Daniela Constantini is a Mexican photographer living in Bern, Switzerland. She is a graduate of the Visual Journalism and Documentary Practice program at the International Center of Photography in New York. She was awarded the Rita K. Hillman Excellence Award for her documentary project Days of Silence, a portraiture essay depicting deafness through the lives of a couple, two young brothers and a young man. All around objects, actions, family and friends in a space with no sound.
What are the rules of your photographic work?
I am not sure if I have any, at least none that I am 100% conscious of. When it comes to Still Life work I go out looking for inanimate objects, and I start getting ideas to approach the whole scene. Documentary work is different. Documentary work requires me to know with much more precision what am I going to be photographing, what is the story, what is the background, there is a lot of writing involved, and a lot of research prior to the photography work.
Is there a particular combination of techniques and tools that you think makes the difference?
For my portraiture work and still life work, I like mixing light. But when it comes to documentary work, I usually decide to shoot analog, but it’s not how I would approach all of my documentary work. This is a decision I take before I start with the project.
Tell us about an experience that definitely changed the way you work and made you grow.
For sure attending photography school. I had been taking photographs since I was younger, but never with intention, never with fully committing or with enough information as to what I was doing, technically speaking and story-wise. Going to ICP, fully with the idea that photography is what I wanted to be doing from then on, changed me. How I look at the world, even if this sounds corny, changed. I went to photography school because I wanted to, and so I really took in everything I learned. Being with my peers, learning from them, having critics every single day, and pursuing a story for the better part of the program was very intense, and hard but also beautiful and rewarding. It was one of my favorite experiences.
Was there ever a difficult situation? How did you react? Tell us.
It was also in school and it was my long-term project. Days of Silence, a portraiture essay depicting deafness through the lives of a couple, two young brothers and a young man. All around objects, actions, family, and friends in a space with no sound. It was challenging to portray deafness, a subtle, non-visual disability. I was met with “you can’t portray a non-visual story” and I was sometimes pulled into stories that were visual, but not the type of stories I wanted to tell then. I just knew deafness was the story and no matter if it didn’t make sense to my teachers, I had to keep at it. I tried and failed and then I found that portraiture was the way to tell this story. Days of Silence won the Rita K. Hillman Excellence Award.
How do you relate to the environment and the subjects you portray?
My most recent work is about portraying women I know, women who are my friends, family, new acquaintances, there is a connection however small, before I make portraits. When I was working on Days of Silence, I wanted to portray this story because I have a personal connection with the subject. I guess what I want to say is, I feel close to either the environment, the person, or, the story. I always take my camera with all of my senses in full awareness and consciousness, I make photographs with a full heart and respect.
I also ask you to share a bonus trick among your secret techniques.
Just take your time. Take the time to enjoy what you are doing, to understand light, if possible to connect with what or whom you are photographing.
Tell us about your equipment, what kind of cameras do you shoot with?
I shoot with a Sony Alpha series, also with a Canon 5d Mark III, I shoot some still life and some portraits with a Hasselblad too.
Are there any books you would recommend?
I would recommend without hesitation, any book from Reinaldo Arenas. My favourite is called Celestino antes del alba, a novel, I think it was translated to Singing From The Well. The pleasure of Good Photographs by Gerry Badger. Talk by Linda Rosenkrantz honestly is such a good novel, a “literary experiment” in the words of Stephen Koch, in which Linda recorded a group of friends throughout their summer, the novel takes part in New York. Everything in this novel is actual conversations, by actual human beings, it’s genius, in my opinion.
What stimulates your creativity, what inspires you?
I am deeply inspired by my hometown, Mexico, there is some sort of melancholy that translates into my images, longing from home, but also profound gratitude to be where I am, I live in Bern, Switzerland, and this place has also inspired me deeply. This medieval city has a lot of beauty that continues to inspire my work, its markets, the people, and the city’s Old Town. There are many photographers whose work is inspiring, Claire Rosen, Justine Tjallinks, Bastiaan Woudt, Paul Cupido, Maxim Vakhovskiy, Roger Bucher, Flor Garduño, Harry Callahan, Emmet Gowin, Jen Davis. A great source of inspiration comes from painters such as Helen Searle, Frida Kahlo, Abraham Mignon, Emilie Preyer, Jean Francois-Portaels, John Singer Sargent, among others.