Writing samples

James Pfaff. Alex & Me.1000 Words 23, Autumn issue 2016

James Pfaff. Alex & Me. Curated by Francesca Servalle. Danilo Montanari, 2016. Hand-painted spread. © Courtesy: the artist

“Alex & Me” is an intimate autobiographical account of a road trip and a broken affair between a man and a woman. Materialised as a refreshingly original scrapbook with a strong diaristic scent, the project is the outcome of the creative tandem between the author of the pictures, Glasgow-based photographer James Pfaff, and two women; Francesca Seravalle, who curated the concept and sequence editing of the book, and Alex, the woman in the story. “Alex & Me” recovers out of Pfaff’s archive a series of photographs shot during the two-week car trip he and Alex took in September 1998 from Toronto to New Orleans and then back north to New York. The book carries the aura of a charmingly imperfect journal. It emerges as a container of elusive feelings that seek to accommodate themselves in the present, and is replete with a plethora of snapshots on the move. Car interiors, highways, gasoline stations, bars and telephone booths are all embedded alongside Alex’s vibrant portraits against the pages of a hand-painted journal tainted with expressive paintbrush strokes and handwritten texts.

Copyright: Natasha Christia/1000 Words 2016


Dragana Jurisic. My Own Unknown. 1000 Words 22, Spring issue 2016.

Dragana Jurisic: “My Own Unknown”. Wexford Arts Centre – February 2016. Installation views: © Courtesy: the artist.

“André? André? … You will write a novel about me. I’m sure you will. Don’t say you won’t. Be careful: everything fades, everything vanishes. Something must remain of us…” (André Breton: Nadja, 1928, p. 100)

In 1954 a farm girl disappeared from a village in rural Yugoslavia. She supposedly left her husband to visit the doctor but never came back. Rumours speculate that she fled to Paris where she led a double life as a spy and a prostitute until her death in the 1980s. A colour photograph recovered from her few personal belongings portrays her striking a pose of a hypnotising albeit ambiguous charm: half-closed eyelids and mouth on the verge of pronouncing an inner score; a rose in her hand; next to her, a beast —its gleaming eyes and teeth destabilize the apparent harmony of the composition. Almost a century earlier, in Paris of the late 1880s, the body of a young anonymous woman was pulled out of the Seine River. Memorialised by her death mask, which became a popular morbid fixture in the years to come, her blossoming, breath-taking beauty was venerated by artists and writers, such as Man Ray, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Albert Camus, to name only a few.

Copyright: Natasha Christia/1000 Words 2016


Vittorio Mortarotti. The First Day of Good Weather. 1000 Words 21, Winter issue 2016.

Vittorio Mortarotti. “The First Day of Good Weather” (double spread of the book). Skinnerboox, 2016. Courtesy: the artist.

Impelled by a similar penchant, Mortarotti’s narrative takes me through a misty topography of devastation, melancholy and resignation. Nothing in it appears particularly visible or obvious. There is a bluish undertone in the whole book –a sort of mute score reverberating in the depths of an ocean. Night and day alternate indifferently in perennial circles of rising tides; views of semi-demolished houses, cracked cement blocks and smashed cars are paired up with flashy portraits of drained individuals and tormented night bar affairs. And yet, I can tell that beneath this rough silent mood there is a winding stream of emotions, a lust to hang on to life. This collision of distinctive visual and emotional registers within a low-spirited, obscure and industrialized nature turns into a both graphic and literal incarnation of an attempt to get access to a secret, to recollect its traces, to finally grasp how life can be after everything has been smashed into a million pieces.

Then, all of a sudden, in the middle of the book, a text insert dating back to May 1999 appears. It is a letter written in French by a Japanese woman named Kaori and addressed to a man. This letter adds up a literal complexity to the story. It makes clear that there is much more in here –something deep, personal and intimate.

Copyright: Natasha Christia/1000 Words 2016


On devastation and other stories. An entry for Photocaptionist on Regine Petersen. Photocaptionist, fall 2015.

