By Elene Damenia
Photographer Andrea Tese has the kind of amazing style that tells stories beyond what is seen in her images. She has a knack for uniquely portraying peoples’ lives and surroundings and catching moments in every day life that delve deep beneath the surface. A true Manhattan girl, Tese lives and works in an amazing town house in Chelsea, where she also entertains her slew of fascinating friends with frequent dinner parties. I had the opportunity to see the space firsthand and get an early glimpse at the pieces in her current show at De Buck before they hit the gallery walls.
When and why did you decide to become a photographer? What initially pushed you to pick up a camera?
When I was in 8th grade we were allowed to choose an art elective at school. I chose photography and although I enjoyed the act of taking photographs, it was actually printing them that hooked me. The darkroom was mysterious and exciting, and when I saw an image appear on a white sheet of paper I thought it was magic.
In 2009 you received the Young Innovative Award and Gold Medal from the National Arts Club…what specifically were you awarded for? Was it a project or a series?
The National Arts Club awarded me for my editorial work. It was the fashion committee there that recommended me for the award.
You still use a medium format film camera, which is quite rare these days, why do you prefer film?
Film has a very particular aesthetic. It records light in a different way than a digital camera does. I also like that film usually makes a photographer shoot less due to the limited number of frames per roll and the cost of film purchase and development. Shooting less slows the photographer down and more thought is given to each frame. The process of editing happens in the viewfinder, before the photographs are taken.
The ‘Inheritance’ series is super emotional and I’m sure everyone who sees it will get the feeling that these pictures are very intimate and important to the photographer. How long did you work on this project and what made you decide to share your and your grandfather’s story?
“Inheritance” began in 2010 — when my Grandfather died — and I worked on it until 2012. It’s a project that is personally important to me and is intimate in that it is about my family, and me, but I don’t think it is emotional. My motivation to make the photographs was more existential than sentimental. I did not want my grandfather to disappear into obscurity after his death because he was an ”ordinary” person. He was never in the news or on the screen, he didn’t create anything that would be read or viewed for generations to come. By public historical standards, his legacy is modest and fleeting. I was trying to get him some permanence.
From the pictures one can see that your grandfather was a very interesting man who loved to keep all of the things that reminded him of good memories. What was his profession?
My grandfather was an interesting man but his job was not. He drove a truck for a lumber company in Maspeth, Queens — the same neighborhood in which he lived, and his modest house is what serves as the backdrop for all of the photographs in the series. It’s the same house my mother grew up in, and her mother before her. My grandparents were beautiful people with simple lives — very in love and devoted to each other and to my mother, their only child. They were smart but uneducated. They had good taste but no money. They were curious but never strayed far and pretty much kept to themselves. They enjoyed little things with each other, like playing cards and fishing on the weekends.
Do you also collect objects like your grandfather?
I suppose you could say that I now collect my grandfather’s things. As I am typing this sentence, I have my feet up on his coffee table tapping a jar of antique buttons I found in his house with my toe and I am drinking iced coffee out of one of his jelly glasses. But I have many other collections as well that run the gamut from the morbid to the mundane. For instance I am very interested in the post-mortem photography but I also collect fiesta dinnerware from the 1930s.
What is most important to you in your images?
When I taught photography in the past, I usually began by emphasizing the importance of the “3 Cs”: content, composition and color (swap out color for tone if we are speaking about black and white photography). It was a catchy way to begin a talk but it left out light, an element of essential importance. Content is the stuff of a photograph. An image needs to have compelling subject matter and should express, however subtly, an opinion about said subject matter. Composition is what moves the eye through an image and needs to be carefully considered before releasing the shutter. Color (or tone) and light set the mood for the viewer. In the end a photograph should be aesthetically sound but it also needs to mean something.
How do you see photography in general in 2014?
Photography in 2014 will be much like photography in 2013. The digital market will continue to grow and the analog market will continue to shrink. Photographers like myself who prefer to use film will continue to do so but with greater difficulty when it comes to options and resources.
Are you interested in any areas other than photography? Perhaps videography or installation?
I am very interested in both video and installation. I shot some video in my grandfather’s house, and in fact I see these photographs as documents of installations. I sorted through my grandfather’s possessions, categorized them, and made arrangements of the objects in each category. What I created were temporal sculptures or installations that I photographed before dismantling them.
Any advice to young photographers?
I want to say “choose another profession” but I suppose that is not very helpful. My advice would be to grow some very thick skin. You have to constantly put yourself out there and most of the time you are met with rejection. The only way you will succeed is if you can extract any wisdom from the criticism, brush it off and then move forward, most likely towards another rejection.
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