Traversing the roads of Los Angeles has been a yearly tradition for Brazilian photographer Marcela Ferri, but a recent trip took a surprising turn when she decided to put her trust on a complete stranger to accompany her to Salvation Mountain. "I'm Still Here" is her ode to rediscovering oneself in the company of unfamiliar faces and strange places.
Welcome to the Lomography Magazine! Please introduce yourself to our readers.
I am a Brazilian photographer and producer born in Brazil with an Italian background who has been living and working in London for over six and half years now
Have you always been keen on taking photographs? Tell us how your interest in the craft started.
Yes, I was born in the '80s. Back then, I believe you would find an Olympus Trip in every house and families used to keep tons of photo albums, which I loved to see over and over again (I still do every time I go back home).
I have a very clear memory of a birthday party at my house where my father was sitting in the kitchen loading a roll of 35mm and preparing the flash so he could attach it to the camera…obviously an Olympus Trip, which is sitting in my living room right now.
Why do you still shoot on film?
There are many reasons why I’m so attracted to it. First is that you will never get the same look when using digital cameras. Also, the possibilities you have when combining different films and cameras are enormous, I wish people who criticize film took some time to actually look into it and understand. Maybe it will happen when they figure out that many commercial clients and fashion houses, like Gucci, for example, are really keen on film.
Another reason beyond that is the fact that film allows me to be more present, to look at my surroundings more carefully, something you won’t do when shooting digital. It is like meditation, at least to me.
Your beautiful photo series I'm Still Here has quite an interesting backstory. As I understood, you put your trust to a complete stranger to drive you to Salvation Mountain, where the photos were taken. Can you tell us more about this journey and inspiration behind this series?
I was going through a very strange phase after a big trauma so trust wasn’t something I was practicing at all. I lived in Los Angeles for a brief period of time 10 years ago and made very special friends and a special connection with the city so I tend to go there every Christmas to see my people and also to escape the dark winter days in England.
Anyone who ever met me knows that I can talk to a tree if I want to, so talking to a stranger is no weird territory to me. Everyone is a stranger to everyone at some point in life anyway. Our common subject was coincidentally film photography and I said: "Listen, I’ll be in town for a while so if you want to join me and shoot something let me know." That’s when he suggested going to the Salvation Mountain.
The series was shot in Bombay Beach, on the way to the mountain and on site.
Besides the beautiful light, you can get in desert areas, there is something in that land that I can’t really point out and explain how special it is. I ended up in a city completely destroyed by flooding and partially contaminated by farm waste. Everything has been destroyed and if not, falling apart. The lake smells, you see fish carcasses by the shore, and there’s a pretty strange noise that comes out of nowhere (Even though I thought it was from the lake and that something would come out of the water at any minute). People still live there, we managed to talk to some seriously interesting locals, which I’m very much looking forward to meeting again.
So, through the whole journey and for a little while after, I established a relationship between the enormous sense of abandonment I was feeling and compared it to everything I saw and experienced while on the road and realized that everything I judged lost inside myself was still there.
When you see yourself lost you tend to forget who you were before and keep living in that bad feeling and confusion without realizing that what you’re looking for is where it has always been.
What is the most important lesson you learned throughout the making of I'm Still Here?
Maybe the fact that your so-called perfect life can change in an instant and you can lose everything you believed was true. Then see yourself falling apart without believing that the beauty and trust inside of you are still there.
Do you have a favorite photograph in this series? What makes it special for you?
I do. It is the picture of Mary Lou Sullivan's memorial.
We left Bombay Beach towards the Mountain when we saw a side road cross surrounded by flamingos, Ssippi, the man who accompanied me, and I looked at each other and decided to stop. My first thought was: “She was definitely a sassy lady.”
But when I saw myself in front of it, getting close, reading her name something changed. To be honest I still think of her everyday. Who was she? What happened? Why is she there?
Lastly, what's next for you?
How much space on the page do you have? [Laughs]
I wrote a short film this year so at the moment putting a business plan together to go after investors. Also, I started writing a feature while the production of the first one doesn’t effectively start.
Photography-wise there’s quite a bit going on, as I mentioned I’m going back to the US soon to carry on with my neon sign work, portraits, and more road stuff. In the meantime, I shoot on daily basis (even though I have a day job as a freelance producer in a big ad agency), I’m developing some projects with a few drag queens I know plus some documentary stuff in London and Paris.
I also run an online film photography magazine called The Film Gang, which is some extra work I also need to keep an eye on. It is a solo project that I created and curated by myself.
Images from her analogue series I'm Still Here, which are hand-printed by John McCarthy of Labyrinth Photographic Printing, are available for purchase at Bonds Hackney at 5A Gransden Ave, London E8 3QA.