Tereza Červeňová is a Slovakian photographer, based in London. Her intimate photographs focus on the narrative of an image and how the layout of the photograph can help to pull together or invent meanings.

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What is your working process?

During my editing process I work with many images and their layout. I try to see how they work together and how they relate to each other.

When I had an access to the darkroom I used to do a lot of contact sheets and then cut them up and play. Sometimes interesting things pop up, interesting pairings and groupings, which you wouldn’t have thought of, and sometime, the contact sheet itself reveals the answer when there are suddenly two images next to each other on the neg and I feel like I am given a present.

I believe that good images, not only photographs, but painting, drawings, graphics, have layers which you can read in between and discover new and new meanings and tones and emotions… And in my editing process I try to chose images like that.

But at the same time, keeping the balance between the heaviness and lightness.

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Your work is very poetic – particularly the series Verse. What were your influences for this?

The initial inspiration for the Verse came from the Japanese haiku poems. Having a background in writing and poetry, I set out to explore photography used as a poetic language. Photographs from the Verse series are my personal response to the flow of life, where everyday events are transformed into poignant memories. The subjects of the photographs are not only the protagonists of their stories but they are also vessels for my thoughts. They are often images of familiar scenes and as such the viewer is invited to reinterpret these fleeting moments through the hidden reflections of their own memories and experiences.

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How important is are viewers’ interpretation and response to your work?

The response and interpretation of the viewers is very important to me, of course. However, I am rarely present and therefore not able to see or hear their response. As my work often recalls one’s memories, the nice thing is that the more open their interpretation is, the better in my opinion. Through my work I am trying to show people a piece of me and my life which they can understand; where they can see themselves in the photographs at some point in their life – or hope to get there one day in the future. I don’t want to force any meaning onto anybody. On the contrary, I encourage the viewers of my work not to look for the interpretation from me, but find their own unique one.

Who are the women in your Identity project; how and why did you choose to shoot them?

The Identity project is a very personal body of work, which, very unexpectedly, came out of a university project brief at the end of my second year at university.

This work deals with the dark side of my experience with modelling, which I did professionally on a high level for a period of time before I turned twenty. I started modelling without any high expectations, I was just scouted on a street, it was never my dream and that’s why I would never have thought that it could influence me as deeply as it, in the end. The beauty ideal set by the industry became a burden and something which I had to fight with and what had in the end caused me a lot of personal problems and sadness.

At the time when the Identity brief came about in 2013, I still hadn’t resolved and hadn’t come to peace with this part of my life and I saw it as an opportunity to try to deal with it and address it through art. I realised, through conversations, observations and actually as a pure matter of fact, that most girls are influenced one way or another by this beauty ideal and its media projection. I decided to create an expansive self-portrait through portraits of other young women – not necessarily models – who had to overcome troubles similar to what I had been through. It was an incredibly powerful experience, taking the portraits of these girls, talking to them and seeing that so much of what we talked about kept on repeating. I could relate to each and everyone of them and saw myself in each of the portraits.

I photographed my sister, I photographed my dear friends, but I also researched and looked for girls whose experiences and personal stories I could relate to and sometimes people gave me contacts and the portrait session was then an incredibly powerful first encounter.

I like to include with a project a quote by one of my favourite writers – Milan Kundera, from his book Life is Elsewhere, which I think sums it up beautifully and very subtly. And that, in a way, I prefer. Just a little hint. Let the portraits do the talking.

… in paradise there is no distinction between beauty and ugliness, so that all the things the body is made of were neither ugly nor beautiful but only delightful…

 

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What is the most challenging part of making such personal work?

The most challenging aspect of making such personal work.. Well there are a few. First of all, I think the most challenging thing for me was to actually find the courage to make this work and open up about it to myself and then to others. Because I didn’t admit the problems for a long time – and then I hid them for an even longer time – getting the bravery to start was quite something.

Then of course, because I decided to involve other people in the project, I had to find a way to approach them, explain what happened to me and what I am looking for from them – while being very careful and respectful towards them and their privacy. It was very important for me to show them that they can back away from it at any time.

With such honest work you are laying yourself bare, thus becoming very vulnerable to the responses and comments of others. But all in all I found it to be a very empowering process for me and I got an impression from the women I photographed that they felt the same way.

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Describe your favourite family photograph.

There is one black and which photograph that my dad took of me and my sister when we were little. I was about four or five and my sister one or two years old. We are sitting on a swing in my aunt’s garden and we look very happy. My sister sits in the swing and I hold on to her.

I also really like the photograph Family Matters, which I took three summers ago in Greece. It captures my brother and my sister on the beach being cheeky with each other and playing around. The relationship between my siblings and me has been a great shaping force of our juvenescence. On one hand those ‘deadly serious’ rows over nothing, but on the other bonding giggles on the back seat of the car have been the decisive moments of our growing up and will always be the precious moments from the family album of our childhood memories.

This photograph has won me the D&AD New Blood Yellow Pencil for Photography in 2014. The theme of that year’s competition was – revisit the idea of a decisive moment. So I did.

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What would your dream project be, if there were no limitations?

I don’t really have a dream project as such. I make work as it comes to me, no matter where in the world I am or what equipment I have. Dream project is every project that fulfils me and rewards me in one way or another. 

However, there is a project, which has been in the back of my mind for a long time and I would like to try to venture into it one day… I would like to make work, which would address the contemporary fear of photography. As today, when our culture is over saturated with images, we take photographs of ourselves on our phones all the time and post them on social media, we are monitored by CCTV, but yet, being a photographer and asking to take someone’s portrait or a snap shot on the street has become a lot more complicated. 

When Martin Parr was asked what notable changes had he witnessed since his seminal book, The Last Resort, was published twenty five years ago, his answer was that you can’t photograph children in the same way you could back then. And that’s a shame. So basically, I am interested in the paradoxical phenomenon of fear of the photograph in the time when photography is an everyday part of our lives and one day I would like to try and explore these boundaries, taboos and ironies.

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What is your advice to photography graduates?

Get ready! It’s not easy. It is a lot of hard work, and not always necessarily only to do with composing through the viewfinder. It is a lot more complex than that.

Be passionate, but be patient as well. Have an open mind and be innovative not only in your work but also in the approach to how you are going to get where you want to get in your life and your work.

Tereza Červeňová has exhibited in the UK and Slovakia and won the D&AD Yellow Pencil for Photography in 2014. In 2013 she won the Daniel Blau Gallery’s first inaugural 5 UNDER 30 Young Photographers Competition and was shortlisted for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibited in National Portrait Gallery.

You can see more of her work at www.terezacervenova.com