by Sharon Boothroyd
From the series The Other Woman by Natasha Caruana
Natasha Caruana is a photographic artist and founding director of the London based studioSTRIKE artists studios. Caruana was born in London, 1983. She has an MA in photography from the Royal College of Art, London and is a Senior Lecturer of Photography at the University for the Creative Arts, Surrey, UK.
Caruana’s own art practice is grounded in research concerned with narratives of love, betrayal and fantasy. Significant to all Caruana’s work is the questioning of how today’s technology is impacting relationships. Her series ‘Married Man’ documents love and life of the everyday and her later work ‘Fairytale for Sale’ explores the strange ritual of newlyweds blocking out their faces in online adverts. Her work is created drawing from archives, the Internet and personal narratives.
I became the ‘other woman’ on February 23rd, 2003.
(Artist statement – The Other Woman)
Some of your work is very personal and exposing, in fact it is how your career began. How did this come about? Was it therapeutic somehow; necessary?
I didn’t begin photographing until I was about to leave school when I inherited my grandfather’s Pentax K1000. Over the summer holiday I started photographing life in my town and tin cans in the supermarket. I quickly moved onto documenting new arrivals to the UK queuing outside the home office in Croydon. This was the start of the fascination with personal stories. I carried on photographing other people’s stories throughout my photography degree. It wasn’t until my final third year project when the camera turned inwards to document my own story. This viewpoint has continued and today I still draw from personal experience. My work often comes from something I’m wrestling with in my life. I strive to translate something personal into the universal.
From the series The Other Woman
How was this work received and what impact did that have on you (personally and as an artist)?
It’s been very fascinating for me to receive such diverse responses to the work. I often get emails from other women or married men that want to talk to me about their situations. I’ve found that through my work people feel they are able to have open conversations with me… but at the other end of the spectrum… I’ve had emails from married men asking me out.
It still amazes me how remarkable the power photography has to enable shared experience.
From the series The Married Man
What inspires you? Where do you get your stories from?
The closest answer I can give is that my work comes from the everyday. I live a very active life, meeting people, travelling, having many hobbies, having a close-knit family and friendship circle so I’m always in touch with life. An idea can come from a family dinner, an overheard conversation at yoga or car boot sale.
I notice or find myself pondering over something, and start to explore the idea from different angles – by reading relevant material, visiting archives, looking on the internet, talking to people, and so on.
Your works are usually exhibited as installations – using sound and text – how important is this to you and why? How do you discern what makes a good installation?
Due to the research based nature of my practice I build up a lot of material whilst exploring and shooting around an idea. I try to push and reinvest the form of the photograph, moving between different formats, techniques and technologies – from a camera phone to a disposable camera, watch camera, large format camera and the appropriated image. This is reflected in the way I exhibit the work. The installation grows out of the research process. At the beginning of the series I never set out to create an installation. It often naturally evolves and the material seems too important to edit out, so it becomes part of the final work.
Further to this I really enjoy the challenge of curating work to a specific exhibition space. I try to keep things interesting by adding or reworking material for different spaces – an installation can often be the outcome of this process.
The Married Man was quite risky. How did you feel about undertaking this project? Were you nervous during the ‘dates’? What drove you to make this work? What did you learn?
The Married Man project was a mixture of part thrilling, part sad repetitive moments. I was drawn to the fact that the dates weren’t at all what I expected. During the initial 5 dates (research process of the project) I found the men were mostly using me like a quasi-marriage councillor. This was something surprising and was a contrast to how one would imagine an affair to be. I wanted to understand more about how men felt in marriage, what were their intentions to me? The project had the overarching question ‘how is technology changing relationships today?’ this was born from the fact I was using Internet dating websites solely set up for married men to find a mistress.
I learnt a lot about marriage and the importance of continued communication between man and wife, as it can often slip into the wife and child relationship being the most dominate. Through the series I also gained a better understanding about the act and means of photographing. I learnt to change formats and use the camera format best suited to the work… this challenged me to not just pick up what is familiar. It this instance I started to use a disposable camera. The way you photograph can also be important to the conceptual framework of the series.
