There is a serenity about Fiona’s photographs. It’s as if I’m watching a part in a film where the camera holds on a moment, as the sound is overtaken by the cawing of birds or rolling ocean waves. The camera lingers to make us look, harder. Her photographs capture moments we may fail to see if it weren’t for these beautiful photographs. Fiona’s photographs attract us with glistening color and light. Her photographs explore space and objects left behind. Her work captures simplistic beauty with a touch of humor. It is when I take a longer look that I really admire the beauty within Fiona’s photographs.
I met Fiona through Seeing Collective. Like her photographs, Fiona has a quietness to her that does not declare her poignant artistry. Fiona is a pleasure to be around, she shows up and she is present. Her observations are worthy of attention.
It was easy to photograph Fiona for her portrait (see portrait at bottom). I chose some of my Refashioned Garbage creations to photograph her in, and she took to them right away. For her portrait, Fiona wore discarded garden netting onto which discarded party streamers were tied, and on her fingers she wore aluminum yogurt lids that were fashioned into cones. Our collaboration produced many wonderful photos with little direction needed.
Intro by Sina Basila
What attracted you initially to photography?
When I was 9, I brought a disposable camera to camp and upon returning home, decided I wanted to finish the last frames of the roll of film at the supermarket. The photos I came back with were of packaged meat under fluorescent lights and splashy soda cans in their tall reaching stacks. I never did do much with these images, but I can distinctly recall the thrill and curiosity I felt documenting this place that was strange, beautiful, and inexplicably melancholy. What attracted me to photography that day is still what attracts me today: I am fascinated by the ways in which people relate to the natural, or built spaces around themselves, and feel constantly inspired by the ability to communicate a story or feeling with a single image.
Why did you choose photography over other art forms or other career paths?
For the most part I felt certain that I wanted to major in photography at Pratt, until one day I designed a cake box for an art assignment. I was so pleased with the final product that I told my professor I had changed my mind and would study graphic design. She rolled her eyes at me and said only, “Okay, Fiona.” Disheartened by her less than enthusiastic response, I decided once again that I would study photography. But I think this shows the ambivalence I still feel about solely pursuing photography and the deep connection and inspiration I draw from other media. Photography is perhaps the medium I feel most at ease with, yet I think that generally speaking I would have been content working in any medium that would allow me to reflect on daily life through visual, metaphorical means.
Where or from whom do you get your inspiration?
I recently discovered the work of Michael Northrup, a photographer who worked primarily in the 70s-90s. His photographs are bizarre, beautiful, upsetting, and uplifting all at once. There is a photo of his where a woman and a small child are delicately holding hands in front of a suburban house with a lovely yellow bush down in the middle. There is so much that I love about this photo — the soft but powerful colors, the cinematic wide angle and off-kilter framing, and the subtle, vaguely frustrated expressions on their faces. It's such a moving photograph and portrays what might for some be a “real” depiction of what life feels like — whatever that means.
What keeps you motivated to keep producing new work?
I feel motivated by my own obsession with documenting the everyday, and preserving the poignant moments, people, or narratives that might otherwise go unnoticed. When I was in high school, I would sit in the classroom thinking that every room and every moment could be composed of a million pictures. There are so many beautiful, funny, special, and completely tragic moments in life that pray to be captured and tucked away to forever hold and look back on. I, like many people would rather not die, and photography has been an exceptional tool in helping me balance overwhelming awe with a sense of groundedness and with genuine human connection.
Do you make time for personal work, and what new projects are you working on?
I try to set aside as much time as possible for personal work. Making photographs is an crucial aspect of my being; I rely on photography to help me process daily life— that being said, I always strive to preserve and nurture the connection that I have with it. Sometimes this means sifting through old work and looking for patterns, or just going to a museum to look at the work of other artists. In terms of new projects, I am working on putting together a collection of photographs made over the past few years in the Pacific Northwest. About three years ago, my younger sister moved across the country to Olympia, Washington to attend school. I visited her on several occasions and became incredibly entranced by the landscape and personality of the region. I am currently in the process of editing and compiling this work.
What has been a big learning lesson for you in the photography industry?
Learning to be less hard on myself. Being on social media, it becomes very easy to compare your work and process to that of other photographers/artists. Instead of this being motivation to work harder, I find it ends up pushing me backwards — way backwards, putting the focus on attempting to replicate the success of others rather than on my personal goals. I spend so much time invested in the accomplishments of other photographers, I often have to remind myself that I am also a photographer! You would think that the stream of helpful men offering unsolicited photographic equipment recommendations would help me remember...
How is the photography community beneficial to your art?
During my time at Pratt, I benefited immensely from the critique, support, and knowledge my professors and peers shared amongst the community. When Megan Mack, one of See C. founders (along with Sina Basila), approached me in 2016 and told me that she was planning to start a photo collective, I was thrilled by the concept of once again belonging to a photography community. It’s been almost a year since our first meeting, and it has been so encouraging to be surrounded by other photographers working in several different sectors of the industry. Having a group of people with which to share ideas, show work, and discuss photography is massively beneficial in a era and place that increasingly discourages creative endeavors. I feel passionate about our plans to spread the knowledge and resources we possess as a group through talks on relevant industry topics, and our growing partnership with community-minded photography school, Brooklyn Central.
Who is your ideal client?
As a documentary photographer, a forward-thinking publication that tells stories in a creative fashion would be a dream to work for! I consistently photograph a wide range of subjects so it would be great to have clients who see the versatility of my work as an asset and are confident in my eye. As a concrete example, I have admired much of the photography in the Times magazine and the New Yorker.
Where do you see the industry going in the next 10 years?
I would imagine the industry will continue to move towards the moving image and virtual reality. Despite my fear of technological advancements and my expertise being very limited, I do hope that we are moving towards a place of greater inclusivity in the photography world (and outside of it). Artists with privilege, need to be uncomfortably aware of the power that their identities may bring them in these industries, and work consistently to dismantle the systems of oppression that they have kept in place.
Tell us about a project that changed the way you work in photography?
I used to have a strong objection to portraiture, much of which I believed to be boring, insincere and overly sentimental. After graduating in 2015, I began to reflect on my work and the substantial role that people or their implied presence play. In my photographs, people were often in the frame, but almost always in the distance or turned away. I was shooting a lot in Brighton Beach at the time and started to feel quite unsatisfied with the photos of tiny, distant figures — my avoidance of people’s faces disguised as a unique photographic element was avoiding a challenge I had to conquer if I wanted to tell compelling stories. I had been assisting a portrait photographer at the time and was blown away by how complex and challenging it was to simultaneously form a connection with someone and take a meaningful, well-composed photograph. It became clear that a portrait did not have to be the dull expression I once understood it to be. Trying to push more portraiture into my work has been an extraordinarily exciting journey and challenge. I look forward to continuing to push myself to photograph both strangers and familiar people.
Image by Sina Basila