Much like the roots in the earth, experience runs deep for artist and photographer Francesca Beltran. Her work, may it be professional or personal, are products of experience and not mere theory. We were fortunate enough to have her on our Magazine for a quick chat.
Hi, Francesca! Welcome to the Lomography Magazine! Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Hello! I’m a Mexican-born, New York-based visual artist with a focus on film photography and experimental video. My images aim to convey dissonance between time, body, and space, a phenomenon I’ve been analyzing over the course of my life. My current work focuses primarily on the paradox of feeling alone in an over-connected world and how this is affecting our sense of belonging. My aim is to expose commonalities in behavior and emotion in order to address a global need for empathy.
Who is Francesca Beltran when not shooting? What do you do on your downtime?
When I’m not shooting I’m working, and when I’m not working I’m shooting. On the few hours I have between the two, you’ll probably find me at home reading, having wine with a friend, at a concert, or at a coffee place planning my next project.
Please tell us about how you discovered photography. Was it always something that was innate and natural or learned?
My relationship with photography was born from a constant feeling of loss that drives my need to capture the world around me as a way to preserve it. For as long as I can remember I’ve had a camera in my hand; however, it wasn’t until I was nineteen that I discovered film photography and my relationship with the medium completely changed. I was no longer just interested in documenting moments from my life, but also in creating new realities that triggered an emotional response trough my camera. My process has always been one of experimentation and film shifted my intention towards a more creative approach.
How would you define photography?
In simple terms, photography is the ability to capture a moment in time. However, to quote Robert Heinecken, “There is a vast difference between taking a picture and making a photograph.” Making a photograph means creating a new world that can go beyond your perception of reality, and exploring the different emotions that can be evoked through an image. Photography allows you to capture a vision that emerges from your own unique perspective.
How does your professional work differ from your personal photography?
The most important difference is that my personal work is more instinctive and cares about satisfying no one, but myself. It derives from my inner world and it’s not subject to any kind of external limitations, like deadlines or other people’s aesthetic. When I shoot a personal project I do it for myself and the aim is to push my own limits; whether the work is well received by others or not, is really irrelevant at the time of creation.
In what area do you think you feel most comfortable in?
I’m interested in fine art photography. I feel most comfortable when it’s just me, my camera and the environment around me. No production, no set-up lighting, no flash, no studios, no extra equipment. I enjoy exploring what I can do with a camera and a roll of film. Initially, I was drawn to landscape photography, but as time passes, I find myself increasingly interested in also capturing people and their stories.
What’s your favorite subject? Where do you draw your inspiration from? What fuels your creativity?
My favorite subject will always be nature, because it is being in nature when I feel most fulfilled as a human being. To me, there’s no better subject that the infinite colors and shapes of this Earth. Inspiration can come from anywhere though; a book, a song, a place, a person, a conversation, a moment, an Instagram post, anything. Reading is very important to me and I often find new ideas in books; however, a simple conversation can result in the beginning of a new project. I think it’s essential to surround yourself with people that challenge and inspire you.
How do you come up with your concepts? How do you stay creative?
Concepts usually come from something I’ve read. Like I said before, I think the best way to stay creative is to read, and just to expose yourself to the largest number experiences possible. It’s through actual life experiences that you are shaped as a human being and therefore as an artist. I sympathize with Albert Camus who wrote, “What counts is not the best living, but the most living.”
What are your favorite books?
My favorite books are The Myth of Sisyphus - Albert Camus, “Catcher In The Rye” - J.D. Salinger, “The Unbearable Lightness Of Being” - Milan Kundera and “The Administration Of Fear” - Paul Virilio. I have many books that I adore, but these had a particular impact on me.
Is there a formula you follow in your creative process?
At the beginning, it was a simple process of observing, documenting, and experimenting with my camera. Today, however, I’m more interested in conceptualizing ideas and planning projects that have a clear intention. I wouldn’t say that there’s a formula to my creative process and ideas come to life in different ways depending on their complexity.
How would you describe your style in five words?