How are we to deal with the collision of images and text in the work of Regine Petersen? For it is a collision, a deliberate one. When compiling data for the essay accompanying “Find a Fallen Star”, I found myself exploring the interweaving of pictures and the written word. A double equation at work emerged before my eyes: Texts therein operated like visual unities as much as images were equivalent to language blocks. Petersen instigates this sort of dialectic coupling. The visual material she employs (be it archival resources or her own photographs) is not meant as a plain illustration of the texts she cites, neither the other way round. There is no intention of doing so whatsoever. It rather serves as a disquieting counterpoint that renders meaning milky and sub-aqueous. In its semantic richness, meaning expands amidst an automatic writing on random occurrences and their unpredictable outcomes to human fate.

Copyright: Natasha Christia/Photocaptionist, 2015


“Find a Fallen Star”. Essay for Regine Petersen: Find a Fallen Star. Kehrer Verlag, 2015.

Regine Petersen employs meteorite falls to venture into her multi-layered narratives. Her practice is based on a seemingly straightforward investigation that employs occurrence as a pretext for further research. Petersen visits places where meteorite incidents have been recorded, interviews witnesses and gathers all relevant forensic evidence –archive press cuttings, testimony transcripts, religious and literary fragments, genealogy records and found images. In the resulting final narrative, this extensive bulk of visual and textual information is reworked in tandem with her own fieldwork and innate sensibilities into a fascinating whole.

Though the background of the three stories in “Find a Fallen Star” is different, though their action takes place in three geographically and culturally disparate areas of the world, they all form consecutive chapters of the same multi-fold approach. They are tied into a powerful and dense semantic threshold, whose main quest is reinforcing an insightful exploration of the potential abilities of the image to both sustain and challenge its proper core foundation; myth. What follows are the ingredients omnipresent in any melodrama: proximity and distance, the lapses and decays of memory, the mundane and the sublime, and, of course, as it is to be expected in any occurrence of cosmic character, the universe with its infinite intergalactic and interstellar constellations.

The meteorite in itself, always the meteorite, this ancient pearl of the universe condensing on its surface billions of kilometres, billions of years. The meteorite, a heavenly sign of awe-inspiring divine dimensions and an artefact of ruthless scientific observation, triggers spiritual amazement but can also instigate fear, destruction and flames. From time to time it becomes an intruder to human history; it just streaks through the atmosphere and falls on the earth, interrupting everyday life, dismantling individual and collective fate and unravelling a handful of monetary transactions, museum donations, and small private dramas

Copyright: Natasha Christia/Regine Petersen, 2014


Sara-Lena Maierhofer. Dear Clark. !000 Words 16. Autumn issue 2013.

Sara-Lena Maierhofer. Dear Clark. Self-published, edition of 100 (ENG) / 100 (GE)

Erasing the past, tailoring a new identity, becoming somebody else; not just anyone, but a Rockefeller, the husband of a wealthy woman. The old, long-buried self used to be Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter from Bavaria. But he vanished a long time ago in a journey from Germany to the States. His initials were lost in a series of taken names; his skin appropriated a handful of aliases, all grandiose and luxurious in lifestyle. In 2008, after three decades of spurious identities, the lie collapsed and with it the man. Christian Karl Gehartsreiter, aka Christopher Crow, Clark Rockefeller to name but a few; to many a swindler, a con man, a crook; to others, a gifted storyteller, a man with a polished accent who dared to be whoever he wished.

Copyright: !000 Words/Natasha Christia 2013


Trinidad Carrillo: The Name from Mars. The essay has appeared alongside Johanna Willenfelt’s text in the artist’s self-published book The Name from Mars. Göteborg, Sweden, 2013.

Trinidad Carrillo. The Name from Mars. Self-published. Sweden, 2013.

Dreams, Freud insists, suggest not lineal narratives but a rebus that must be deciphered element by element. The visual tales of Trinidad Carrillo (Peru, 1975) put this thesis into evidence. Situated on the crossroads of a real and a fictional phantasmagorical world, they are diluted in the midst of the subconscious, drawing our attention to all that lies hidden deep underneath the surface of things – to all this bright, imaginative and perturbing at times underworld of secrets that constitutes our existential matrix. Carrillo’s photographs, fulfilled visually when arranged in couples and sequences, become carriers of this narrative puzzle. They pronounce a phrase without a beginning and without an end, in the same way that dreams insist upon us and then quickly dissolve in the first light of the dawn.

