Talisa Swanson Creates Analogue Magic with Nature

The visual style of Portland-based photographer Talisa Swanson is one that makes ordinary scenarios and natural images become exceptional and out of this world. The colors are more surreal and the compositions are more illusory. Through the unique qualities of film, she is able to create magic and wonder out of the mundane.

Hi Talisa, how are you lately with your creative life?

Hi, my creative life is like most things, always waxing and waning. Time and energy always seem to be the limiting factors, which in a way is what makes creativity so special. Creativity can also be an ambiguous idea - as creativity bleeds into all things we touch, not just the things we decide to create with artistic intention. In regards to photography my creativity has been somewhere in the middle lately, I get these amazing bursts of excitement and desire to capture and create, but some days or weeks it’s nice to set the camera down and recharge or let new ideas filter in.

May you share with us how you met film photography and what made you fall in love with the medium?

I met film photography as a child, by no means does my first film photography/camera interaction feel profound, however. At that time, as far as I know, everyone was shooting film. But I was very excited about the idea of photos. I was reintroduced to film photography through a friend (Nino) in Portland, OR while I was a graduate student. He was shooting medium format at the time and I was fascinated by the camera, he briefly mentioned he thought that I might like shooting film, and apparently a seed was planted. I bought a low-cost film camera from my co-worker about a month later and the rest is history.

You use a lot of film's unique aesthetics like strong film grain, leaks, multiple exposures, etc. What natural film effects do you love the most and why?

That is a great question. I was talking to a friend recently about the difference between logistical/technical photography and experimental/play based photography. How sometimes logistics and technicality while striving for “perfection” can remove the spirit or the soul from a photo. How there is something magical when artists play, attempt to redefine the use of a tool, or are driven to experiment with their tools. That resonated with me, I feel that play is a huge part of creating and learning. The versatility and the experimental potential of film is vast and seemingly endless. I enjoy the practice of play through my photography and I like to use the inherent film characteristics, which seems to capture the unique and ephemeral essence of a moment. My favorite technique is definitely double exposures, the idea of re-exposing a section of film to a secondary image holds endless possibilities. You’re relating two completely different instances, subjects, colors, daylight, composition, textures, etc. inherently with them sharing the same slice of film, you never know what you’re going to get and that’s the best part.

Most of the time, these film effects imply so much with the themes of time, memories, and permanence. What are your thoughts on this?

So, right on the money. Yes, there is something special about the grain and film’s capacity to imply time, share memories and make the viewer aware of permanence (or more specifically the lack of). I think part of this is cultural and social. Digital photography is the prevailing method of capturing photos and we have the capacity to snap quick and endless photos with our phones. Which is a different type of magic in and of itself, but definitely in a different way. I have a box of old printed film photos - these photos are my youth, my nostalgia, with images of my grandparents, holidays I don’t remember, silly Halloween costumes, my mom at my current age, a window into a meal enjoyed during a snowy winter in the 90s. All of these photos are very near and dear to me and I’m sure I’m not the only one with a similar box of photos.

Personally, I think the passing of time, the ubiquity of digital photography, and the nostalgia of these boxes or albums of old photo prints we all carry has a lot to do with how we perceive film and its ability to highlight on these topics and our feelings. It’s the film, but it’s also a reflection of ourselves.

What's your 'main subject' when it comes to taking film photos?

Definitely nature, hands down my favorite subject. I get to combine my two favorite hobbies on a weekly to bi-weekly basis. I live in Oregon and we have all the seasons and an entire spectrum of colors throughout the year of leaves, ocean sunsets, flowers, waterfalls, berries, critters, mountains, etc. We have moody winter mornings and summer Cascade skylines that turn fluorescent pink for 5 minutes before the sun goes down. Nature keeps my eye questioning, inspires my creativity, helps me play, and helps me keep my child spirit inside alive.

What’s the most important element for you when taking photos?

This is a hard question. My first instinct is to say light, because the light is the interactive element, but I suppose it’s really the balance of light. Too much light can be bad, not enough light can be bad. From a film standpoint - balancing light, from a human standpoint - a desire to capture and excitement to capture.

What inspires you, in general?

The beauty of everything around me, the desire to grow and play and create new images. But my biggest inspiration is my friends and my community in Portland. I moved to Portland formally in 2018 and since then I have met beautiful and creative spirits who have taught me so much about film photography in a variety of ways. They have challenged my comfort with film photography, have been open and vulnerable to me, have allowed me to be a part of their own personal creative projects (film, but mostly non-film), have allowed my photographs to complement their sounds, their music, their handmade clothes, their handmade pottery, have allowed me to capture intimate family moments, and have given me their time and energy. They have held me up with words and sentiment while I was silently in lulls, seeing things in me through film that even I had not seen. Film, and film through these beautiful interactions (and the relationships I have built beyond film) has been a vector of personal human grown which has coincided and paralleled my growth as a photographer.

What's next for Talisa Swanson?

More of all the things, with continued growth. My 2022 goals are to develop more of my own film at home (currently I only develop about 1 in 10 rolls) and I’m working on a combined photo and poem book. Which I am very excited about.

Visit and follow Talisa on Instagram for more of her analogue magic!

written by cielsan on 2021-11-17

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