I Wish I Had Known... About Alternative Processes!

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This is the eleventh post in my series of monthly posts where I speak with people in the creative industries and ask them questions about the things that "I Wish I Had Known" when I started out as a creative myself.

As I explained on a previous post titled I Am An Immigrant, early this year I had the opportunity to meet Almudena Romero, a London based visual artist from Spain, and with whom I had an amusing discussion about art, immigration and alternative photographic processes:

1. On the day that we met, I posed for you for your Growing Concerns project using the Wet Collodion technique, and your enthusiasm and passion for your craft captivated me. When did you first know that you wanted to become an artist? When did it all start?

I think when I signed up for an MA in Photography with a fine arts focus is when I made that choice. I was working as a photojournalist in Canada, and I think I gradually became more interested in the artistic possibilities of the medium rather than the documentary ones.

2. You create beautiful pieces and portraits using both early and contemporary photography techniques. Why did you decide to create your art using photography?

I find photography very powerful. We consume and produce images constantly. From my point of view, knowing how to analyse and create an image is like knowing how to read and write, but with visual content instead of words. I find surprising how poor visual education we have in Spain. Not having the tools to analyse the critical context of an image, what it signifies, makes us very vulnerable. I think that the more I read and work with photography the more I like to explore the medium.  

3. As a photographer myself, I know how the industry is always looking for ways to label us into preconceived types of photographers. Do you consider yourself a Portraits Photographer, a Fine Art Photographer or don’t even consider yourself a photographer at all?

I consider myself an artist, but if someone describes me as a photographer I am perfectly fine with it.

 Almudena Romero making collodion plates at her studio in East London for her project "Growing Concerns" about immigrants to UK. With JC Candanedo (Grey Pistachio).

4. You combine your practice with teaching at the University of the Arts London, doing talks and running workshops in the UK and abroad. Is this the life of the contemporary artist? Do you do it out of passion or to make ends meet?

I work with photographic processes that are very little known, and therefore, to engage people with these processes is to engage them with my practice too. I consider teaching part of my practice, and I don't think teaching is less cool than selling pieces or taking commissions.

People always like making distinctions and hierarchies. Photographers vs Artists, Technicians vs Academics, Artist selling through small commercial galleries vs Artist working with public institutions, etc. These categories are not helpful, so I don't really worry about them. Everything has advantages and disadvantages.

I see the benefits of teaching very clearly. First, it pushes me to be precise and consistent and then it helps me enormously to expand my network.  Teaching has the same effect as when you are cooking for someone else, you put so much more effort than if you were doing it just for you, and in the end, you end up being much better at it.

5. Speaking of your practice and your business model, when you sell your art do you sell the originals or do you sell prints? Do you do limited editions? Who are your clients (collectors, museums, galleries, private clients)?

I only sell originals to other artists that are also collectors (this happens very often, and I see myself collecting pieces soon too) and other people in my network including relatives, friends, art collectors, people working in the arts.  

6. I was lucky enough to visit your recently opened studio space in London. How long have you had your own space? Do you think it’s important as an artist to work in your own private studio? How did that affect your practice?

I have this one since October. I think it depends on the work. Some people need interaction and feedback, but I need to control the light and the ventilation conditions. It's easy for me to work 8/9 hours non stop, and this complicates a lot sharing the space.

7. Affordable spaces in cities like London are rare and in very high demand, with waiting lists that sometimes go for years. What advice would you give to other photographers and artists who are looking for a space but haven’t been able to find an affordable one yet?

Sign up for those lists now. Use artists studio finder website. Avoid companies managing spaces, go for charities or artist-led spaces like ACAVA, Bow Arts, SPACE, Cubitt, Acme- There are so many good space providers!

 Almudena Romero making collodion plates at her studio in East London for her project "Growing Concerns" about immigrants to UK. With JC Candanedo (Grey Pistachio).

8. Your projects deal with issues relating to identity, representation and ideology; such as the role of photography in the construction of national identity, or the link between photographic archives and colonialism.  I tend to go towards this sort of topics in my personal projects out of my own experience as an immigrant coming from a family of immigrants. Is it also a personal journey for you? If not, why do you feel attracted to these topics?

Having lived over the past 10 years in the UK, France, Canada and Italy, I have a strong sense of belonging to the immigrant community rather than to any nation. I want to use and share my knowledge to work with one of the most archival processes and leave a legacy of a contemporary understanding of colonialism, identity and photographic archives.

9. Your work is exhibited in galleries across the globe, and your most recent project, Growing Concerns, will be at the Centquatre Gallery in Paris from March 17 until May 6, 2018. For those who don’t understand the exhibitions circle, how does exhibiting your work come about? Do you get commissioned to do a project for an exhibition space? Do you pitch a project that you have in mind and that you want to work on? Do you create your work and then the exhibition spaces come for it? Do you submit to competitions?

I create work I want to create, then I research who can be interested in the work and then I apply to open calls and other opportunities within that network.  I tailor my applications to the space/facilities available. It's crucial to tailor your proposal, otherwise, the juries might not visualise how they could bring it to their own space/platform.

10. As a visual artist, what do you consider is the role of the artist in our communities nowadays? Why do we need artists? Why do we need art?

We need art in the same way we need science. It enriches us, it gives us perspective, a different angle, it helps us to understand. I see the role of an artist very similar to the role of a scientist, it's an everyday job that you do in conjunction with other people working in the same field that ultimately facilitates understanding and generates engagement.

11. What is in store for you in the future? What sort of new projects do you plan to work on?

I am now working on a series that focuses on the deregulation of goods and capital and the environmental and social impact of this, forcing communities to migrate. I have started to use plants which are originally from Asia, Mexico and the Caribbean Islands, and nonetheless widely available at daily markets in London, to alter the photosynthesis process and print images that relate to the migration history and context in their native countries on the leaves of said plants.

Beautiful, Almu! Thank you so much for answering all my questions and helping me understand what working with Alternative Processes is all about. This is everything that "I Wish I Had Known"!


If you haven't read the previous posts of this series, you can check the whole series here. I hope you liked this new post and stay tuned for a different creative each month!

Photo credits: behind the scenes images by Chelín Miller.

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