Since her first series “Braiding” in the late nineties, Trinidad Carrillo was singled out for the dualism of her imagery, for this so-to-speak point of fugue in her stories that emerges as an alternative clue to reality, as a means to overcome its deeper cadences and to resolve its unspoken polarities. International recognition came in 2008. “Naini and the Sea of Wolves” (Farewell Books) won the Swedish Photobook Award and the artist was nominated for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize, besides having been selected the previous year for the Discovery Award at Les Rencontres d’Arles. With her singular elliptic and introverted imagery, rooted in the realm of the real and its very abnegation, Carrillo was, in the words of Johan Sjöstrom, “to catch the things that elude our eye, replacing the ‘normal vision’, which she found inadequate, with the vision she found through her lens instead”.

Copyright: Natasha Christia/Trinidad Carrillo 2013


Alexandra Catiere, Here, beyond the mists, 1000 Words 16, Fall issue 2012

Alexandra Catiere. Here Beyond the mists. 2012.

There is a subtle light burning in these pictures. A sort of an intangible, frail, albeit persistent piece of memory that cannot be fully restored. In the photography of Alexandra Catiere, we encounter the remains of an agonizing perception, unfinished and rapidly consumed. Something that intrigues us to resort to her pictures again and again, relentlessly trying to recover now what is felt like before, and yet felt for the very first time. Like a speech running after a fading light, Catiere’s photographic mode triggers within us the awakening of something we sense as irremediably lost and yet still present. Like an abrupt flash-bolt, it announces a primal moment of photographic genesis, in which everything surges forth from the depths as never seen before, and yet, at the very same time, as familiar, universal and authentic.

Catiere’s pictures carry the audacious transparency of a glance that arises in its own right to be partial and mindful. Far from being instantaneous shots capturing merely the mundane aura of a city and its people in the style of the contemporary diaristic mood, they are loaded with a timeless dignifying gentleness that successfully bridges the space between wonder and understanding. In the image that introduces the sequence of the book, a truck abandons the set rendering as its sole protagonist a slender male figure. Ethereal, almost reduced to a black spot, this latter counterbalances the emptiness of the composition, while reinforcing, in its standing immobility, the impression that, in fact, all the meaning infused in the picture – essentially metaphysical at heart – is to be encountered elsewhere, outside the frame.

Copyright: 1000 Words/Natasha Christia 2012


Tereza Zelenková, Supreme Vice, 1000 Words 10, Winter issue 2011

Tereza Zelenkova. Supreme Vice. Published by Mörel Books, 2011.

“It is the empirical, sometimes accidental meaning and beauty of Nature – as well as the overlooked obvious – that art portrays”.
Austin Osman Spare

With her intuitively assertive project, entitled “Supreme Vice”, Tereza Zelenková (Czech Republic, 1985) seems to point out this psychic aspect of photography. The series, published in an elegant zine by Mörel Books, employs the photographic language as a leitmotif of contemporaneity, while negotiating the impermanence of life and various hidden existential facets of our being. A combination of observational and staged studio practices, it reworks Zelenková’s penchant for Symbolism, Surrealism, and most significantly, the 19th century western occult societies, under the premise of an updated postmodern gaze. The result is a ruthlessly edited and tight narrative sequence that requires viewers to actively participate in the creation of its final meaning.

Copyright: 1000 Words/Natasha Christia 2011


Martina Hoogland-Ivanow, Far Too Close. 1000 Words 11, Spring issue 2011 

First came eviction and the prison camp. Then, exile and the plain awareness of finding oneself not just beyond the Ural Mountains but also beyond History. In “Dostoevsky reads Hegel in Siberia and Bursts into Tears”, the Hungarian writer László F. Földényi beautifully recreates what all those years in South Siberia must have felt like to the Russian author. Semipalatinsk was a small town surrounded by a plain sand desert. Dostoevsky lived in a small ascetic hut with a bed, a stove and a table, where he read, among others, Hegel. While thousands of people were arriving to Siberia, the German philosopher, who at that time was lecturing on universal history in Berlin, would write:
“Siberia lies outside the constraints of our study. The characteristics of this country do not allow it to work neither as a setting of historical culture nor as a model for universal history”.
Reading these lines, Dostoevsky felt deeply hurt. Now he knew; Europe had expelled him not just beyond its frontiers but also outside History. He found himself confined to a state of non-existence at a non-place. Paradoxically, that very vantage point would gain him a decisive turn in his literary production and a unique perspective of the world that has fuelled generations and generations of transcendental existentialism.

