Ten Questions with Clarissa Bonet

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For this week’s installment of “Ten Questions”, we turn to a very talented local photographer.  A Florida native and recent graduate of Columbia College, Clarissa Bonet has been producing great images that document her experience adapting to the City of Big Shoulders.  Her photographs incorporate bright flashes of light and pops of color slicing through stark black backdrops, instilling in the viewer a sense of the frenetic pace with which the city can move.  Clarissa has also recently taken to digital manipulation to give her audience a different perspective of Chicago.  Pull up a chair and read about Clarissa’s photographic journey as she answers our ten questions.

Give us some background about yourself.  Where are you from and where are you based?

I currently live and work in Chicago, but before moving to Chicago in 2009 to attend Grad School at Columbia College Chicago, I lived in Florida. I spent my whole life prior to Chicago in the tropical landscape in Florida. The difference between the two landscapes is amazing, Instantly fascinated, life seemed so different in the city. Even mundane tasks like going to the grocery store or doing laundry seemed so foreign at first. I was intrigued about how life was organized so differently in a city. 

How did you get into photography?  Are you a self-taught, or a formally trained photographer?  How long have you been photographing?

At a young age I would carry around disposable cameras with me and take snapshots of my friends.  It wasn’t until high school that I discovered the camera as an artistic medium.  I was instantly hooked and I decided straight out of high school that I wanted to be an artist. I received my A.S. and B.S. degrees in photography while studying in Florida. After completing the program I felt that there was so much still to learn, so I applied to grad school programs and ended up at Columbia College Chicago. It has been a little over 10 years since I really started to pursue photography as an art form.

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What is your primary medium? Do you prefer a digital, film, or hybrid workflow? How does your process impact the final product?

It depends on what project I am working on. My series City Space is shot in medium format film and then scanned and printed digitally. In City Space I am often shooting in light with extreme contrast, and I feel as though film works better for this because of its dynamic range. I am currently working on a new project, Dark City, in which I shoot and print digitally. In this project I photograph at night and often shoot a bracket of ten images to start with, and then I manipulate the images in Photoshop. So, a complete digital workflow works better for the Dark City series. Film and digital are both tools and I choose between them depending on the project.

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What are you working on now?

I have been working on and off for about a year on a new body of work, Dark City.  Still focused on the city, these images are absent of people. The images focus on unknown inhabitants that reside in the city. In City Space, I explored the city streets; in this new body of work, I explore unknown inhabitants of the buildings themselves. At night, the city is transformed; the city goes dark and the windows of the tall buildings dot the night sky. These lights are traces of the individuals that reside inside. Like starts in the night sky, the windows of the city glimmer and hold a sense of mystery. When I am not photographing for this project, I am working on my City Space series. 

Are you involved in other creative endeavors? If so, how do they impact your photographic work?

I design and make jewelry, but I wouldn’t say that it has an impact on my photographic work. It’s just nice to make something with your hands.

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What people, photographers or otherwise, that significantly influence your photography?

Saul Leiter and Ray Metzker are two street photographers that have had a big impact on my work within the last few years. Although my process of image-making is not like a street photographer’s, I learned a lot about light, shadow, and camera placement by the way street photographers work. I am more of a directorial photographer, staging performances for the camera. I was influenced at an early age by Philip Lorca di Corcia, Jeff Wall, and Hannah Starkey—by their style of shooting as well as their cinematic reference to the frame.    

Are there any contemporary, lesser known photographers that you feel deserve some recognition?

I really love the work of Manolo Espaliu and Manuel Vazquez. Both photographers live and work in Spain and are not very well known in the States. Their images speak to urban life and the psychology of it.

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How do you feel about the current climate of fine art photography?  Are there any trends you find interesting?

I have noticed a lot of photographers that use the photograph in a very malleable way, manipulating, constructing, and deconstructing. I have been thinking a lot about this lately.  With my new body of work, Dark City, I am embracing this idea as well. When I photograph for Dark City, I think about it as collecting data. It isn’t until I get home and start working on them that they start to take form. I use photography as a tool that allows me to create images.

What drives you to create new work?

It’s hard to explain, I feel the need to make photographs.  It’s an outlet for me to explore the world around me. Right now I am fascinated with the city. I have been fascinated with the city since moving to Chicago in 2009. I usually work on a topic or idea until I feel that I have exhausted that avenue, and then I move on. My work stems from the personal, usually my environment.  Even though I have lived in a large city for four years, I am still intrigued by it every day. I do want to explore other large cities, and I am curious to see how the work will change at that point.

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Thanks for your time, Clarissa.  It was great hearing about your approaches to photography.  We enjoy your vision of Chicago, and we look forward to seeing your Dark City book in the future!

Clarissa’s photographs have been recently featured as part of Flak Photo’s Collection. You can see more of Clarissa’s work at her website (http://clarissabonet.com).

[Interview Wednesday by Christopher A.J. Craddock]