Nydia Lilian‘s photography is cool as hell. She uses black and white like the world was meant to be that way. We featured her work July of this year and it was so ill I decided I had to interview her. She obliged. She’s smart and well spoken. I encourage you to read what she has to say:
Tell us about yourself, how did you get into graphic design and photography?
Well, since I was a child I’ve always been involved in the graphic arts, I’ve sketched since I can remember; took painting classes and got my first digital camera when I was 13. By that time I learned how to use Corel Draw and I edited my own images, painted illustrations and did photomontages. I learned HTML when I was 14 and I already had my own webpage by then. For me it was pretty obvious what to do with my life: the graphic arts is simply the only thing I know how to do; everything else is pretty complicated for me.
How do you approach the photographs in a series differently from those in a portrait?
In my latest projects I like to “design” when I’m shooting pictures, do compositions as I imagine and sort out the elements I work with. I look forward to experimenting as much as possible to create minimalistic images and give special priority to aesthetics. In the case of portraits it’s pretty much the same, but you often depend on the individual you photograph since you rely on the way the person reacts to the camera. There are also portraits that are impromptu and they do not have anything to do with the stuff I imagined and even then, you end up with good results.
Do you think that altering photographs detracts from them? Does it rob them of their truth? Or does it help you highlight the true meaning of the photo?
It’s a rather controversial topic for many, but it is highly simple for me: if photographic manipulation is going to help me to create the image exactly the way I imagined it, then it’s more than welcomed, considering how easy It would be for me to enhance a picture as a graphic designer. In my humble opinion I feel we ought to take advantage of technology in any way we can and there should be no restrictions about it. We should be allowed to resort to every single resource we have in order to express the idea we’re trying to convey; for example in my series “I saw people running and you weren’t there” I wanted to represent chaotic, exotic landscapes about the end of the world, and I did it exactly the way I imagined it, but it definitely doesn’t mean my work is usually so digitally enhanced as that one was.
I don’t think it has to be an issue; it depends on a lot of things, especially the photographer’s style. If their style is not to edit the photograph it’s because that is part of their modus operandi. I guess it’s a matter of what the picture is intended for. Retouched documentary photography is something I don’t see as ethical, but if I remove some dust from the sensor or I change the colors and contrast I don’t really feel like I was committing a crime.
Have you been caught taking photos in fragranti? How did you react? How did the person who caught you react?
Yes, I have. And to be honest I’m rather shy while shooting; what I enjoy the most is to find the essence of the person without them noticing that they’re being photographed. There’s something about how they react, no drama nor complications; I think I’m the one who overreacts and feels like fleeing the scene of a crime! LOL. A couple of times people demanded some money, but when they are street musicians I chip in some money to show appreciation for their work and then I get their portrait.
Do you prefer posed or impromptu photographs? Why?
When I do portraits I prefer them to be impromptu, not letting them know that I’m there. When it has to be posed it’s amazing when you go by unnoticed and the camera doesn’t frighten the subject anymore. Some photographers achieve this in a very natural way while it’s still a little bit difficult for me. I really enjoy to register emotions and dramatic features, or even the complete picture being a composition of all these elements.
Where were the photographs for ‘I saw people running and you weren’t there’ taken?
They are landscapes from Quebec, and some other parts of Canada and Monterrey & Oaxaca in Mexico . The last picture that looks like an exploding planet (lol) has an effect that I created from scratch using PS and the real part is the image seen of two alley walls.
Of all your work, what has been the most emotionally challenging? What has been the most rewarding?
The most emotionally difficult part is that the city I’m from -Monterrey- was extremely dangerous due to the war on drug cartels, specially between 2010 and 2011. Many of us lived in fear and panic and it really affected my work. The stress of not being able to go out and take pictures out in the open really got to me, but at the same time it was stimulating to create other type of projects; for example “Fearthers” and “I saw people running..”. We lived through very chaotic times in Mexico and I think it will eventually be reflected in a lot of artists. Also, the administrative side to photography, like production and being in touch with your network in order to promote what I’m working on is very difficult for me, but it’s something you learn to do as the time passes.
Traveling is quite rewarding for me, meeting new places and shooting pictures. Also, I just love when my work is appreciated by totally unknown people on the Internet in a selfless and honest manner; it makes me think how unbelievable the power of Internet is. The most important part is that when I feel desperate or stressed, I use photography as a means of absent-mindedness and a way to escape from daily life, disassociating entirely from reality while shooting pictures.
How do you think being a photographer has changed your perspective? How does looking through the lens change the way you see situations, people, the world?
It’s good, because I started to appreciate beauty everywhere and in many different way; registering everything you experience. Regarding my personal work, I always create ideas and compositions in my mind with different elements, and I’m always looking for angles or moments and I get obsessed. At the same time it has a negative side; you often live stressed wanting to take pictures of everything you see. Years ago I would take pictures or record video of EVERYTHING, but I used to feel I was missing the “live” part, I know it sounds weird but in music concerts I would spend the day taking pictures instead of actually enjoying the art by itself. I no longer take my camera everywhere, but sometimes I find something I want to shoot and I say “Damn! I should’ve brought my camera!”
Name an artist you have been really entranced/inspired by recently.
Impossible to mention just one of them, but recently I’m in love with the work of Tono Stano, Carsten Witte and Alexey Bednij.
Who are some of your heroes? Are they the same as when you were young? How has your view of heroes and role models changed as you have matured?
Man Ray is one of my favorites; I’d love to know how he created images, experimenting with everything he could. Just imagine what he could’ve done with Photoshop LOL. Also Malevich, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Jerry N. Uelsmann, Philippe Halsman. I used to be more inspired by emotion; my role-models were musicians going from Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, Yann Tiersen, Silverchair and graphic people with high sensitivity like Flor Garduño, Graciela Iturbide, Francesca Woodman in photography, and Caravaggio, Waterhouse and Klimt in painting. My heroes have increased over time, the search for more creative people in any kind of art has increased too.
Why have you chosen to shoot all of your ‘Projects’ in black and white? What is it about black and white photography that speaks to you? Why do you think there is so much allure, so much romance, associated with black and white photography?
B&W seems mysterious to me. I think it charms the viewer and forces them to wonder. At the same time it’s very neutral and it easily communicates the message regarding the composition of the picture. It has its visual limitations but it’s super amusing for me to toy with the shades and contrasts. You take the negative spaces more seriously and you only focus in the lighting. I personally like it because it’s like an alternative reality and my work is almost always about topics like that, maybe like a dream or a nightmare.
What are you working on right now? What’s in the pipeline? What’s your dream project?
I’ve got many pending sessions, I’m working on a video but I’m very impatient about the renders I have it on hold. I hope I finish it soon. I’m planning a project with reptiles and upcoming trips to Los Angeles and Oaxaca to get some landscapes. I will let you know as soon as I have it done! My dream project would be to travel all around the world.
What is the perfect ice cream sandwich?
Regular cookie, vanilla and nuts 🙂