Ever since film photographer Anastasia Pagonas was introduced to a camera, she lives and faces life through the camera too; it is through photographs as to how she understands and connects with the people around her. She captures landscapes, travelogues, streets, events such as births and weddings, and most importantly -- portraits of friends and families. Often, she'd shoot intimate, spontaneous portraits of her loved ones in the most nostalgic and wistful fashion -- grainy, gossamer-like, imperfect, and in black and white. Such images are considered personal "artifacts" for her, as each image carries memories and stories the way she wants them remembered. In 2018, Anastasia's exploration on such themes in photography escalated into a collective effort -- she started curating an online gallery called Childhood on Film, in which hosting various childhood memories from different photographers, all taken in sentimental and dreamlike analogue.
Get to know more about Anastasia, her work, and the joys of shooting a little bit of everything with all sorts of film formats.
How are you lately as a photographer living in a world with the corona pandemic?
Doin’ just fine. My photography practice is a personal, segregated space where I give myself the right to be entirely subjective. It’s a land apart from the concerns I may have as a citizen (or family member, parent or lover for that matter). That approach is both what comes naturally and a boundary I protect around my creative world. I’m in Arizona, which did a good job preserving freedom while promoting public health. So I’ve been creating as per usual.
How did you get into film photography?
My father had a photo box full of prints that I discovered as a little girl. Those photographs were my first true love. After years of shooting digital, I couldn’t understand what my images lacked visually. I wanted the colors and textures I found in that box. When I discovered they were all taken on film, I had my solution and never looked back. Digital is fun to shoot but boring to look at.
Can you tell us how you got to branch out from the usual 35 mm format and explore other formats like the 120? Apart from size and cost of equipment, what's the difference with photographing in 120?
I like 35 mm for convenience, which is crucial for me. I almost exclusively use point and shoots on auto. I have to be able to shoot fast without thinking or tinkering, so my 120 setups are similar. I like Holga. I like my Agfa Jsoly, which shoots 4x4. I have my eye on a Mamiya 645 AFD. 120 negatives are yummy.
You also shoot using Super 8 films -- may we know why you choose to do so in the age of digital?
Same reason we all shoot film. Limited supply brings out better work. No way to recreate the ineffable beauty of real film. Also, I like to leave physical artifacts for my children; not just images but sleeves upon sleeves of cut film and when it comes to super 8, reels upon reels.
Adults, infants, young children -- your portraits seem to consist of people of all walks of life. But what's the core that ties them all together?
I think my subject is always my feelings, regardless of what shape that takes. My photographs are a conversation I have with myself, in which I am both participant and observer. Someone called my work “sacred documentary” once which made sense to me. I have used the term “photo memoir”. What I’m feeling and seeing lately is my typical subject.
I love to photograph children because they’re free, innocent, dark, and pure all in one. They respond to cameras differently than adults do. I collaborate with them; we play. They respond instinctively in front of the lens, without pretense. After I got divorced I started photographing women more, because I began spending more time with friends and the female experience became more central in my mind. I’m interested in the visual supply that comes naturally with the life I’m living, vs. creating subject material. I’ll always be a street photographer at heart.
What element do you prioritize the most in your work process?
Perception. It’s hard for me to multi-task taking photos with parenting, being a paid vendor, or having a conversation. My best work comes out in environments where I can blend in and enter a sub-rational mental space. Like playing sports, dancing on the dance floor, making love - the most important element for me is to be able to physically and intuitively respond without thinking.
Where do you get inspiration from? Can you give us tips on experimenting with different film formats?
I get inspiration from the fact that I’m alive. My favorite Jeff Wall quote says, “All art is always an expression of affection for there is a world. There’s something to see. That there is — that anything even exists. It’s already a kid of joyful relation to what is.” God, I love that idea.
I’m also inspired by the need for control. Photographing enables me to frame my experience, contextualize it and define the narrative of what it means to me. I often use it to erase pain, telling myself better stories of relationships and places. Photos help me keep the pieces I want to keep, holding them in a physical print and letting the rest recede into memory.
John Dolan said “the essence of photography is collection.” I love that! I’m inspired by a painful desire to keep and collect the present.
Lastly, what's next for Anastasia?
For the last two years, I’ve been in transition, reimagining a new life post-marriage and post-religion. Rebuilding took most of my energy, and I’m just now shooting and writing at my former volume. It feels good. As I look into the future, I see freedom to follow my creative impulses with no inhibition. I feel like I’m standing on the diving board of my creative potential and have even jumped off and formed my hands into a dive. Time to swim.
written by cielsan on 2021-10-25