What Love Weighs
Interview with Nita Vera by Lisa Andrine Bernhoft-Sjødin
This Sunday, the solo exhibition of Finnish artist Nita Vera, Needles of Love, concluded at the Finnish Museum of Photography in Helsinki. On view were photographs from her latest publication What Love Weighs, which investigates family relations between three generations. The book, co-authored with her father Adolfo Vera, focuses on his relationship with his mother. In two parts, the first contains photographs taken by Adolfo, and the second is her own take on the relationship. The exhibition offers solely her perspective.
The lightboxes in which the photographs are displayed work like windows into a family´s private life. Strictly framed and directed, the series emanates an acute awkwardness, with Vera’s father and grandmother often positioned far away from each other, and a pressing silence implied by the way they seldom lock eyes with the lens, and rarer still with each other. It would seem that love weighs heavily, and is an inescapable way of life.
‘When I first started photographing them, I wanted to understand their relationship, but realising I couldn’t, I decided to show them how I saw them’, Vera explained to me over the Skype. ‘I did so quite strictly, directing them and leaving little to coincidence.’
The series also has an element of self-portraiture, but when Vera herself appears, she is often obscured or distant. For Vera, her family’s story is not unique, and she narrates her photographs heavily in order to make the body of work universal.
‘Of course, I don’t want to guide spectators by the hand, but I do put in elements that push them into the work rather than giving them a look from outside. That said, I think that the layers and patterns we have, which we bring into our relationships, are similar for many people. For instance, my grandmother was very strict and tough in bringing up my father. When he became a parent he wanted to distance himself from that, and went the opposite way with my brother and me. He would much rather befriend us, but at the same time, a very dominant father figure. I guess that’s why you see me as distant and obscure – me wanting to cut the umbilical cord, or something. And I think that even that, wanting to distance oneself from a parent, is universal.’
The family project is a life-long endeavour, Vera says, and she hopes to be able to photograph the ever-shifting dynamics of family relations well into old age. Her most recent project is due to be shown at the Kunsthalle in Helsinki this November, as part of the group show Nuoret 2015 (Youngs 2015). Her series is a study of the lines we draw between real life and the staged, investigating theatre as an art form in relation to staged photography. In these images, Vera places herself in the middle of the frame, with daily life buzzing around her.
‘When I started this project, I was in the Czech Republic, investigating theatre, with special attention to Bertolt Brecht. His notion is that theatre should remind us that it is in fact theatre, because only then can the spectator start contemplating the deeper issues represented. Now, theatre is quite an old art form, while staged photography is relatively new; what they have in common is being like a mirror of life. That’s the idea that caught my interest. I intuitively explored this.’
Even though the photographs were captured in the unruly environment of the street, the images – incredibly beautiful and crystal clear – do appear staged: Vera seems to take centre stage in a play. But there’s an air of discomfort; she appears disconnected from her environment. This is due to the fact that the other people in the frame relate to one another, but seem to have no connection to, or even awareness of, Vera herself. The prints will be large – she wants to add to the theatrical feel of the works by going big.
‘I want it to resemble the size of a theatre stage, so it can borrow some of its physicality. Also, the details in my work are very important. Thereare not that many objects in them, but the few things that are there help narrate the story within the frame. Equally important is leaving room for the spontaneous. The perfect is nice,but boring.. The spontaneous brings inweird elements – absurd things – and I’ve thought about this a lot with the new series: that bringing in these bits adds layers to the first impression and forces the spectator to engage further.
Nita Vera is a Finnish photographer, living in Amsterdam, Netherlands. She is currently studying for her thesis on staged photography and the theatre at the Royal Academy of Arts of the Hague. Her upcoming work will be shown as part of the group show Nuoret 2015 at the Kunsthalle in Helsinki, Finland.