“If three years ago my work used to be somehow more staged, in Finland I have found a way to be impressed simply by what I see, everything has become more natural and spontaneous.”
Polly Balitro is a photographer from Italy, currently based in Finland. Living so far up north with nature all-around has deeply influenced her photography. For Polly Balitro photography has become a more spontaneous and natural form of visual communication.
Polly Balitro, you were born in Italy and currently are residing in Finland. What made you move so far north?
I have always been intrigued by the idea of living at the edge of the world; Helsinki is not exactly a wild place, but Finland can offer something really unique, if you are looking for a closer relationship to nature. Finnish landscape is truly fascinating, the changing of the seasons so intense, the winter darkness so still and the summer light so lively – I guess that is why I eventually decided to move here.
How has the cross-cultural experience influenced your work as a photographer?
As I said before, Finland is a truly unique place, very different from the one I came from; obviously that has influenced my work deeply. I can say for certain that my photographic style, which had been continuously evolving, has taken a different direction here and is now possibly settling down. If three years ago my work used to be somehow more staged, in Finland I have found a way to be impressed simply by what I see, everything has become more natural and spontaneous.
Your work evolves around nature and landscape. Why do you focus on these genres?
“There was simply no reason for me to go and search for a different subject, it was all there in front of my eyes.”
I suppose that, after moving to Finland, I have felt more and more distant from the photographs I took before; somehow I no longer felt the need to stage a shot, instead, by getting closer to the natural environment, I was beginning to favour a different approach to photographing. The landscape – the seasons, the weather – is so significant in a place like this, that it becomes part of your everyday life, influencing you deeply. I involuntarily started to long for the wilderness. There was simply no reason for me to go and search for a different subject, it was all there in front of my eyes.
Your landscape pictures display solemnity and peace. Can you please elaborate a little bit on the aesthetics inherent in your images?
I would like my photographs to be able to communicate the feelings, both physical and mental – that I encounter every time I visit and decide to picture a specific place. Is it possible to transmit a cold gust of wind by the sea, the smell of the rain in the forest through an image? Whenever I take a landscape photograph there are all these sensations behind my shot, which I try to capture in what will become a merely visual experience. I find all this extremely fascinating and challenging.
Polly Balitro, you are a traditionalist, an analogue photographer, enjoying film and developing your images in the darkroom. Why?
I cannot answer this question simply by saying “because” and I would not define myself a “traditionalist” either. The only thing I can say is that I have always preferred to work with film – I have always find it more tangible, altogether a more engaging experience.
Why do you consider it important to still working the old-fashioned analogue way? And what can you learn from analogue photography that helps you to become a better digital photographer?
“…the importance of choosing the best frame and the best moment to shoot, as a film roll is not endless.”
There are many things you can learn from analogue photography; possibly the most important one is the capability to wait before seeing your results, but also the importance of choosing the best frame and the best moment to shoot, as a film roll is not endless. Learning to take photographs only with a digital camera might take away all this.
Susan Sontag once said “The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own”. How has photography changed the way you look at the world and what have you learned about yourself?
I can totally relate to Susan Sontag’s statement: photography has really changed the way I look at things. Whenever I have a camera in my hands, it does not matter where I am going, I am always a tourist, even in my own neighbourhood. I take time to look in every directions, I retrace my step backwards and, sometimes, even forget that I am cold, hungry or scared – there is just an eagerness to keep on seeing and capturing.
Every photographer is going through different stages in his formation. Which “landmarks” do you recall that have marked you and brought you to the place where you are today as a photographer?
“I might like to take photographs of solitary landscapes, yet I truly appreciate the company and the support of my friends.”
I suppose that my landmarks have actually been the people I have met during the years: first my friends at the photography school, possibly some of my teachers, but also people that had nothing to do with photography but simply decided to talk to me about my work. I might like to take photographs of solitary landscapes, yet I truly appreciate the company and the support of my friends, the feedback of the people I encounter.
Last but not least, let’s switch roles: Which question would you have liked to be asked in this interview about your work that I didn’t ask? Please feel free to add it – as well as the answer.
This interview has been one of the most intense I have ever been answering to; it really got me thinking. I would not really know what more to ask, yet it could be a question about the future – since there were so many about the past. The likes of, where would I see myself in ten years? And I would probably answer that I do not really have a clue where I will be, but I know I will be still taking photographs – and I certainly hope analogue photography will still exists then.