an intellectual sense. And since you mention art history, the Pictures Generation, of the late 1970s and early 80s was a really important moment when artists fully embraced this. One way to really understand a photograph is to photograph it! There are thousands of ways to do this. My Breakfasts With are one way, but images also recur within all of my projects, especially Landscape Sublime and FloodZone.
Your work in general is very structured and layered. Your work is always built with layers of images one on top of the other, creating collages that are actual physical objects in the space, and then you photograph them. Can you tell us more about this work process? What inspired you to work in this way?
It’s partly the interest in collapsing complex three dimensions into two, and partly the interest in photographing a world that had already been affected or mediated by photography in some way. Beyond that I do like formally complex images. They’re a pleasurable challenge to make and, if done right, they’re a pleasurable challenge to look at. I think it was Stephen Shore who said photography is unavoidably analytical. It stares hard at the world. Stares without explaining it. But that can give a viewer a lot to think about in the midst of their visual pleasure.
Your series Landscape Sublime is really visually striking, and knowing that you made three dimensional constructions in your studio, for the sole purpose of photographing them is captivating. You create these objects yet you never show them as sculptures or installations but as photographs only. why is that?
The Illusions of photography are mysterious. Fabricating something for the sole purpose of photographing it can emphasize the mystery, and the illusion. But I’m currently working on three-dimensional installations as well, immersive environments. Maybe I’m recovering that lost architect in me. But I’m also interested in the way photographs can be used beyond the flat plane of the image. Photographs are also objects, or can be. They can be printed at different scales, on different materials, and so they do have a relation to the sculptural. I want to explore that relation further.
What I found amazing about the work is the aspect of dimensions, scale and perspective – there is a real visual confusion about what is what and how it all makes sense (or doesn’t) – things go in and out and create their own little landscapes within the frame. Can you tell us about creating these images? When was the collage ‘ready’ to be photographed? When do you stop adding images?
The process is entirely intuitive. I start with a pile of images printed out from the internet. I have other props too. Plastics. Mirrors. Foils. Gels. And then it’s all improvised. The process is very physical. It’s almost a dance with an evolving three-dimensional composition. Lighting is adjusted subtly as I go. My camera is on a tripod and I regularly look through it to see how that sculptural set is going to look as a flat rectangle. When it feels ‘full’, and balanced, I photograph it.
How do you think your background in architecture and interior design has benefited you in your art?
I see any image as constructed. “Nature” is a cultural construct. It’s all theatrical sets. Also, I worked as a shop window decorator for two years back in Moscow, where I learned a lot about composition by having to change up the display every couple of weeks with limited parameters (same size windows, and essentially the same objects). Shop windows are actually quite like photography. Three dimensional environments framed and looked at through glass from a limited perspective.
Who do you go for inspiration (besides all the artists in your Breakfasts With project)?
Everywhere. Movies. Music. Literature. Social media. Wandering around cities. Nature hikes. Photography is promiscuous and so are its sources of inspiration.
What advice would you have for younger photographers who are reading this and are in the beginning of their careers?
Learn your art/photo history, or at least find a canon that will inspire you and keep your standards high.
Surround yourself with like-minded but critical people who will keep you on your toes. Find your community. Make art because you want to. There’s no other reason. You don’t need permission.