Capturing Identity with Tereza
Twenty two year-old Tereza Cervenova is only just starting her career in photography but she has already made a name for herself. She was one of the winners of Daniel Blau’s 5 under 30 competition for young photographers and she has been shortlisted for this year’s Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize – meaning her work will be showcased in the National Portrait Gallery.
The honesty in Tereza’s portraits is what makes her photography so extraordinary – the subjects always seem caught in moments where they are figuratively naked; temporarily left without their guard. Indeed this is what Tereza herself seeks out to do. I spoke to Tereza about her craft and her talent.
How did your passion for photography develop?
When I was 16 I started to travel on my own and taking photographs became a way to share all those new experiences with my family and friends afterwards. Back then I had little ambition of becoming a photographer; I was mainly focused on writing and drawing but the more I photographed the more natural, fluent and exciting it became.
When I moved to London two years ago I started a Fine Art and Critical Thinking Course, but soon I realised that instead of freedom and joy the process of making art should incite, it was making me feel anxious. The whole first semester was a fight, which I felt I was losing. I even decided to give up art and applied to study History instead. But fortunately, in the meantime I transferred to Photography and never left. This was a year and a half ago, and I dare to say, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. My father, who studied art himself, told me that you’ve really found your medium, when you can’t stop thinking about it. And this happened with me and photography and it still gives me a great satisfaction.
When did you get your first camera and what was it?
It was in summer 2010 when my family and I went for a trip to castle Cerveny Kamen in Slovakia. I saw a stall full of cameras and I bought old twin lens reflex camera Flexaret – Czechoslovakian version of Rolleiflex.
What is the most challenging part of your work?
The most challenging part of my work, as a portrait photographer, is to manage to capture the intimacy between me and the people I photograph. To capture that moment when they allow me to see under the surface, when they relax from the protective pose prepared for the camera. It is challenging but also very rewarding when it happens.
What are the main things you think about before taking a picture?
Often there is not much time to think before I take a picture. It may be a subtle gesture, light that gives a space a different dimension or visual interconnections between people and objects, which trigger my exposures. However the experience with shooting of the Identity series has been a lot different. The work is about young women fighting and overcoming their anxieties and struggles as well as coming to peace with themselves. Each portrait is a result of sharing, understanding and trust. Sometimes the conversations took hours before I started to photograph and then the portrait was done in 15 minutes. Other times I was shooting while we were talking, but there has always been a great emotional charge, which I am interested to capture in my photographs.
Do you have any major influences in your work?
Rather than influences I would call them inspirations, which I mostly find in painting and literature. Majority of my work is very personal, so the visual aesthetics follows the atmosphere of my memories. However my parents have been very influential in my study and perception of art as well as the first critics of my work. On the academic ground, my tutors at Middlesex University have understood my language and last year they were a great support in the development of my work.
How has your experience with modelling affected the way you approach photography?
The experience with modelling has affected my life in all possible ways, both positively and negatively. At first it gave me an incredible freedom and confidence, but later it took it all away and replaced it with the absolute opposite. I think that in my work I strongly rebel against the “mass production” of fashion industry, as I want to emphasize individuality, uniqueness and closeness. When I photograph, my interest is not only in the final image, but I am involved in the story of people and places I photograph. I am not interested in the surface we see, but the humanity underneath it.
What advice would you give to young aspiring photographers?
I am still a young aspiring photographer myself, but the advice I can give comes from the experience I’ve had so far. Don’t be afraid to show your work to people and discuss it. Work from your heart and be honest with yourself and it will reflect in your work. Don’t hesitate to sacrifice your free time to gain experience because it will pay off. And keep on working. Everybody goes through phases of ups and downs in their work and recently I was given a valuable piece of advice and kind encouragement: whatever you do, don’t worry about the doubts – they’re part of the process. It may sound odd maybe, but creating work should always be a battle, and the worst enemy of good work is complacency.
Where do you hope to be in the future and how will you get there?
I hope that I will be able to work and make my living as a photographer. Besides taking photographs I love darkroom printing and I was very excited to get a residency at Double Negative Darkroom, which focuses on alternative photography. I have also started an apprenticeship with Kevin O’Neill, a traditional photographic retoucher at Isis London. Now, with the final year of my degree here, I am going to concentrate on my work and enjoy the time I have left at university to the fullest. So far, it has been the best time of my life and I hope there is more to come.
To view more of Tereza’s photography visit her website.