Gina Soden is a photographer, explorer, treasure hunter and contemporary storyteller. Travelling throughout Europe, Soden scouts out derelict buildings lost in time ranging from abandoned schools, asylums and factories. These spaces now receive a new lease of life through Soden’s work as she captures ghost stories with strong themes of exploration and lost civilizations.
Despite the fact that each location naturally has a strong past and individual history, Soden manages to maintain a distinct visual style without having the work become generic or uniform. The spaces are now given room to live again as each image captures the intense levels of texture in great detail and with painterly romanticism. The combination of head-on, confrontational architectural photography and intimate insights into the individual history of particular rooms gives the series this element of storytelling.
Contemporary architectural photography is naturally rooted in the present and is generally concerned solely with what’s fresh and new, whereas Soden’s images are free of such periodic restraints. Time is almost completely removed from the equation and a sense of calm surrounds each image, despite the often eerie, dark or imposing nature of the space.
Gina Soden is exhibiting her series Retrogression at the Groucho from the 7 -13 November and we recently spoke to her about the upcoming show and her signature style.
How did your interest in this particular aesthetic develop?
I was reading a local paper and was fascinated when I saw an article on a derelict asylum. I researched it further and found out the location. After reading up on it I was intrigued to see particular parts of the asylum and understand how the architecture helped with the function of patients daily lives. I stayed in there all day, finding the projector room where they used to play movies for patients, the kitchens where they used to prepare the food, and the wards with beds still with the sheets on, and patient suitcases in the cupboards. It was truly incredible to have an insight into this past and from that moment I was hooked on finding other locations and stories.
Do you prefer to approach locations with knowledge of its history or allow the work to develop without having researched the space too much?
I sometimes know a lot about a building beforehand, as some take longer to find than others, it really depends on each space. It is quite exciting to find a location and know nothing about it and explore the building from top to toe.
What particular significance do these buildings hold for you?
They are a fantastic insight into our past. I love the juxtaposition of the modern day world around me, and the decaying beauty in front of my lens. Some of them are just so desolate and far removed from society. They offer small glimpses into a former life and they offer us time to pause and reflect.
How do you select your locations?
I spend a good deal of time using the internet, newspapers, Google Earth and talking to contacts throughout Europe, working out good routes that will take in a few locations as once. I like heading out on big adventures to see lots of places.
Do you find that the spaces you shoot automatically impose a narrative onto the image, or do you do this through your style of shooting?
Sometimes the narrative develops of its own accord, especially if I find an object in situ like a piano. That will naturally become fairly melancholic, the idea of lost music. Other times I work hard to fight against that – so to try to make a power station emotive rather than industrial and a ruined bedroom romantic. It is an ongoing process and one that offers great challenges and room for development.
Seeing as the buildings you shoot have already an imposed history and such a strong character, do you ever find this an issue as your work reads as a series?
I embrace it rather than see it as a problem. The works all sit together well in the exhibition precisely as they are have such different characteristics and components. To see them all in one manner way would be a shame – it would be like working on the assumption that all old people are the same without distinct personalities just like the younger generation has.
How important is the editing process when it comes to expressing your ideas?
Most of my work is done in camera and on site but I use several effects in post production to ensure that the aesthetic and feeling I am aiming for is shown at its best. For instance I have blended five images together to create one scene so that every aspect is best exposed and the light is constant and directed.
Could you give us a bit of background on one of your favorite recent images?
Blue Orphanage (above) is one of my favourite images. I drove several hundred miles to get here and once I parked my car I had to walk 40 minutes through some deep woods, over a beautiful stone bridge, which was half-collapsed on one side. There was mist hanging down in the trees and it was all very ethereal. As soon as I got to the entrance my breath was taken away. I was greeted by a huge grey foreboding castle with a clock tower over 150 feet tall! It was built in the 1800’s. I went inside and was greeted with vaulted ceilings, brightly coloured walls, stone archways, stained glass windows…in their derelict state they were sublime.
What locations would you recommend to visit for those going to London, locations which are easy to access?
It is a golden rule of mine not to give away locations as you have to protect them from people with less than good intentions. But I would say that the lost rivers of London will always be there and are fascinating to read about.
What contemporary photographers do you admire?
The British artistic duo Rob and Nick Carter have been a huge source of inspiration for me. I absolutely love how they work with colour and light. They are a very creative couple and are not just working within photography – they are continually pushing its boundaries. They have made me realize that ‘photography’ doesn’t just have to be that – it can relate to other disciplines as well like painting, film and 3D painting. I am very lucky to know them and be supported by them, they have given me the idea to work with video in some of the locations in the future.
And who are the photographers that inspire you or influence your work?
Of course Candida Hofer has had an important influence on my work, her work is pitch perfect and so controlled. I am offering a different story and using almost the opposing strategy as I don’t want to be detached but in fact I want to develop the places as stories, but I really admire her symmetry and matter of fact way of addressing beauty.
So tell us about your exhibition in London.
Retrogression is the title and this word sums up the themes I address perfectly. “The process of returning to an earlier state, typically a worse one” or “The act or process of deteriorating or declining”. Retrogression is my first solo show, curated by the artists Rob and Nick Carter. They have worked with me to select the works and think about presentation and the mechanics of organizing a show. It is being hosted by the very cool arts and media club, the Groucho in Soho. I am in the best possible company as it has one of the best art collections in the city and the very best members.
Thank you for talking to us and all the best for the show!
Retrogression is available to view by appointment from 7 to 13 November 2012 and for those not in London there is a catalogue which can be ordered from Gina’s website: