Sina Basila

Upon meeting Sina at a friends gallery show opening I had been obsessively talking about starting a photography collective; during the time I was in a creative rut - lacking motivation, personal drive, and focused momentum to tackle the idea alone. Immediately when we met I spurted out the idea of starting this photography collective, instantly her eyes lit up and I noticed her genuine enthusiasm for this project. My desire stemmed from missing an in-person connection and a stable photography community I could go to/cultivate - she too shared in this desire.

From day one I could tell Sina’s bold personality and strong drive would help get the project off the floor. This is what community is all about, working together to create something out of nothing. Finding and meeting people who are not like you to help bridge gaps. When I looked at her images and video work I could see she was passionate about the environment, youth education in the arts, gender equality, and cultural discrepancies in the industry. I was so impressed by her refashioned garbage work; the intricacy of the outfits she made from discarded materials was so beautiful. This idea had always interested me, but I never had the tactile craftsmanship to pursue. Sina has a unique style and remains true to her vision. Her passion for community organizing has helped shape Seeing Collective and Photo Café into what it is today.

Intro by Megan Mack

What attracted you initially to photography?

I became enamored with photography as a window to experiencing different cultures and to see commonalities in places different from my own. Images of my parents’ travels had an enormous impact on me. Photos from their years traveling through Africa on bicycles adorned our walls and were regularly seen in the form of a slide show. I also remember looking through my mom’s handmade photo albums of the tiny German village that we lived in; these photos connected us to our German roots that we somewhat rejected as young kids growing up in upstate New York. I had my first camera at about the age of ten. The photos were nothing special, but I did start to love the process of taking and developing photos

Why did you choose photography over other art forms or other career paths?

I’ve always been creative, and I love the beauty of photography. With the use of light, color, and perspective, a photograph can show ugly things in beautiful ways. A beautiful photograph can draw you in to communicate a message, and I wanted to be capable of that. I want us to challenge our perspectives on values and how we devalue certain things and groups.

I also work with documentary video, but I use these mediums in different ways. My videos include narration, movement, and time. I love that a photograph is a moment turned silent, and we can look at a photograph for a second or a lifetime to dissect its importance.

Where or from whom do you get your inspiration?

I tend to get inspiration from two different directions: I love photos that affirm the value of everyday or underrepresented individuals (think: Mary Ellen Mark, Dorothea Lange, and Zanele Muholi) , and I also love the work of photographers who think outside of the box and insert a lot of creative direction (think: Tim Walker, Annie Leibovitz, and Cindy Sherman). I think my own work has this same duality of direction. I want my work to have something important to say while still being beautiful.

I am also inspired by the world around me. I think there is a lot of beauty in the mundane, routine, and obvious. I try to stay aware of the beauty in the everyday.

What keeps you motivated to keep producing new work?

Creating work is a way for me to engage with my community. I like to showcase the work of people and organizations in my community, and I like being exposed to new ideas that challenge my own limited knowledge of the world. I am motivated to use my camera as a tool to showcase things that I find important such as programs, education, criminal justice, the environment, and the important existence of the less-than-extraordinary human. Every person’s existence affects their community.

Do you make time for personal work, and what new projects are you working on?

To piggyback on the last question, I love to create projects that allow me to interact with my community. Right now, I am excited about my series (Create)ive Change where I photograph and interview artists who use their creative platforms to make political statements. I am excited to have the opportunity to engage with people whose work I admire and to see how they work. I rejected titling myself as an artist for the longest time because I felt that being an artist was frivolous and ineffective. I am excited to investigate how creative endeavors can create change, and I want this series to inspire others to be a part of political change.

What has been a big learning lesson for you in the photography industry?

Learning to ask for my worth has been a big learning lesson (I’m still not sure I’m doing that!). There is such a delicate balance in asking for a price that doesn’t make you look greedy or make you look cheap. Unfortunately, photographers have a tendency not to share their rates—which is a shame! How can we fight for a living wage and opportunity equality when we all hold our cards close!?

Shortly after moving from Berlin to New York, I had an opportunity to shoot an event and had no idea what New York prices were (higher wage for higher living costs). I asked a friend who told me that I should say that my rate is $65/ hour but to offer new clients a discount at $50/ hour (this included post-production time). It took me a long time to realize that this rate was totally unsustainable! It took me a long time to increase my hourly event rate (which I did incrementally) and not to let clients take advantage of my naiveté and kindness. In the honor of transparency, I currently ask for $150/ hour, and I know other photographers who ask for more and/or have a 3-hour minimum ask.

Tell us about a project that changed the way you work in photography

My Refashioned Garbage project finally let me embrace titling myself as an artist while still having a powerful message: rethink your waste. What started out as a fun idea to be creative in self-portraits turned into a much larger project where the pre-production is as much of the project as the photo itself. For this series, I collect materials destined for landfills to create wearable designs that mimic high fashion. This mimicry disrupts the flow of consumption by flipping concepts of fashion and garbage.

The challenges that I face with this series are: when can I find the time to create a new piece? How do I create and shoot this work in my small, shared apartment? How do I get this work out there—do I want to have an exhibition or get published in a magazine?

I am still figuring out the answer to these questions, but what I have gotten from this series is exposure to a whole new community of artists and activists.

How is the photography community beneficial to your art?

Feedback is energizing. When someone has a positive reaction to your work, it gives you the feeling that someone else cares about what you are doing. I don’t get the same energy from social media, but it is a tool that I need to utilize better. The energy is different in person. Earlier this year there was a period when I was working on a lot of foundational and administrative work for projects which kept me from producing new work with my camera. My collective colleague, Megan, got on my case about it which was just what I needed to hear. There is always an excuse not to do something, and it is wonderful to have a community that pushes you.

Who is your ideal client?

I would love to work for the parks or an environmental organization to create a visual program that engages the community through exhibitions, workshops, and actions. We are at a critical moment in determining the future of our planet, and I want to engage the community in this conversation and movement. I imagine this in three parts: create a photo series in the parks, invite the community to participate in a workshop to create their own art piece inspired by the photographs, and end the exhibition with a call to action.

Where would you like to be in 5 years?

I want to continue to be a visual activist and to use my work to promote understanding, curiosity, justice, education, and inspire action. I want to do this with my video and photography, but I would also like to create more regular programming like that of Photo Café (but with funding!). I love to be a part of organizations for change and would love to organize regular events that are beneficial for the larger community. I would also like to use the time between projects to work in a studio and/or artist residency on my Refashioned Garbage series to continue my exploration of waste.

Where do you see the industry going in the next 10 years?

I think that there are a lot of downsides to the automation and surveillance of digital devices, but at the same time, this technology is becoming ever more widely available to more people. This availability is giving more groups the chance to take representation into their own hands and to share their perspectives with the world. I would like the industry to take notice of the convivial possibilities of this trend and to hire a more representational group of photographers.

Image by Megan Mack

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