Katya Abedian (b. 1998, Cape Town)
Currently in Cape Town
What kinds of things do you most enjoy photographing?
People I love, people who tell me their stories without knowing it, the things that are usually looked over, discarded or misunderstood. I feel most “in flow” when photographing without thinking too much – to capture the way light is playing in a room or bringing life to a certain surface. It’s important for me to feel involved with what is in my frame, that is the only way I “give meaning” to the world.
Describe your photographic style.
Warm, sentimental, invoking, and a reflection of my inner world – how I feel in a moment towards my surroundings. I hope that my photographs are truthful and can stand alone to tell their story, a culmination of light that can speak for itself. That is the closest I can get to defining my style at this point. I am definitely not intentional about my photographic style, it is more about the forms of light or moments that draw my eye and heart in to capture them. Photographic style, in my mind, is synonymous with intention. I would say my intention is to photograph raw, vulnerable moments that do not ask to be called beautiful, but rather embody the essence of the word. Some of my photographs are subtle reflections of social issues that I hope to shed light on.
Photography is a lot about the journey. How has it influenced your personal life and the way in which you view the world (around you)?
When I first peered through the viewfinder of my first film camera, it was as if a portal to a new way of seeing had opened. Photography means a lot of things to a lot of different people. For me, it has and always will be a way to consolidate my sensitivity and sentimentality for the world and the fleeting feelings of myself and others. It has definitely made me a more in-touch human being, helping me to really differentiate between looking and seeing.
The photographic journey is a great teacher of how the most beautiful and irreplaceable moments lie in-between what we focus on ordinarily. My film camera is like a transportable teleportation device, taking me to new parts of myself every time I hold down the button, stepping back to reflect on how I saw something in that moment. It is an extremely personal and reflective process and almost every sincere photographer, I’m sure, will agree that taking photographs is like getting to know yourself in another way.
At the same time, taking someone’s photograph is an intimate space to be allowed into. Photography has connected me to others in a way that words or a conversation may not have. It has also made me aware of how vital it is to have respect for your subject matter, whether your subject is a human being or a body of water. Capture it for the sake of immortalising that moment and honouring the subject rather than capitalising off its beauty or wonder.
Photography is also about capturing a moment in time. What is your approach to a shot, and your approach to a new body of work?
My approach is always different. The one common thread is that I try to focus on how the shot feels rather than solely what is in the frame. I try to focus my eye on what is unfolding before me and then my job is simply to capture it in the most authentic way possible. I try to pay attention to light, movement, expression, the way things are coming together or falling apart, but not in a way that could lead to over-thinking. It’s a fairly rapid culmination of processes that go into one shot. Some shots can leave me hanging on for a few minutes.
Henri Cartier-Bresson once said that, “There are those who take photographs arranged beforehand and those who go out and discover the image and seize it.” The concept of seizing an image strongly resonates with me. Before taking a photograph, I consciously shift myself into a place of unconstraint seizing instead of trying to arrange things to look a certain way. I believe it is from this place where the most truthful and moving photographs are brought to life. Cartier-Bresson also mentions that, “To take photographs means to recognise — simultaneously and within a fraction of a second — both the fact itself and the rigorous organisation of visually perceived forms that give it meaning. It’s putting one’s head, one’s eye and one’s heart on the same axis.” It is safe to say that he sums up my approach to taking a photograph pretty eloquently.
Is photography your professional career? Or do you work in another field?
With regard to photography, yes and no… I would like to organically move towards channelling my passion for photography into a professional environment, but I feel I have a lot of figuring out to do before I go knocking on those doors.
In terms of a career, directing films is my aspiration. The love I have for cinema springs from a truly authentic part of myself. The worlds of film and story-telling have always been the realm that I find myself lost in. I hope to attempt to change the male-dominating field of film directors, even if I am just a drop in that movement. It’s about time that we start evening out the playing field. This only really surfaced when I stood back to reflect on the fact that, besides Sofia Coppola, all the directors I look up to are males. There is nothing changing the fact that they are geniuses in their own right; but it would be great for future female, aspiring directors to have a more equal pool of inspiration to draw from, so that they don’t start believing directing is a field that only males excel in.
Talking about other fields, I have made the decision to study medicine instead of film. Directing and film-making for me is a profession that I am thrilled to learn by doing. I think I have learned more from jumping into unknown territories and then trusting my artistic instincts than I would have learned in four years of film school, in my humble opinion. Surrounding yourself with the right people is also key to getting anywhere as a director. The collective effort that goes into making a film – the concept of having a family of diverse individuals with a range of specific talents and capabilities – is another element of film-making that brings me a lot of excitement. I thrive in environments where collaboration and collective creativity come before personal gain or competition. The feeling of having this family of people from all over the place, where age or position in life is irrelevant, all working towards bringing this vision and story to life, that for me is what you could call “career goals”. It is pretty much the same concept with something like performing a surgery.
Most people are often confused or amused when I mention that being a doctor and a film director are life goals of mine; but I see this life as a process of cultivating all your God-given capabilities and talents to serve humanity. So I have chosen not to fall into the trap of thinking I have to choose one over the other when I could very well pursue both (or at least try to with the best of my ability). Why would I not choose to potentially be twice as useful to others as a human being professionally? Plus, I think it is small-minded to think that the two fields are worlds apart when both have foundations in meticulousness, passion, work ethic, empathy and a love for the human condition.