From the series The Married Man
Can you tell us about your current series The Detective? What is it about? What are you hoping to achieve?
The Detective documents the narrative of Rebecca Jane, the owner of the Lady Detective Agency, the UK’s leading all female-staffed detective agency. The work is still in progress and I’m currently exploring the multiplicity of point of view, the fleeting moment and the extension of the photographer’s lens. I’m doing this by moving between different formats, combining images taken on a small digital camera, a watch camera, an iPhone, on Snapchat and on a large format 10x8in camera with a team of lighting professionals.
Themes of love and fantasy tinged with brokenness continue to run through your work. Are these things that we should expect to see again? What draws you back to these niche relational dynamics?
I honestly have no idea what the future holds in terms of subject matter. I can never predict when an idea will strike.
As a photographer you move between snapshot photographs, large format imagery, iPhones. What roles do different cameras play in your research and production? How do you know what is the right camera?
I experiment with different cameras and shoot the same thing on different formats. From the results I am able to work out which camera is suited to the project and what I’m trying to achieve both aesthetically and conceptually.
What is it like working with a team? How is your role as photographer changing as you progress? Are you operating a bit like a director and how is that different?
Working in a team was great fun. On one of the Detective shoots I worked with a 10 x 8 format. Having other people on hand to perfect the lighting, manage the camera, meant I could really focus on getting the right image. I’m so used to photographing my projects alone, I did feel nervous ahead of the shoot as I wasn’t sure how it would feel having other people there. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to concentrate. As it turned out having other people there meant I could talk the idea through. It also meant I could share the experience with other people. I had been photographing up in Lancashire for about a year and it was wonderful to share the landscape with others.
Work in progress from The Detective
You recently won the prestigious BMW artist residency. Congratulations! What plans do you have for the residency? How is it going? What will you be doing day to day and how will you use the time and resources? Are we allowed to have an insight into what you might produce?
Thank you. I’m very excited to work on a new project. I’m searching for the truth behind Love at First Sight or Coup de Foudre – The Lightning Bolt. The work will explore personal experience and popular mythology, as well as investigating the subject through the work of neuroscientists, anthropologists and evolutionary biologists.
I’ve always been fascinated by the museum’s archive so I am also working with the Nicéphore Niépce collection. It’s a beautiful and touching collection. I am giving particular attention to the amateur photograph albums and vernacular images it holds.
For those interested in knowing more about the residency I’m sharing all my research and progress onto my artist facebook page.
What does this prize mean for your career? (The BMW residency results in a solo show at Recontres d’Arles and Paris Photo, 2015.)
This residency is a once-in-a-career opportunity and knowing the work I make will be shown at both Les Rencontres d’Arles next year and at Paris Photo will push me to take my work to a higher professional standard, particularly in terms of presentation. It also means I’m working in an entirely new way. Normally my projects take me one or two years to complete. With the residency I have to have a project completed from start to finish in about two months!
From the series The Other Woman
You also work full time as senior lecturer at UCA, Farnham. What does this role bring to your practice and how do you manage to do everything?
Yes I work at the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham. I run the second year on the Photography Degree programme. I am part of a fantastic team and I work amongst some incredible and passionate photographers/ educators.
Working full time is of course not ideal in terms of keeping up my practice, but looking at it optimistically I get to know my students very well and I basically get to work with ideas all day. By working with the students so closely I get a lot of personal reward seeing their creative and personal confidence grow throughout the degree. It is very long hours and I’m definitely not in love with the four-hour daily commute! But by working in education it does mean I can have the holidays for my practice, and with my salary I can employ assistant Sarah Howe, she is a brilliant support and keeps everything ticking over for me during the stressful term time.
The research department and media school have been amazingly supportive towards the BMW Award and it’s incredible to be given this time away from teaching. The residency is a welcome opportunity to focus wholly on my own practice. Throughout my career I have a never had an uninterrupted period to work on my projects. I’m now two weeks into the three months and to be honest it does feel a little odd to not be running fresher’s week this year, and meeting all my new second years. I suppose the next couple of months will be a good lesson in letting go and taking time for my work.