In this interview, Spanish art historian and photographer Jennifer Novoa shares the idea behind her new project "La Nueva Objetividad" and some amazing photos taken with our Simple Use Reloadable Film Camera.
Hi Jennifer! Can you make a brief introduction to our readers?
It’s always complicated to talk about yourself, but I promise I’ll try to do my best. As you said, my name is Jennifer, I’m 26 years old, I’m the youngest of two sisters and I was lucky enough to grow up in Allariz, a beautiful village near Ourense (Galicia). I’m currently about to finish my master’s degree in artistic heritage management, museums, and the art market.
You are an Art Historian. Why did you decide to specialize in the History of Photography?
When you are an art historian you are always asked: what is your favorite artistic discipline, what is your favorite artist? These have always been questions that I’ve had a hard time answering. I think that a person can feel connected to different types of artistic production over time. Taking the example of music, we can say that there is always a song for every mood or a different soundtrack for every stage of your life. That said, one of the things that have not changed over the years has been my passion for photography, both studying it and experimenting with it.
The history of photography, compared to other artistic disciplines, is short. It was born in the first half of the 19th century, and from the beginning, it has always evolved with a democratizing intent. Thanks to this, nowadays we can all have the opportunity to get a camera and take a photograph. However, this also hampers the consideration of a photograph as an art piece. Through all my research work, I try to give it the prestige and place it deserves in the history of art. The photographs, or at least the majority of them, have a subjective component that depends on their creator, so they can be referred to as a form of artistic expression.
You are also a photographer, so please tell us a bit about your photography background. What’s your story? When did u start taking photos?
Being a photographer is one of the things I am most proud of. Although I am not currently a practicing photographer, my practical background plays a fundamental role in my academic projects related to the history of photography.
I became interested in photography at a very early age. I have always felt an affinity with this process that I can’t even explain. Just a connection. I belong to that generation of lucky people whose childhood was captured forever on photographic paper. My parents have a boot full of photos and I have always liked, from time to time, to browse through them and even take a couple of photographs and create my own photo albums.
When I was 15 years old I was studying a baccalaureate in plastic arts, design, and image. By then my parents bought me my first DSLR: a Sony Alpha series. I photographed absolutely everything. I was obsessed with digital magazines like National Geographic, where I could access works related to photojournalism or photodocumentary. That’s how I discovered Cristina García Rodero. That same year, coinciding with a camp I went to in Portugal, I got hold of two books by Man Ray and Dorothea Lange, which I really enjoyed. For me, photography became my everyday life. I took pictures of my friends, my family, I experimented with self-portraits…My story with photography began with an illusion, so pure and strong, that after 11 years I still experience it in the same way.
You have a new project called "La Nueva Objetividad" a platform with the aim of disseminating the History of Photography: can you tell us more about this project? How did it start, etc...?
La Nueva Objetividad is a small project, currently only an Instagram page, but it was born with an immense desire to tell things. I’ve always been surrounded by people who love me a lot. My people had asked me why I didn’t create a space, my own, where I could share my knowledge about art. Fortunately, nowadays there are countless profiles dedicated to the dissemination of the history of art, talking about artists, painting, etc. That’s why I thought I needed a different space, in which I could talk about my true passion and, perhaps, my specialty, which is the history of photography. I say “perhaps” because I’m always a bit afraid to talk about “specialization”. I think you can never be specialized enough, you’re always learning day after day.
That’s how this project was born, with a lot of enthusiasm, and with the intention of talking about the history of photography in a direct and attractive way. The idea is to create a space where people can get to know new information, the relationship between this and other artistic disciplines, talk about references (especially female ones) and have fun learning.
Can you explain to those you are not familiar, what "La Nueva Objetividad" which in English translates into “New Objectivity”, the “New Vision,” or “Precisionism”, means?
La Nueva Objetividad is an artistic movement that emerged at the beginning of the 20th century. One of the intentions of this movement was the objective representation of reality. The idea of renewal, hence the name, of the preceding procedures.
I found the name attractive as a way of alluding to this artistic movement. Perhaps my intention is not the objective representation of reality, since there is always a certain subjectivity in everything we do. But this subjectivity speaks of us, of our imprint as artists. I took the name because of the purpose of the project, because of my intention to tell the story in a new way. A new way of looking.
