Stark-Magazine Canada, issue no.27, 2014
On minimal complexity
Interview with Alexandru Crisan by Jason Lowry
Jason Lowry: Why did you create this series, what motivated you to pickup the camera and tell this story?
Alexandru Crisan: First up, this is a new subject for me, one that I’ve never approached before. Most of the times, I take photos of things discovered by chance: I find an interesting frame, a stance, a subject or a particular detail. Although every time I try to envision a topic or a specific theme, I irreparably end up doing something completely different. This series makes no exception. Initially, I wanted to capture something winter-specific: wide shots, white fields, snowy trees etc., all at macro scale, something I would call “classic” in landscape photography. However, I discovered that the winterscape phenomenon can be approached “unorthodoxly”, simply by focusing on a certain part of it, on an isolated detail… a detail that, in fact, tells the whole story. That’s what I want to talk about! It’s about the world of the micro-scale, the world in which an ant becomes the dominant subject, the world to which we pay no mind, distracted by what frames it. And since sometimes we don’t see the trees because we marvel at the forest, this is the world that I discovered by pure chance … maybe the same world discovered by Thomas Hemmings in Antonioni’s Blow-up. It’s all about background details, those particular details that create in this case, in my case, a fantastic world of miniatures.
I was fascinated when I actually saw for first time what I would have otherwise dismissed as the minutiae of this specific world. I’ve had a similar reaction, many years ago, when I’ve discovered Ernst Haeckel’s radiolarians: a world determined by details of small parts or large fragments reproducing themselves… becoming increasingly more sophisticated, more complex, generating a whole entity. It’s quite incredible the kind of details you can find by zooming in towards this small world. Haeckel said, in 1899: “Nature has created an inexhaustible wealth of wondrous forms whose beauty and diversity way exceed anything that has been created by man.”
My “Winterscape” series tries to capture a big world at small scale! The world of details or accidental actions is represented by conjectural complexity transposed into minimal simplicity, a specific simplicity of final result or entity… The fascination for the innate simplicity of the complexity was the starting point of this photo-adventure. It’s similar to Nature: patching together small and complex pieces in order to create something simple and perfect. In a way I think this should be the essence of minimalism. Minimal complexity recently became one of my favorite subjects. It’s somehow related to many subjects that I’m interested in lately… linked probably to my architectural projects.
Secondly, when you discover the complexity of such a world, you want to capture some of its details in a special way, to expose what you’ve imagined and what you have seen beyond a simplified representation… Because such a picture can do so much more then straightforwardly tell a story: it can clarify the narration of your own story, if only to your self… Photography is a fantastic medium for the reactions that it can trigger in each of us. Often, I like to think that we see more than a mere representation, a static image fixed in time… The final goal is achieving a frozen state beyond reality: one recounts thoroughly, generates a specific state of mind, and determines a story… But if you can recreate a new story over and over again, different from one person to another, then we actually can talk about photography and not just about an image resulted from a triggering device.
Consequently, I hope this series will transpose the viewer into a specific state of mind, not the one experienced by the photographer himself, but into an imaginary world where he or she will be able to recompose individually a different story every time they look at a photo… I do not believe in transposition repeatability, but I do believe that every person grasps and contextualizes information in an individual manner. And it is in this individuality that I find the meaning of photography beyond the simple representation determined in our digitalized times by camera shutter.
J.L.: What drives you as an artist – how are you different and what is your objective for using photography in your life?
A.C.: I am an architect. I do not favor myself “officially” an artist, considering the all-encompassing post-modern meaning of word. To me, photography is a medium where I feel comfortable expressing some of the ideas and some of the feelings I hold at any specific moment of my life. It is also the avenue that expresses perfectly the things I like the most. All my contradictory states are rooted in my experiences and they were re-triggered each time I saw a certain photo. At the beginning, between 1996 and 2006, photography was just a tool that helped me in my designs or drawings.
Now I hold photography as part of my personality, a way of “artistic expression” that I’m trying to master. It’s one of the things we talked about: start somewhere and finish elsewhere. I initially thought I had a problem, but is just the way I am wired, maybe a direct result of a bunch of images! But seriously, the differences probably came from the way you look at things and how you react to them: it’s about vision. Maybe this is the most important ingredient (or process) that makes us different from one other. And it is indeed vision, since the way it talks about personality is directly linked to authenticity. I do not believe in originality, especially in photography. Originality is an obsessive quest for things never done or seen before… so originality in photography is almost impossible because anything that you can imagine was, most likely, already captured “on film”, in some way. That’s why photography was, until a few years ago, just a device for me.
Moreover, I do not believe there is such a thing as good photos and bad photos; all images are ultimately more successful or less. But I believe in something different, in pictures that tell stories… Consequently, I admire photos that create stories and transpose me within frames belonging to another world, an imaginary world, obviously. And this is what I’m trying to get through my photos. Sometimes, it works. Most of the times, it doesn’t! Often I’m totally disappointed with the final result and start all over again…. continuously looking forward for something different!