I don’t like describing my own style, but most people say it’s nostalgic, which is perfectly fine by me.
In your opinion, what are the characteristics of a good photograph?
In my opinion, the most important characteristic of a good photograph, or any work of art, is that it provokes an emotional reaction from the viewer. Great art, however, not only evokes emotion but can also stimulate reflection and even trigger a reaction.
What’s your favorite photograph? Why?
I honestly can’t answer that question. Every photo I’ve taken has a story behind it and it’s impossible for me to choose one.
Your nature shots are amazing. How long do you prepare for those? Travel/trips and all? It must have been very rewarding to visit those places and touch, see, smell, and feel it all. Must have been overwhelming.
Thank you! Honestly, there’s not much preparation involved beyond planning the trip, choosing the camera I want to use and getting a film. If I’m going somewhere I look up places that I’d like to shoot and it’s as simple as getting there and shooting. Some places may be favored by light at some specific time of day so I’ll try to plan accordingly, but other than that when it comes to nature it’s pretty much there, ready to be shot.
That’s what I like the most; these places are there, year round, shot by a number of cameras, and still, you can create a unique image. I think that’s the challenge and the beauty of photography. Two people in the same place at the same time will not end up with the same photograph.
What camera/film/accessory setup do you use in your professional and personal work?
I have a collection of cameras that I choose from depending on the project, as they each have their own aesthetic. But if I have to pick a favorite, it would definitely be my Nikon FM2 with a 50mm lens. I like experimenting with film as well but my favorites are Kodak Portra and Cinestill.
Any photographers/artists that you follow religiously?
Honestly with Instagram nowadays you are constantly discovering new artists that inspire you, right now I follow the work of Ruben Wu, Neil Krug, Driely Carter, Petechia Le Fawnhawk, and Jessica Tonder. As for lifelong inspirations, there’s Francesca Woodman, Maya Deren, Guy Bourdin, Nan Goldin, Pipilotti Rist, Patti Smith and Remedios Varo.
Who’s your dream collaboration?
I would love to work with Pipilotti Rist and to shoot Patti Smith.
Any upcoming projects? Please talk about them.
Right now I’m working to bring my photography series Empty Spaces to the Venice Biennale. I launched a Kickstarter campaign in order to raise money for the production and mounting of the photographs. You can visit and support the project here.
Empty Spaces was shot in Marfa, Texas and show solid man-made structures juxtaposed with their morphing natural surroundings. The project is a reflection on the infinite versatility of space. The images accentuate the sublime atmosphere that originates from altering a wild terrain, by adding new architectural forms and textures. An analysis of this new environment evidences the commonalities all, nature, art, and architecture share in their designs’ precision, and highlights the essence of change by examining the cause and effect relationship between the three. By creating this new visual realm, the audience is also encouraged to reflect on the concept of belonging and displacement, and our connection to this Earth.
What would you like your audience to take from your photographs? Is there a message you'd like to get across with your photos?
My work has the intention to trigger emotion and reflection, and I’m particularly concerned with the idea of empathy. The specific intention, however, varies depending on the subject. For instance, with my landscape photography, I always hoped that the images would serve as inspiration for the viewer to just go out of their homes and explore. I’m intrigued by the concepts of time and space and the relationship between the two. I want to capture places in a way that they become timeless and placeless, in order to challenge the idea of belonging.
My latest series, Choreomania on the other hand, addresses a case of mass hysteria, a type of diffused collective mass behavior that takes place in the presence of extraordinary fear and anxiety, often as a result of severe social and economic distress. This type of mass hysteria is also known as “mass psychogenic illness” and it affects predominantly women. My intention is to examine the different feelings that connect us to each other and the spaces we occupy.
If you weren't a photographer, what would you be?
Last words for our readers?
Don’t wait for someone else to call you an artist. Either you’re born one or not, and that’s not for anyone else to decide. Being an artist has nothing to do with creating “good art” and everything to do with an uncontrollable need to create. And if you keep creating, you’ll get better. Do it for yourself and believe in your work no matter what.