Likewise, the pictures of Stockholm-born photographer Martina Hoogland Ivanow are to be found in a blurred territory on the periphery of perception, far beyond the borders of historicity and its written laws. By analogy to the places they depict –some of the most remote and sparsely inhabited locations of the planet that have long represented the focus of discontent, bitter dispute and disaffection– these pictures eloquently account for various experiences of emotional attachment with the world that surrounds us. They provide the scenarios wherein collective memory and its traumas intermingle with the subjective consciousness of the solitary traveller and the banal domesticity of family interiors. They trigger the empathy mechanisms that connect us with places and inanimate objects, while reiterating the way photographs irremediably filter our gaze as pre-mental constructs. For we need photographs to visualize what lies before our eyes. We need them to speak for themselves beforehand, as much as we need ourselves to be part of the visual tale they engage, its protagonists and observers at the same time.

Copyright: 1000 Words/Natasha Christia 2011


Rinko Kawauchi, Illuminance, 1000 Words 12, Fall issue 2011

Since her rise to international acclaim in 2001, with the simultaneous publication of her photo book trilogy Utatane, Hanabi and Hanako by Foil, Rinko Kawauchi has been widely admired for the mesmerizing poetic idiolect of her photographic work, the lyrical, albeit enigmatic, titles of her series, and above all, the ecstatic atmosphere of her vision that gravitates between a breathtaking beauty and an unequivocal cryptic uneasiness.

In her debut, Kawauchi launched a surprisingly mature body of work, which proved that the event of photography was still in place to provide a novel means of connection with the world in its elementary ordinariness. Conforming to the diaristic spirit of our times, Kawauchi’s eyes and practice reconstituted the endeavour of taking pictures afresh in all its inventiveness and instinctive playfulness. And they kept doing so in the years to follow through nine more beautifully assembled monographs, which, besides featuring various series of her photographic repertoire, contributed to her firm establishment, not just among Japan’s most popular female photographers, but among the main protagonists of the international photographic stage altogether.

Copyright: 1000 Words/Natasha Christia 2011


Melinda Gibson. The Photograph as Contemporary Art. 1000 Words Issue 9, Fall 2010.

Images and pages sliced apart, cut and composed against one another and the remains of a book… In the hands of Melanie Gibson, “The Photograph as Contemporary Art”, Charlotte Cotton’s classic manual for photographic education has been reinvented as a ‘readymade’.

Gibson’s artistic practice consists of progressively removing the photographs reproduced on the textbook pages, interrelating them into groups of layered trios. Gibson reworks the three separate parts into one, starting with the largest page number at the back. Driven by a random, psychic automatism that owes a lot to the Surrealists, she further moves on to dissect and stitch together the best bits, recomposing them into a new original. The principle applied at this stage of transformation is rendering visible the elements for which each of these pictures has gained its prominence in the history of photography. The result is photo-collages that work as a synoptic amalgam of bits and genres and authorial signatures. As such, these compositions provide a curious blend of abstraction and figuration. Their bits and parts may incite an eagerness to identify a recognizable whole and yet they remain suggestive – nothing but painterly plain surfaces with the feel of a patchwork. Their fissures, though initially expected to mark discontinuity and a palpable artificiality of forms and contents, end up distracting the gaze towards a rather concrete narrative direction, by underscoring the outline of a human figure that occupies the visual centre of the image. If, as Gibson remarks, de-contextualization brings along the recreation of a new dismembered reality, this reality certainly obtains the corpus of a canonized pattern of representation in which the figurative, human element of the selected images becomes prioritised and makes its imposition a metaphoric and symbolic punctum for the rest of the image, legitimizing a voyeuristic desire to project and become projected in it.

Copyright: 1000 Words/Natasha Christia 2010.


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