Sweet childish days, that were as long
As twenty days are now.
~William Wordsworth, "To a Butterfly"
It's all too easy, when one enters adulthood, to forget the wonder of childhood. Suddenly make believe becomes a distant memory and we are lost in the mundanity of the every day...
I recently had the pleasure of working with a photographer, Bristy Pagli-Rajkonna, whose rich imagery encapsulates our innate desire to escape, imagine and perhaps most importantly, create.
I caught up with her between this world and the next, to find out a little more....
Your work consistently transcends reality and fantasy. What inspires you to evoke this visually?
At fourteen, when I started photography, most of my work were self-portraits where I would dress up as a character- sometimes from literature, poetry or mythology and sometimes I would make up characters. Make believe worlds and juxtaposing surreal elements in our familiar realm has always intrigued me.
Recently I have started to incorporate more personal elements into my photographs. Memories, experiences and stories from my travels around Europe have inspired many of my current work. Whilst on the surface, much of it is still very fairy-story like, I have taken to experimenting with darker underlying themes. I like to play with metaphors and symbolism. By playing with colours and compositions, I sort of see it as a form of visual poetry.
Can you provide an insight into your childhood please-who were your heros/heroines and which stories did you enjoy reading?
Has the latter influenced your creative output?
Growing up on the other side of the planet, my bed time stories were quite different to the ones more commonly known here. I used to read and watch a lot of Arabian Nights stories as well as lots of local legends and ghost stories. Coming from a very academic family, I took every chance I had of soaking up some literature, mythology or native lore.
I remember not being allowed many fiction books as a child, as there was always far too much school work to focus on. We have a big national book fair that goes on once a year during the whole month of February. I used to look forward to that all year since that was the only time there wasn't a limit on how many story books I could get. Fairytales have always been of great interest. I remember once having a book that described all hundred and something types of ghosts and trapped souls you may encounter in the rural parts of the land. It was all very intriguing.
I used to seek out traditional fairytales from all different countries and over time I started to notice similarities between the tales and started to trace roots of these stories. A lot of European fairytales go back to the Grimm brothers whereas, Aesop's Fables have a more eastern root. Old English and French stories seem to be about kings and queens and their regency mixed with some mythical being/element, whereas Russian and German folktales seem to be more infused with nature and wild animals. The difference in moral priorities from story to story intrigues me greatly. The psychology of the characters made me look deeper and deeper within the pages, and it still does.
To this day, I still continue to read any fairytales I can get my hands on. The further back you go, the more grittier the stories seem to be. Everytime you re-read the stories, it reveals a whole new layer to you. It's built with layer upon layer of fabrication and there are always new metaphors to explore between the lines.
You make frequent use of the many green spaces, dotted around Londons more urban landscape.How important is location in your imagery?
Perhaps it is because I grew up, and have lived in, for the better part of my life, in very busy cities- I always seeked solace in nature. Nothing is constant in nature. It is relentlessly growing, evolving, withering and sprouting back to life again.
I adore the timeless aesthetic of a photograph, which is one of the reasons I am very drawn to ruined abandoned places where you see signs of a civilisation lost, and witness nature taking over once again.
It is this sense of peaceful solitude that I often want to create in my photographs and natural surroundings or urban ruins help achieve that.
A lot of things are out of your control when you shoot on location. Lighting, other people in the area, the general composition of a landscape etc are few of the things beyond your control. I find this very interesting and challenging. It makes me think on my feet and while trying to come up with an alternative option, I see things in a different light and often end up with the best ideas through this. It is also a very freeing experience to feel the earth beneath your feet as you run barefeet across fields and forests- a never-ending source of inspiration.
As a model, I always think how nice it is to work with a female photographer; as sadly it seems to be something of an anomaly!
Do you see any distinction between yourself and your male counterparts?
I definitely find it easier directing models as a female photographer. I mostly tend to shoot female models since most of themes are based around fairytales with a female protagonist. It has definitely been an easier experience directing my models from my early self-portrait years of photography. It helped me understand more about poses and complicated postures a great deal better by putting myself in my models shoes. Especially for nude shoots, it is so very important that the model is comfortable and understands the themes and the looks I am going for. Most of my themes and ideas being quite feminine, it gives us a common ground and an opportunity to communicate ideas better.
What would be your dream photoshoot, with regards to set/costumes/theme etc, if money and so on was no object?
I think the most ambitious dream to date is to go travelling around the continents and photograph native fairytales of each country in their most traditional attire, perhaps with wild local animals, within monumental buildings or landscapes and really capture the raw essence of these stories (perhaps even getting to live through the stories as I photograph them).
I've noted a distinction between your work and for example, Shakespeare's fantasy prose and the artist Klimt amongst others-do you have any favourite artists?
I have often turned to poetry and fiction for inspiration- Shakespearean literature being one of the more prominent sources. From John Keats to Sylvia Plath, I tend to steer towards romantic and emotive psychological works. I incline to look at the Pre-Raphaelites a great deal when it comes to paintings. They strived to paint reality as it presented itself and yet managed to transfuse it with an abundance of mythology and witchcraft. I think that is where my need to create make-believe worlds began. Rossetti, Waterhouse, Burne-Jones are some of my favourites from the Pre-Raphaelite crowd.
Renaissance paintings also hold a certain charm for me, as well as the Baroque. I often look at a lot of Vermeer's paintings for lighting inspiration. The colours and saturation of old paintings are ever so beautiful and I find myself constantly mesmerised. Among more contemporary artists, Klimt and Picasso's exaggerated figures and poses are very captivating. They look so very unnatural and that is what makes them all the more enthralling.
Lastly, I have to ask-do you believe in faeries?
Of course. You must pledge a certain level of allegiance to the fair folk if you are to indulge in any kind of make believe realms at all! A little sprinkle of fairy dust goes a long way!
Image credits - Photographer: Bristy Pagli-Rajkonna | Model: Sophia Disgrace | MUA: Gabrielle James
Featuring designs by: The Last Kult | Accessories: Rouge Pony and Pixified Boutique