Interview by Maria Giorgia Lenzi –
Selected as a runner up for Photograd x Loupe competition, Fiona Filipidis shares why she undertook her research on bees, why she photographed her favourite houseplant and how she turns collected images and objects into photography.
Maria Giorgia Lenzi: When you first decided to approach photography, were you inspired by someone or something in particular?
Fiona Filipidis: I religiously collected images from as far back as I can remember. I collected animal stickers, Spice Girls photographs, music posters, and then I discovered Vogue. I would rip out my favourite photos and keep them in plastic sleeves inside dozens of binders that would pile up on my bedroom floor. I initially wanted to be a fashion photographer, but then my secondary school art teacher introduced me to the world of contemporary photography, video and art that blew my mind. I guess I’ve been building on that knowledge ever since.
MGL: What is it that fascinates you the most about the medium?
FF: Its ability to create an emotion in me that I cannot get through anything else, whether I am taking a photo or whether I am looking at one. A photograph is its own little piece of reality, a slice of time and space. I am a fairly shy person, and I often think of myself as someone who hides behind her camera, but a photo exposes the person who has taken it in ways which I find hard to comprehend. A photo tells you about the object it represents but also about the subject who is behind it – the composition, the lighting, the colours, the framing, they are all clues, and I find that fascinating.
MGL: Research seems to be central to your practice. How much of what you find is planned out before the beginning of a project?
FF: Nothing is ever really planned! I rely heavily on circumstance and fate. I do a lot of research before I begin any project, and collect, collect, collect anything I can find that relates to my idea; objects, articles, images, websites, books, I let all that guide me.
MGL: Most of your projects are a combination of different elements: archival photographs, drawings, letters, colour and black and white images. When combining all of this, what guides you in the editing process?
FF: Editing is probably the most painfully frustrating part of any project, but also the one that I love the most. It all happens very organically for me. I print every single image out, and then organise them according to theme or type. I have a big, mirrored wall in my flat on which I can stick them all to, so I then have everything spread out in front of me, a sort of ‘bigger picture’, if you want. I trust my eyes. If it feels good, then I roll with it.
MGL: You seem to often include writing in your projects, how important is the relationship between words and images in your photographic practice?
FF: Incredibly important. I recently read an article by Alain Genestar, the director of Polka, a French photography magazine, in which he states that, ‘Words come to the rescue of photographs when they are able to say what the latter cannot show’. I couldn’t have said it better myself. For me, there is a rush, a frenzy in image-making, and peace, recollection, a gathering of the soul in writing. One cannot exist without the other.
MGL: You were selected by Photograd for your work To Make a Prairie. How did you first think of this project?
FF: I was chatting with one of my tutor’s from LCC about what I could do next, feeling quite lost, when she, rather bluntly, asked me a question I will never forget: ‘What pisses you off and what brings you joy?’. I thought long and hard and then rambled on and on, when she stopped me and told me my eyes lit up when I mentioned hives being kept on rooftops in Paris. So I began my research and I was hooked. I also remember reading a quote, falsely attributed to Einstein, stating that, ‘If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live’. In my mind, it was this simple: if they die, we die. I figured that seemed like a fairly enticing idea to research!
MGL: This work explores a contemporary issue in an original way, why did you decide to address it in the form you did?
FF: I wanted to explore a pressing environmental issue in a form I hadn’t come across before, with a strong emphasis on archival imagery. I didn’t want to make a traditional photo essay. I wanted my images and my writing to give hope, and show the beauty of the natural world while at the same time continuously reminding the viewer that this topic is of great importance and needs to be paid attention to.
MGL: I found your project What do you want to be when you grow up? very interesting, what are the reasons behind this project?
FF: I had been obsessively watching Fargo at the time, and one of the characters asked another whether he knew why the human eye can see more shades of green than any other colour. My curiosity was piqued. I began researching the colour green, the science of colour, allotments, victory gardens, urban farming, conservatories and telephone poles disguised as trees, but my mind couldn’t help but think about potted plants and our need to bring nature back into the home. The aim of this series is to show our desire to reconnect with nature through a humorous, albeit slightly strange, depiction of my fantasized mother/daughter relationship with my favourite houseplant, Phoebe. Who, I am proud to say, is healthy and growing bigger every day.
MGL: Is there someone you refer to for feedback or advice on your work?
FF: I tend to trust my gut most of the time, but when that trust fails, I usually ask my friends who are not in the photography industry. I know it’s not usually recommended, but I also ask my parents, as I know they are always honest. My classmates from my MA at LCC are also a great source of knowledge that I, hopefully, will nurture for years to come.
MGL: How would you define your photographic aesthetic in a few words?
FF: That’s a very tough question. Quiet. Delicate. Humorous.
MGL: Where do you see yourself in five years?
FF: Hopefully in a country where the sun shines most of the year, still collecting everything I can get my hands on and still creating images.