How important is it to know the history behind a photograph?
As a historian, I always say that it is important to know the history behind everything. In order to be critical of the reality that surrounds us, we have to be aware of the context in which we live and develop. This can easily be linked to a photograph because, like a painting or an architecture, it always tells us something, but not everyone can decipher the message. Not because they are not capable of doing so, but because they don’t have the tools to do so.
In this regard, La Nueva Objetividad wants to offer those tools. The story behind a photograph can give us access to a whole new world. The photograph can tell us who took it, where and why it was taken, or what techniques were used. As my beloved Anna Turbau (a pioneer in Spanish documentary photography) once told me: Photography is a little poetry.
Who are the photographers from the past that everyone should study?
That’s a tough question. If you are interested in the history of photography I would recommend you to get a booklet about it. However, if I had to make a selection…
I would highlight Anna Atkins, in the shadow of her husband, a woman with a primitive photographic process but who obtained some impressive botanical images; Julia Margaret Cameron and her dreamlike photography; Cartier Bresson, a classic, whose relationship with his friend and also artist Henry Matisse I always found endearing; and Dora Maar, a wonderful woman and excellent photographer despite being known only as Picasso’s lover.
Women in Photography: many great photo-reporters were and still are women, Gerda Taro, Letizia Battaglia to name a few, but most of the time, the ones hitting the headlines are male photographers: can you share your opinion about this?
I think that is essential to give absolutely all women their rightful place in history. History is created as much by women as by men, and so it is very important that future generations grow up with female role models; that girls can have references in which to project themselves; that they can say: “if she did it, so can I”.
In the history of photography, male names have prevailed, as if female references were beings without history. For instance, behind the pseudonym Robert Capa there was Endre Ernö, but also Gerda Taro. Women have contributed to the history of photography in the same way as men have, and the work of both is fundamental to understanding how this discipline has developed. We must talk about all those men? Of course. But that doesn’t mean we have to forget about the women.
Fortunately, the history of photography has an innumerable list of female references: Anna Atkins, Julia Margaret Cameron, Imogen Cunningham, Berenice Abbot, Dora Maar, Dorothea Lange, Vivian Maier, Shirin Neshat, Cristina García Rodeo, Joana Biarnés, Claude Cahun, Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, Ouka Leele, Tina Modotti, Lee Miller...
These amazing photos were taken with a Simple Use camera preloaded with a Metropolis film. How was your experience with it?
First of all, thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to do this interview and offering me a chance to test this camera. It was wonderful but above all, it was a lot of fun. I would like to encourage everyone to use it because I think this kind of camera is like a good holiday. I mean, it makes you take a break and enjoy it in a different way, especially for those people like me, who are used to focusing on the technical side.
The Simple Use Reloadable took me back to when I was 10 years old and my parents used to give me a disposable camera to take pictures on school trips. It was really nice. Also, the fact that is reloadable is wonderful. I think that now more than ever we need to be aware of the impact we have on the environment. At home, we are very aware of this and the fact that Lomography is committed to this type of device is a step forward. The product itself is very easy to use. Also, I loved the result of the film Metropolis. That desaturation of colors really connected with me. It gives you free rein to create a new universe!
Do you have a favorite film camera?
I didn’t have to think about this answer at all. Rolleiflex, no doubt about it. It’s my little crush so to speak. It’s a medium format camera with a lot of history, used by great references like Vivian Maier or Robert Doisneau, among others. Apart from its beauty as a device, I like its TLR viewfinder. Also, the fact that it has a fixed focal length lens has always been a challenge for me. It has all the features that make it worthy of its reputation.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
My inspiration comes from absolutely everything. I don’t think there is one particular thing that works as a source of inspiration for me. My family, the books I read, the series I enjoy, the situations I experience, the conversations I have…everything. We are beings that are shaped by so many things, and the stimulus can appear when you least expect it, such as a plate of food that takes you back to your childhood or a song that makes you think of that person. However, my mother has always been my great muse. An eclectic person, interdisciplinary to the max. A Renaissance woman. She has always inspired and supported me, just like my father, my sister, and now my partner. They all made me find my way, continue working on my curiosities and become the woman I am.