“I am excited to work from the birthplace of photography,” Natasha Caruana tells BJP

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At this year’s Les Rencontres d’Arles festival in the south of France, Natasha Caruana was named 2014 BMW Young Photographer in Residence at the Nicéphore Niépce Museum. “I was told in advance that I had reached the last few photographers, and had prepared an acceptance speech in French,” Caruana told BJP at the festival. “The announcement was nerve-wracking, but I’m so happy to have won. It will be incredible to spend this time making my own work, receiving support from the museum and also drawing on its archive.”

This is the fourth year of the BMW residency, which aims to “offer ongoing support and to foster a close link with the artists based on shared values”. Caruana will spend three months at the historic museum in Chalon-sur-Saône, the birthplace of Nicéphore Niépce,  – credited as the inventor of photography – and will have complete creative freedom. In addition to the three-month residency, Caruana received a €6000 grant to fund her time in France.

Caruana spoke to BJP about her expectations and hopes for the residency, and offers an insight into her current way of working.

BJP: What does winning mean to you?

NC: This residency gives me the gift of time. Since I began my art practice, I’ve never had an uninterrupted block of time to focus on my work. While studying, I worked part-time at the glorious Lidl supermarket to support my degree and for the past five years I’ve squeezed my projects in between a full-time teaching job at the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham, Surrey, writing and running the south London-based creative space Studiostrike.


BJP: What do you hope to get out of this residency, and how will it help you to further your work?

NC: I am excited to work from the birthplace of photography, where Nicéphore Niépce experimented tirelessly to discover the technique to fix an image and create the first photograph, close to 200 years ago.

The programme, with its expert technical and creative support, will open the door to new possibilities. I’ve always been fascinated by the museum’s archive so I am looking forward to working with the Nicéphore Niépce collection. It’s a beautiful and touching collection. To have such a significant collection on-site will be a fundamental source of narratives to draw from, and I hope to give particular attention to the amateur photograph albums and vernacular images it holds. I’m also interested in using cameras that belong to the museum.

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’s going to be a tough three months; I’ve got to have the work completed and printed by the end of November, which is a crazy schedule.

BJP: You mentioned that you are working on a new series, The Detective. Could you explain a little more what this project is about?

NC: 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. I’ve been working on the project for about 18 months and will be fired up ready to finish it once I return from the residency.

BJP: Could you describe your current way of working?

NC: I strive to translate something personal into the universal. I’m mostly inspired by my surroundings – people and places – and I try to thread these with cultural narratives, current and past. A crude newspaper article can often be a great source of inspiration to me, and an overheard conversation is gold-dust – these are windows into other peoples lives.

I try to push and reinvest the form of the photograph, moving effortlessly between different formats, techniques and technologies – from a camera phone to a disposable camera, watch camera, large format camera and the appropriated image. My work is very much grounded in research; 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. I then start to shoot through the idea, often just with my iPhone. But these are important first rough visual sketches. The work is slowly shaped over time and I have no plan where it will end up; I just push and challenge the idea, and myself, until I’m satisfied something interesting is starting to happen.


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