Italian born - Berlin based photographer Elena Capra explains the concepts and inspirations behind her latest work “Libro di Famiglia” and her highly symbolic photography which is greatly influenced by the teachings of 70's artist and photographer Luigi Ghirri. The young artist’s exploration of human habits cuts across geographical and personal identity yet is immersed into a specific and intimate context.
You come from a small town in northern Italy. How have your Italian origins influenced your photography?
Pretty early I felt the need to get in contact with different environments.
When I was 16 I went abroad for one year and there I started to discover photography. The distance to what was familiar to me offered the condition to see things from another point of view. However, after all those years my latest work Libro di famiglia deals with habits and traditions of my own country. So I can say that my origins are still quite present.
You started studying art in Genova and then moved to Germany and took up photography, first in Monaco and then Berlin. What did you bring to these choices and how did you experience this transition, both from an aesthetic research and a geographic context point of view?
My main subject in Genova was painting. After that I was looking for photography studies to learn more about the technique and delve into storytelling. At that time, I had already a particular connection with Berlin and there I found an interesting program, which made it possible for me to combine 2 positions - a classical attitude and a more progressive one.
“Libro di Famiglia” is a nostalgic narration of a 40 year marriage dealing with several everyday objects and small gestures typical of many Italian families. It looks like the themes and subjects you explore belong to quite an enclosed horizon although they are elevated to a universal level, or symbols, through your lens. Is that correct? How do your personal experiences interact with your work?
I’m surely influenced by my experience and my surroundings, but as you said, the universal level of the work is the most important thing to give a key of lecture to the reader. It’s really interesting to hear all the different family habits from people, not just Italian, looking at Libro di famiglia. The warmth of the non-extraordinary.
All of your pictures are extremely bright except for “Thomas Shulz”, where some shades deliver a sense of lack. What is the role of light in your photography? Can light itself be considered another symbol within your work?
I wouldn't call it a symbol, but of course the light is a main medium. I am always working with natural available light. In my opinion it gives me many more possibilities in creating an organic and authentic surface.
Another recurrent element in your series is transparent plastic. In “I as you” the subject is wrapped in a transparent film that distorts its features, perhaps meant to symbolize a filter between human souls. Instead, in “Libro di Famiglia” a cellophane folding is wrapped around a vintage hat lying on a bed and a transparent shower cap protects the subjectʼs hair revealing, in that case, the ritual of conservation. Is this recurring transparency casual or are you rather attached to some elements you decide to portray creating a fil rouge between the series?
Actually, it started 10 years ago when I first came to Germany that cellophane or transparent plastic attracted my attention and headed among others to I as you. It was really weird going to the supermarket and buying vegetables and fruits which were all wrapped up in plastic. it was somehow the first time facing the globalized food industry, its sterility and alienation. In Libro di famiglia the cellophane reoccurred more accidentally as preservation and protection which, in the end, also leads to a cold distance and somehow disaffection.
To me one of the deepest themes of your series is the search for identity behind what is taken for granted. Is your work helping you find your own identity?
Yes, I am interested in perception, people's instinct of classifying all their surroundings and therefore identity. My projects are not about finding my own identity, although the experience resulted through it certainly influences my personal position.
Is there any photographer you admire particularly or who inspires you?
First of all I have to mention Luigi Ghirri, one of the first Italian artists using Color photography who left, already in the 70s, the way of naturalism as a copy of reality to a more opinional way. After that I‘m very fascinated by the work of Fischli & Weiss, which I didn't know until I moved to Germany.
What photographic tecnique are you most attached to and what kind of equipment do you use?
At the beginning I was working with 35mm and instant film cameras. I was always attached to analogue photography. Now I shoot mainly with Hasselblad medium format.
What are you up to these days and what are your future projects?
I just finished Libro di famiglia which I worked on for nearly two years. Right now I am working as an assistant for an artist and as a freelance photographer. Besides that, I am researching and collecting materials for a new project, that hasn't got a concrete shape yet.