From one lens to another
What happens behind the camera lens? Seated in a dim corner of Vivian Maier’s exhibition The Self-Portrait and its Double at Bozar, in between framed photographs and a movie rolling on a large screen. We met with photographer Agneskena and talked about intimacy, film and the relationship between the subject and photographer.
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Agneskena. I am a black African woman with Congolese roots. I'm a Libra (I love to say that). I've grown up surrounded by women, with my three sisters, mom and grandma. That's crucial to how I step into the world, how I see the world and is why I work with a lot of black people. That’s how I feel at home.
How does it feel to have photos taken of you today, to not be the one behind the camera, but in front of it?
If you asked me the same question years ago, I would have said: ‘I'm very self-conscious’. I still feel the same way, but I just put the thought at the back of my head now. I try to not think too much about how I look. Instead, I focus on the whole idea behind the photoshoot because I'm a lover of composition, colour, and harmony. I enjoy looking at how photographers navigate the camera and how they see through the lens. It's just like seeing the same dress on different body types, skin colours, and heights. I may wear the dress with boots, it'll fall a certain way on me, and someone else will wear it with sneakers or a jacket. It'll be the same but different.
I enjoy looking at how photographers navigate the camera, how they see through the lens
Why did you choose photography?
I didn't choose it, photography chose me. That's the thing about being passionate. It just overcomes you, it just happens. And at some point, you realize that you aren't yourself if you aren't busy doing what you love. I see photography as an extension of myself. Photography is my joker, my way of going towards people with intention.
Photography is my joker, my way of going towards people with intention
Do you feel close to Vivian Maier?
We have so much and so little in common at the same time; it’s beautiful. She used film in a very different era, when there was nothing else, while I use film intentionally. She did street photography, while I take intimate shots. She was this badass, grown woman who just went out on the streets to take pictures and I don’t have that sort of confidence. I put myself in space and impose myself differently. But we both have this documentary and people-centred aspect and we are both in the moment. Her pictures are so loud and honest because she wanted to share the beauty and the story of people. That’s something I connect with deeply.
And how do you create such a warm and intimate atmosphere in your photographs?
Film photography instantly adds a layer of depth, a warmth to the picture. Analogue has a nostalgic quality which triggers emotion. When you have a digital camera, you become self-aware because you know that the image is there, on screen. You could just jump in and see the result right away. With analogue, you have to forget about it because you can't get to the picture directly. You have to take your time; you only have 36 exposures before developing. You can't predict the results. Because of that, the person I photograph and I are on the same wavelength. We are both in the moment. They give themselves to me, they trust me and I trust them. That's when all the magic happens.
We are surrounded by Vivian Maier’s self-portraits. Do you take self-portraits?
I do. I absolutely do. It's very silly and contradictory because I'm a shy person. But then again, self-portraits don't always come with self-centred intentions. When you look at Vivian's work, she took all of these self-portraits but with no intent to develop or show them. They are just about creating and finding ways to play with your surroundings and yourself. It's the same for my self-portraits. They aren't necessarily about me looking at my face or body. It's just about my eye. I see something, and I want to work it out.
It's just about my eye. I see something, and I want to work it out.
Do you like the exhibition? Any particular work that stayed with you?
I could talk about her work all day because it's all so wonderful. But the portraits of her taken by other people are stuck in my head. You see her vulnerable, there, standing in front of the camera. And someone else is taking the picture. She doesn't know what's going to happen, she's just there accepting her fate. It's lovely to see the master being vulnerable. I don't see myself as a master, but I can relate to the feeling. When I was photographed earlier, I felt awkward too.
It's lovely to see the master being vulnerable
Vivian Maier: The Self-Portrait and its Double
Until 21 July - Brussels, BOZAR
See this exhibition for free as a Different Class-member!