IN CONVERSATION WITH: LUMINOUS PHOTOGRAPHY
Tell us about yourself and how you started photography…
I’m Ana Luísa Pinto and my brand is Luminous Photography. I’m a 27 year old self-portrait artist and wedding and lifestyle photographer, from Porto, Portugal.
I’ve been taking pictures since I was a kid, truth be told. Since I was 10, I remember my birthday presents being cameras — first a Canon IXUS that worked with APS film, then a Polaroid. I got my first digital camera when I was 16, and from then on I’d entertain myself taking what would now be called a ‘selfie’ — and putting them up on social media. It wasn’t until I was 22, a year after I got my first DSLR, that I came across a group called Female Self-Portrait Artists Support Group (FSPASG), on Flickr; that group showed me the work of women like Elle Moss and Els Vanopstal, which inspired me immensely, while at the same time proving to me that all the self-portraits that I took — which had started to take a more elaborate tone, with props and actual editing — were valid forms of art. After that, I never really stopped.
What do you enjoy the most about Photography that makes you go out and shoot everyday?
I absolutely love that it gives me the ability to portray my perception of reality. I don’t think we all see the world in the same way — whether in tone, in focus or priority — so I love that I get to show you what’s around me in the way I perceive it, in the way it gets integrated with who I am. That, combined with the ability to actually create my own realities out of things that weren’t necessarily there, makes for a fantastic tool to let my imagination flow through. I used to do that with writing, before I started to photograph in a more serious manner, but I realized that photography did suit me better as a medium.
How does the entire photographic process begin for you?
When I was doing my first 365 project, in 2009/2010, it didn’t need much thought. I’d get my camera out, put it on the tripod and I’d shoot. I got everything I had at hand and I used it — and I had ideas and concepts every single day. Now, four years later, that process is very different. As I grew as an artist, and as everyone around me grew as well, the bar was set high, and therefore every photo needs more preparation, a deeper meaning, an outcome that can’t be short of spectacular — and it so often isn’t, but spectacular is always what I try for. So while a few years ago it all started with picking up the camera, now it starts on paper, with a drawing and a concept (right now, my concepts come out of a 1950’s dictionary, weekly), with the gathering of props and an actual organization of the photo shoot. To be specific, I take my word on Monday, plan the photo shoot on Tuesday, take the photo either on Wednesday or Thursday and post it on Friday — and this routine allows me to organize myself and my work and to plan consistently.
Is it confusing or hard to visualize the idea into a final outcome?
It isn’t always easy, no. Sometimes I have a glimpse of what I want, in my head. Some other times, I only have the tone or a fragment of it to work around, and the concept builds as I shoot or as I edit on Photoshop. But even when I have a very firm idea of what I want, in my head, the result is normally different. Not because I can’t achieve what I had planned, but because in most occasions, I’ll change my mind halfway through and go for a different style of editing, or a slightly transformed idea.
How would you define a perfectly executed conceptual piece/or a perfect photograph?
For me, it has to be emotional. While I can be a very rational person in certain aspects of my life, the emotion is always ahead and beyond, so that’s what I respond to. It has to call to me, to the right side of my brain, and it has to take me out of my place, pull me into that reality. It also has to be technically good. I’m a perfectionist and a critic at heart, and even though I know I’m not stellar in that technical sense, I tend to require it from others. Mistakes, badly done things, distract me from the main point. So I think I’d define the perfect piece of conceptual photography as something that is technically sound and emotionally driven. And I can give you about a thousand examples of these, because people are getting seriously good at it, which I think is awesome.
Is there a photograph by other photographer that touched your heart recently?
Oh, there are a dozen every day. I sometimes prevent myself from looking at other people’s work to avoid cross inspiration — looking at someone’s piece and ending up incorporating it into your work without realizing, which has happened to me before — but recently, since my style has kind of taken a different direction, I’m allowing myself to indulge in my colleagues’ work again and let me tell you: it’s amazing. There are so many fantastic photographers out there. I’ve been following Rachel Baran’s work almost obsessively; my friend Gabriela Ferreira has some absolutely stunning self-portraits, and she’s producing wonders every day, which I could never do; my other friend Rosa Furneaux balances self-portraiture that has brought me to tears more than once, with a fantastic skill for photojournalism; Laura Zalenga is a phenomenal conceptual photographer, and so inspirational. I could go on and on — I’m lucky to have so many friends and acquaintances with this kind of talent.
Where exactly do you source inspiration from, and what do you do at the times of complete saturation?
My inspiration is somewhat random. When I started to take self-portraits, I’d draw a lot of inspiration from Renaissance painters and sculptors, as well as Mannerist or Baroque. A couple of years ago I made a conscious effort to draw inspiration from what’s around me, instead of sticking to an aesthetic notion that belonged to other artists — so the inspiration became sort of random. My ‘Orange, or the Return of the Lady With the Butterflies’ photo happened simply because I was putting the butterflies away and I noticed they were the same color of my shirt; very recently, I took a photo inspired by a TV series, American Horror Story. Movies, music, television, everything can serve as inspiration, if you’re open to it.
About the times of saturation, I don’t deal with them very well. I get cranky if I don’t photograph — but at the same time I know that every once in a while, I will need to take a pause to regain strength and inspiration. The last time I stopped, I did so because I had photographed almost daily for two and a half years. I avoid that, now, and I pause regularly. I learned to take the saturation as a sign that I need some rest and to see them as something positive.
Would you like to share some stories from the times when you are out photographing? Some of your artist secrets…
I don’t have a lot of secrets! It’s not uncommon for me to document my work on Instagram, for example. I just get there, get in the zone, so to speak, and photograph. I do everything I can with a single prop, to use it as much as possible. Since I sometimes use places that aren’t very safe, I have to shoot quickly and get out of there as soon as I can; that has happened in the woods, on my rooftop, on a couple of bad streets. My stories revolve mostly around people talking to me while I’m shooting and having to cover myself, smile and pretend I’m doing very serious work, for them to leave me alone.
So if you had to pick a couple artists to collaborate with, who would they be and why?
I’m a bit of an individual worker, and I’m trying to teach myself the whole ‘collaborate and be better’ notion. I like working alone, I like that my work is a reflection of what’s inside of me, only. My art is incredibly personal. But of course, there are a few people whose work hits very close to home, and with whom I’d love to collaborate: Elle Moss, who I’ve mentioned above, my friends Madalena Tavares and Luís S. Tavares, Rachel Baran, Laura Zalenga, Savannah Daras, Ella Ruth. I’d love to have my picture taken by Carolyn Hampton, because I’m completely obsessed with her work and the way she uses old techniques — and to relearn those techniques, that I haven’t used since photography school. There’s a lot of people out there with whom I’d love to work — I’m afraid I just have to learn the method!
What advice would you give to an aspiring photographer?
Just keep shooting. There are a handful of overnight successes in this business, and that’s lovely for them, but I believe that success is built slowly and steadily. Don’t give it up just because you don’t get enough feedback — the key is to keep going, to keep producing. Feedback is only a small part of it. Make art for yourself, turn your thoughts into things people will like to see, that people will see themselves in. And when you reach that point where you’re relatively well known, don’t forget the people who helped you get there, and who were your friends before.
Lastly, What’s next for you?
More and more photographs, I hope. I still have the rest of my Alphabet Tales to photograph, the Let’s Get Creative project and a lot of commercial work, this year. Hopefully, I’ll get to live abroad soon, and I can’t wait. Finding a place to do a solo exhibit and work on the slots that I already have. I’m really excited for the rest of this year!
Ana Luísa Pinto on Flickr | Facebook.