What gear do you shoot with? Specifically camera arsenal and film stock.
I shoot with a Pentax and standard 35mm Fujifilm. I’m starting to use Kodak Portra 400 film, but it feels like I am shooting with gold.
As cliché as it may sound, I’m starting to realise that a great photographer only needs her/his eye and her/his heart to take a beautiful photograph, rather than a prestigious camera or the best film stock. No doubt that those could lift a photograph to new heights but some of my favourite images were shot on a film camera that was broken and not even supposed to work.
Growth is important for any artistic craft. How do you stay motivated and enthusiastic about your work?
I think artistic growth is inevitable, it’s really just about the rate at which it takes place. I try to find the balance between being patient with and challenging my artistic growth. I push myself to photograph subjects or be in environments I am unfamiliar with. I try to not set my mind on the idea of only photographing certain things, as apposed to what I happen to be in the unique position to “seize”. Maintaining forward-movement is important. To just keep taking photographs and sensitising your eye to light and what photographic process feels most truthful.
I definitely feel most exhilarated when I am uncomfortable while shooting. I’ve taken some of my best photographs in surroundings that were either pouring with rain or so obscure that I had no idea where I was after I had taken the photograph and looked up. I hope that feeling will only ever grow the more I do it.
I always say that shooting on film is my healthy and sustainable “high”, especially working solely in the medium of film because it’s always the gamble of a photograph coming out of the darkroom and being one of three things; less vivid than the moment, exactly how the moment felt, or even more beautiful and visceral than the moment. The last are the photographs any photographer hopes for. I also plan to start processing my own photographs once I find a place to turn the bathroom into a dark room – which is motivating me to learn everything from the ground up about the entire photographic process, from seizing the photograph to seeing it re-appear in the darkroom.
Ultimately, I hope that as I grow as a conscious human being, the images I render will grow with me. I love to be pushed to the point where I feel each image has revealed a new way-of-seeing when compared to the last. Whether that push comes from inside, someone else or a place is less important.
What are your influences? Please list other photographers you look up to or things that generally inspire your image-making process.
My inner world inspires my image-making process. Whatever I am feeling or going through naturally comes through in the photographs that I take. On the contrary, sometimes my photographs reflect what I am yearning for. A beautiful, naturally occurring landscape or an off-beat composition or emotion catches my eye and stirs inspiration, but ultimately inspiration itself is a two-fold concept. I capture what stirs something up inside of me. So I would say me, myself, the one that I am trying to know better everyday, is my fundamental inspiration.
Masters like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Sally Mann, Imogen Cunningham and Malick Sidibe have definitely served as catalysts to my image-making process. Cartier-Bresson is a photographic poet, Mann creates visual nostalgia with her images and both Cunningham and Sidibe’s portraits are endless sources of beauty and inspiration.
What else do you enjoy? (Hobbies, etc – Any other creative exploits or interests?)
Besides film and cinema; writing, music and language are huge creative outlets . The piano has been my soul instrument from the age of six, and I am working on expanding both my musical and linguistic abilities. Writing, like photography, has become somewhat second-nature. An expression I am trying not to become too thoughtful of but rather let it flow when it needs to flow, and rest when it needs an incubation period.
Many of my interests are interlinked; poetry, art, writing, music, biology and sciences, human behaviour, cosmology, biomimicry… the list goes on. I like to spend my time attempting to be of service to others, speaking about things that are perceived to be too complicated to change (the equality of men and women for example) and taking care of as many plants and human beings as possible.
Any tips for aspiring film photographers?
Don’t care about what anyone thinks of your photographs; take praise and rejection with the same lightness-of-heart. The only opinion that matters is your own. Keep taking photographs, don’t ever think you’re not capable of being a great photographer. If you feel it in your gut then you have what it takes. Also, a good photographer takes thirty-six shots but only keeps and shows one. Learn the art of refining your visions.
Follow your inner eye and do not for a moment focus on what “kind” of photography is popular, or think you should be doing it this or that way. Do you. Explore everything and stay open to divine inspiration. Most importantly, don’t overthink it or be too hard on yourself. Enjoy your journey at every stage because no one can walk the path that you are walking and not everyone has the perseverance to cultivate their art seriously.
What lies on the horizon (any plans for series, exhibitions, travels etc)? And what do you hope to achieve in the future?
At the moment, I am working on my first short film that I wrote and am directing and producing. I have a few bodies of photographic work that I would love to exhibit if the time and place is right. I will be living and serving in India, at a Bahá’í-inspired school, for half of this year which I am really looking forward to.
I aspire to build more confidence in my abilities as a director and artist in an industry still dominated by males. I would like to create work that unites and awakens and does not feed into existing discriminatory and harmful cultures. To keep creating for the sake of materialising something beautiful that others can connect with and feel something from. To maintain an open, world-embracing vision that is not held back by borders or earthly constraints. And most importantly, I hope to constantly become more in-tune with the stories that potentially only I have the opportunity to make known to a wider audience – the artworks that are my responsibility to bring to life in order to bring more connectedness and love.
All photos by Katya Abedian
DEAD TOWN™ | Film-only Photographic Showcase ©2017.