J.L.: What are your strengths as an artist and your weaknesses?
A.C.: I think the strengths and weaknesses become apparent in my works. It is obviously the continuous research activity I was talking about… I can easily find weaknesses in older works and strengths in recent ones. That’s why I consider myself a perfectionist… every time I take a picture, the result is not as good as I’ve imagined it would be! If you’d ask me more than a month afterwards, I would probably say: it could have been better! It seems that the attempted search for the so-called “perfection” is a difficult and long road and therefore I do not consider myself a photographer, maybe more a fan of photography. I mostly like other people’s work more then I do mine. I’ve tried not to copy other photographers. Somehow I discover later on resemblances with other’s pictures and each time I’m asking myself the same question: who copied whom? It was funny one day when I discover that some pictures of mine look like the ones took by Kenna or Levin. Obviously I asked myself if I ever saw those pictures before… Apparently I did not! Surely first was Kenna and then me… and that was disappointing. I usually say that photography is something you develop over time. It’s not something you are born with or something you can be taught by someone else. Techniques come and go, the scenery rests quite the same, and, in the end, there are so few great images compared with the number of photographers, pictures born after every rainy day. Apparently, these days, everything looks like a Kenna or a Levin…
Regarding the series you selected for this interview, I remember that a very good friend of mine told me when he saw the images that they remind him of some of the details found in Adams. I do not see that at all! Maybe sometimes it’s just the way you feel about something… in this case, probably the connection with something that he likes most (more) trumps the connection with something he (just) knows. Somehow those images tell something beyond the representation, they build a special neuronal connection between consciousness and sub-consciousness and that’s the reason they were created for. That could be an example for the binomial strengths – weaknesses.
I like to think that a “healthy” combination between strengths and weaknesses is the best ingredient for a great photographer, strength referring to your ability to transmit things you imagine and weakness when you’re somehow lost in a continuous translation developing your individuality. It’s simply a never-ending process.
J.L.: What is your most memorable experience as a photographer?
A.C.: While I want others to “write” their own stories upon looking at my photographs, to me, the actual act of taking a photograph breeds instant memories… and most of them are quite funny! It’s a little hard for me to single out one of them as a more memorable experience, since they are all part of my own story. Nevertheless, let me tell you about Venice…
I love Venice… For almost a decade now, I travel there at least once or twice per year. And every time I’ve stopped in San Marco Square I‘ve been strangely drawn towards the harbor. It’s almost like my feet are taking me there all by themselves. I usually take my time and just watch the people passing by. I seek inspiration in the dangling gondolas profiled on San Giorgio skyline. And every single time I am tempted to take the same picture.
One time, in February 2013, I went to Venice to photograph San Marco during Aqua Alta, the phenomenon that appears when the water rises and the square gets completely flooded. I’ve prepared myself by studying when this phenomenon occurs… So, at what I hoped it was the right time, I just bought the tickets and flew to Venice. I only had four days at my disposal to achieve my photographic goal. I proposed myself two days dedicated to one specific shot… I also booked a room at a hotel nearby San Marco, to be extremely close to the subject itself.
I had this picture in my mind even before taking it: the two columns and the flooded harbor, with the reflected images decomposing gradually into fine tones of gray – on 35 mm film. So I went to the harbor two mornings in a row, from 5 to 8 AM, to take the shot. It was winter time. At 5 AM, the San Marco Square was supposed to be depopulated. Picture this: -5 degree Celsius, windy… quite a smudged weather all over the specific Venetian pontoons. When I arrived at the harbor, I was startled by a bunch of photographers mounted on the exact same spot I was seeking for myself, taking the exact same picture I was dreaming about! I had a long moment of reflection… about repetitiveness, identity, unicity, timelessness, meaninglessness, photography, etc. and (later on) decided not taken the picture after all.
Consequently, the next day, at same hour, I went to the same place: colder, windier, feels like -10 degree Celsius now. I was expecting the same crowd, but this time there was only one photographer there. It was a brief moment when we looked each other, smiled, (somehow I felt like I knew that person) and simultaneously split in different directions. We didn’t want the same picture… obviously! We stayed there for about one hour, at 50, maybe 100 m away from each other, but looked attentively at what the other one was doing… the gondolas are the same… probably he also took the same picture several times. Finally, after one hour, I was alone in San Marco harbor. Well, alone with about 30 or 40 seagulls attracted not by me or by my camera, but by the breadsticks I’m bringing every time to feed them… and suddenly, the photo was no longer important…
What really mattered were the thoughts I had during those two cold winter days in Venice… about the crowd of photographers, about that solitary photographer, about the seagulls… and mostly about the images that aren’t meant to be captured during some mornings… or ever. But this could be another story altogether.
P.S.: That time, there was no Aqua Alta in Venice…