It started as a lockdown project for Anna Dzērve, playing with her movie projector and staying creative in her bedroom while also isolating. But she soon discovered that with this method she could create truly unique results. In this interview we get to know the photographer behind these strange, sexy and magical portraits.
Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself and how you got started with film photography?
My name is Anna, I am from Latvia and I’ve owned a film camera for around seven years. I got into film photography through a friend. I started to “steal” his shots and waste them on some pretty bad photos so he gifted me a cheap film camera of my own. I used that for a couple of years and shot mostly nature and friends. Then I bought my Canon AE1-Program and other cameras but that one is the one I mainly use. I did amateur photography with a digital camera too. That I have been doing for more than 10 years. My late grandfather gifted me one on Christmas when I was a teen. I was emo although refused to admit it and I was desperate for attention but also super self-conscious. I started to shoot hundreds of self-portraits (more like selfies.) I was living in the countryside at the time so I had a lot of time to do that. I really enjoyed it and some of those shots are still close to my heart.
You use Lomography Color Negative 800 film for a lot of your work. What do you like about the film?
The first time I picked up Lomography 800 was not by choice – often there is a film shortage in Latvia and at one of these times I was in my local film store and there was no Ultramax 400 which I used most of the time. They had Lomo so I picked up that. It turned out better than I expected, the colors were good but the thing I liked the most was the ISO 800. I shoot in very low light, usually my shutter speed is 1-2 seconds because of it and it’s hard to maintain a pose for such a long time without moving at all. So those extra 400 ISO compared to Ultramax really does make a difference. I love shooting in color and currently I see it as the best choice for my current style.
Can you tell us about how the concept for your photography using a projector first came about?
Almost two years ago when Covid hit I was religiously self-isolating at home. I was bored out of my mind and decided to buy a projector to watch movies. When I got it and set it up I was sitting in the projector light and an idea hit me - if the light only shines on my legs it kind of looks like I have some magical glowing socks on my legs. So I decided to take a photo of it. I picked up my trusted Canon AE-1 Program, loaded it with some film and found an image online with some daisies.
I chose daisies because when I was around 19 years old my favorite clothing garment I had were my long black thigh high socks. I wore them often until one day when I was riding in a bus and felt how some strange men were looking at me. I felt like a sheep surrounded by wolves and I knew that these high socks were the thing that attracted them to me. Since then I don't wear thigh-high socks around town. So I chose this pattern of daisies as a symbol of my innocence and the part of it which died that day on the bus.
Then I thought about how I’ve always wanted tattoos, especially the ones that look like Chinese porcelain drawings. So I got an idea to project those onto myself to see how it would look. I did that, it looked good so I snapped another picture. I really didn’t think it would look good as I was used to shooting in natural light and I clearly remember myself saying that I will never shoot in artificial lighting as I do not like how it looks. Two years later I use almost exclusively projectors.
How has this idea evolved and developed over time?
It all started as a series of self-portraits during isolation and I did that for quite some time, almost a year. I posted the photos on my Instagram and some of my friends saw it, liked it and asked if I would shoot them. So I started to use my friends as models. I was quite nervous in the beginning as I was used to being my own model. It was definitely technically harder than shooting another person but emotionally easier as I had all the time in the world to get the perfect shot but now I had to think about if the person is tired or uncomfortable. But being my own model taught me a lot about the process and how to work with others. When I did self-portraits I always had a big mirror standing beside the camera so I could see my pose and I have kept this going into my professional photography too – I put a mirror in front of my model as I feel like it helps them feel more comfortable and they can initiate some poses too.
After shooting my friends for a while I started to talk with girls I didn’t know. I felt inspired by them and they became not only my models but good friends too. With one of them, Evelīna, I really opened up to the next level of my photography. We experimented a lot and I started to feel more relaxed in photo shoots with other people. People started reaching out to me for paid photo shoots and that is what I often do now. I still have sessions with Evelina as she inspires me a lot and if I have a crazy idea I know that she will definitely be up for it.
Apart from the relationship between me and the models the ideas come and go. There are some concepts I get stuck on or obsessed with, for example windows and eyes – those are things that appear often in my photos. But I am always thinking of new ways to use the projector, film camera, and human body. I get most of my inspiration from my everyday life – seeing a house that is wrapped up in construction fabric, or seeing a monster in a movie with eyes in places where eyes shouldn’t be. Sometimes my traumas or other life stuff inspires me. I think a lot about feminism, and abuse, and I use these concepts in my photography. For example, projecting a piece of meat on my friend Amanda, or cactus spikes on my legs after my boyfriend brought up the fact that he wanted me to shave my legs more often.
What is the process of creating your photographs? And what kind of conversations or planning do you have with the models?
All of my photos are created in my 15 square-meter bedroom. Most of them are taken on my bed. The space is very limiting but at the same time I know it so well now that I feel comfortable. But I would like to move in the next year and have more space for my photography because there are ideas I can’t shoot because I don’t have space for it.
As for models, before the photo shoot I usually explain to them how shooting on film differs from digital photography, the good and the bad. The fact that they will get 36 photos, not 200, even though we will be shooting for three to four hours and other things. Some practical details about what make-up usually looks the best and what clothing works with a projector as not a lot of it does. Textures and colors usually make the projections too busy so if the model is comfortable with it I prefer shooting nude. I usually ask about their experience and how they feel in front of the camera.
Your photography focuses on the female body. What fascinates you about women as a subject? And have you, or would you, photograph men in the same way?
I think because I started out with self-portraits I kept that going in my other photography too. I feel like I am literally projecting my feelings and my models in the process are almost an extension of me. It’s very much a therapeutic process that I often am not aware of myself. Apart from that, women are just freaking beautiful. All kinds of women. The soft shapes, the poses that can tell a story and create an idea about their personality. I feel like women can express more in photography. They are more open minded and relaxed even when not 100 percent confident. I shoot men too and will definitely keep doing that in the future but I have my own limitations in what I feel safe with, considering the photo shoots happen one-on-one in my bedroom.
Do you have any exciting projects coming up that you’d like to share with us?
I’ve started to experiment with shooting outside of my bedroom and that is something new in my style. I do not know where it will lead. Also having more than one or two models, in my last photo session I had five models and me and we had a shibari rope tying photo session. That was fun but also quite hard to manage. Apart from that, one of my works will be featured in May at an exhibition in Paris and also Riga photography Biennial will be happening around the same time where my works will be seen. Also if people are interested in supporting me and seeing more of my work they can do it through Patreon or on Instagram where they can also find information about my photography book!
Best of luck to everybody pursuing photography! I feel very thankful to have this chance and to do something that excites me so much. I hope your rewind knobs work smoothly and light leaks never happen – unless you want them to!
Thank you to Anna for sharing her work with us! To see more of her photography follow her on Instagram.