Interested in the representation of women in society and media, Tiana Markova-Gold’s work in photography has led her to Morocco and other places. She also works with the medium of collage and blends her own photos with old images from postcards and magazines. Read all about her creative process in our interview!
How long have you been a photographer and how did you get started?
I have had an interest in photography since I was a teenager, though at that time my primary focus was on dance and it wasn’t until several years after I stopped dancing that I began to pursue photography more seriously. My path in life has not been very traditional. I stopped going to high school and started living on my own at a young age. I’ve traveled a lot, often on my own. At first I made photographs mostly to record or document the people and places I encountered, the moments that moved me, but over time I became more focused on telling specific stories and addressing particular issues. In 2006 and 2007, I attended the full-time photojournalism/documentary program at the International Center of Photography and have been working in photography since.
In one of your recent projects you work a lot with collage. How did you get the idea and what are some of the challenges of that approach?
I began to work with collage in my most recent project, a collaboration with writer Sarah Dohrmann, about prostitution and the marginalization of women in Morocco. While we were in Morocco we used collage as a tool for experimentation with combining text and images and also as a method of creatively processing the work we were doing. I began cutting the photographs I was making and piecing them back together, layering and juxtaposing the images. I began to use the collages as a way to protect women’s identities when necessary. I started to experiment with manipulation of my photographs as a way to explore ideas around representation and perception, sexuality, the idealization and/or demonization of women’s bodies and, specifically within the context of my work in Morocco, the legacy of colonization and the impact of Orientalist representations of North African women.
One of the main challenges in working with collage is that it is no longer strictly documentary work in the sense that it is no longer documenting without manipulating the image. As a photographer who has worked almost exclusively with documentary/reportage until now, I am challenged with finding new outlets for the work and new sources of funding as many of the outlets and sources I have previously worked with are primarily for journalism.
You also blend your own pictures with images from postcards or magazines. In photography, a double exposure would be something similar to that. Where do you see the possibilities of two images complementing each other?
I am very interested in how women are represented and perceived in visual media, particularly in regards to women’s sexuality. In my most recent work I became very interested in looking at archival images of North African women, particularly the colonial Orientalist postcards made primarily by French photographers in the early 1900’s. These postcards, often in series called Scènes et Types, featured staged portraits of nude or semi-nude North African women in highly exoticized postures, costumes and settings. It is documented that the models for these photographs were almost always prostitutes, which I found very relevant to my work in Morocco. I began to experiment with juxtaposing these images with my own photographs as a way to visually articulate some of the complicated and layered experiences and perceptions of women in Morocco. I am interested in the way a collaged image or an image that layers or juxtaposes more than one photograph can trick the eye; how the viewer can see one thing and then re-focus their eyes and see something else entirely. I find that the impact of two particular images seen together can be very different than the impact of just one – the reading of each informs the other.
You’ve worked in many different countries like Macedonia, Brazil and Nigeria. Do you have to adapt your style of working depending on the country you are in?
Each place has its own challenges, whether it is communication, transportation, social mores, or otherwise. The more I travel and work in different countries I find that there are more similarities between each place than there are differences. It has been my experience that if I am honest and treat people with respect I am usually able to work in any situation.
What is your advice for someone starting out as a professional in your field?
I think the most important thing is to work from an honest and personal place, to look inward as much as you look out. The most powerful work is always the work that the photographer really cares about and invests themselves in. I think a lot of photographers go for what they think editors will like or what will sell, but they don’t really connect with the people or the stories they are photographing. If the connection isn’t there the work will lack longevity and depth.
Please share a trick of yours that will always result to a great photo.
Look at the light. Photographs are made out of light; beautiful light makes beautiful photographs.
Lastly, do you have any new projects coming up? Anything we should watch out for?
I will have a small solo show of my work from Morocco, titled Scènes et Types, at the Camera Club of New York in April-May 2013.
You want to hear more from professional photographers? Check out the other interviews in our Meet the Pros series.