An Interview With Luiza Sa
Before this interview, my relationship with Luiza Sá consisted mainly of nagging phone calls. You see, in addition to taking that nice, soothing photo of a bunch of horses for our Still Lifes issue, she plays guitar in a little band called CSS. When we interviewed them for the Creators Project, I was put in charge of sucking up to her and asking her for an ungodly amount of photos of her band. At the time she was finishing college, recording new tracks for her band's third album, and trying to hibernate a bit after spending the previous four years on the road pretty much non-stop. Needless to say digging up a bunch of old band photos for some dude wasn't what she wanted to be doing.
Now we've smoothed everything out, and thanks to my insisting on way more images than anyone thought necessary, we ended up finding out that Luiza takes some really beautiful pictures--stuff that goes far beyond representing the shows she’s played. Between 2004 and 2010 she took more than 6,000 photos. I figured it had been a while since I bugged her over the phone, so I called her again.
What’s the story behind that horse deal, it's a mobile right?
Luiza Sá: I took that one in Norway, in Oslo. We were on tour there in 2007, opening for Gwen Stefani. After the show we went out to this really small club... wait a minute, Oslo’s in Norway, isn’t it?
Haha, so it was this really crazy little place that had, like, a whole wall of SpongeBob SquarePants stickers and some other super interesting stuff. The place really exists, it was sort of like a bar.
You were already taking pictures before you joined CSS. Was your plan to become a photographer, or did you just want to be a rock star?
I don’t think I had any plans at all. I was really young when I started taking photos--my dad had a Nikon camera that I started to use when I was really young. Then I went to art school because I thought that’s what I wanted to do, but while I was still in school the band started. I hadn’t planned to be a photographer or a musician--I just did what I did and things ended up happening naturally.
How did you go about learning photography?
I’m totally self-taught, just trial and error.
What gear are you using at the moment?
I’m still using the Nikon, I love it. It's got a 28mm lens which I love, it’s probably my favorite lens. But I use different cameras in different situations. The photo of the horses I took with a Leica compact. There’s another I like, a Contax G2. All my stuff is film. I’ve never taken digital photos.
Do you have a specific skill, something that you’re particularly good at?
I wouldn’t say I have a skill. I have an aesthetic--there are things I always look for. There are many photographers I love, but I don’t try and do what they do.
Who’s your favorite photographer?
That’s a difficult question... I really like William Eggleston, Robert Frank... a lot of people.
Who do you really hate?
Well, there’s stuff by Terry Richardson that I really hate. There’s some stuff I like, that I think is beautiful, but there are other things that I find horrible, that represent everything I hate--sexism, mixed with the use of power over a young person, you know? And sometimes it’s ugly too. One of my favorite photographers is Larry Clark, so when you put Larry Clark alongside Richardson, Richardson looks really dumb--depending on which photo it is. Truth is, he’s a pervert. It’s written all over him.
Now that you’ve graduated, can you say something about your final project?
That’s a tough question, I don’t think I can sum it up in one word--perhaps that’s because I tried to bring together some really different elements and not produce something like a publisher would, following a theme. I tried to deal with things that I like. I don't know... to properly explain I’d have to have my work here. It’s something about being alive and interrelating. There’s a theoretical part but I don’t draw any conclusions, I don’t necessarily have to prove something.
I’ll give it some thought. Ask some other questions and I’ll answer this one later. I guess I got so bogged down in the project that right now I’m drawing a blank.
OK then. I saw that you participated in an exhibition in Australia in 2009. Do you show your work very often?
Truth is, I could do a lot more. I’ve done one or two things in the US too, smaller than that show, but my life has been so hectic over the last five years there hasn’t been much time for making plans. I’m also not a workaholic--I need time between projects. I've done a few other things related to photography, but I reckon I’m really just a bit of a layabout. I should chase it more. It’s hard for me though, like, now we’re making a record, and it’s hard to think ahead to an exhibition when I’m concentrating on the record at the same time. I have to do one thing at a time. It’s OK for me to be taking photos now, but if I had to do a big project I think I’d go a little mental and I don’t like that. I like to be totally focused.
The exhibition discussed the relationship female photographers have with femininity through a sensory exploration, going beyond the visual--that’s what I read in the release. Is there something you prefer to photograph or that you hate to photograph?
I can’t take photos of strangers. I’m not drawn to photojournalism, the idea of heading to India to take pictures of who knows who on the street... I can’t relate to that, I couldn’t do it. I don’t like taking pictures of people without them knowing, or when they don’t want to, or when they’re fragile. It’s an ethical thing--I don’t feel it’s necessary to show the negative side in order to show the positive. I like taking pictures of people I know and places that I have some kind of connection to that I feel at that specific moment.
Do you ever get annoyed about being the “official photographer” of a band that's been on tour for four years?
Haha, there came a point where I had to separate things. When I did this exhibition in Australia they even asked if I wanted to send out a special release for fans, and I didn’t want to. I’m really proud of being in the band and really proud of my photography, but I think things have to speak for themselves. I don't want to reduce my photography to band stuff--just backstage shots. It started to get on my nerves at one point because I thought that it might head in that direction. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it at all, I didn’t want to do just that. Photography is more than that for me.
Do you think you're better at playing guitar or take photos?
Well... I don’t think I play that well, but I also don’t think I’m a very good photographer. Anyone can do this stuff, can’t they? What attracts me more is the creativity, the creative process comes in first place. For example: in terms of music I’m not a slave to details, I like thinking more about the overall creation--I prefer it when other people consider the details. With photography it’s something I do by myself, I don’t depend on anyone else. It’s a different type of relationship, I dunno, I don’t think I’m that good at either, but I want to keep going with both.
So, have you come up with a way of describing your final project now?
It’s... well... now that you ask, I’ve already thought a lot about what I did, and I thought about it in quite a different way than how I was thinking when it was finally shown, you know? I have a different vision--a more critical vision--but I think I wanted to express something about how humans relate with places, about what unites, how one thing touches another.
BRUNO B. SORAGGI