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A Grandmother’s Home in the Wake of Her Passing

Sydney photographer Gabriella Lo Presti talked to us about creativity and the quietness of loss.

by Isabelle Hellyer
26 June 2017, 1:28pm

This article was originally published in VICE Australia

A prolific, private photographer, Gabriella Lo Presti prefers to keep her work off the internet. She's not a technophile by any means, just careful and conscientious, always waiting to do things at the right time, the right way. For now, she's only putting her work down on paper.

She recently sent us two zines in the mail, Aspassia and South Pacific, both bodies of work made in very different parts of the world: South Pacific on a cruise, and Aspassia in her grandmother's Sydney home. There's a universe of influence behind every one of her photographs; Gabriella stresses the importance of thinking philosophically about the work she marks, and is one of the few people who can do so with brevity and charm.

Over the course of a long phone call, we spoke to Gabriella about Aspassia, the internet, and other creative anxieties.

VICE: Looking at Aspassia and South Pacific, you seem to often pick up these very telling little things: a crooked painting, the way someone's gripping their phone. I like that.
Gabriella Lo Presti: I really like those details. Things that you get used to, that become normal over time. I think that's the basis of all my work; the idea that those small things are something to be noticed. And I agree, everything is shot with the same eye; always these familiar, sentimental things being isolated in a photograph.

That sense of familiarity and sentimentality would apply especially in the Aspassia series , I imagine.
Those photos were taken from the day of my Grandmother's death to her funeral. Mostly around her house, which I basically grew up in. You know, when I look at the photos from that time, even now, there's something in me that needs to detach. I can't look at them emotionally. The photo is a way of understanding. Really, these photos are a collection of my understanding of places.

It's really a shame because in Greek orthodox culture there's a 40 days period where you revisit, go to Church again, and I didn't have my camera for that. They read her name, you eat a sack of barley, it's very traditional and really quite nice. I do wish I had it. It's when I'm taking the picture, when I'm in those spaces, that's when I'm thinking and processing what's going on. I very rarely take more than one photo of a room, or a still life. It's the one shot, it's the one moment. When I get my photos developed I never edit them. In that way it's a shame, because a lot of the developing process is left up to somebody else in the lab. They scan your negatives, they're in charge of saturation, contrast, light, exposure and so on. At some point I'd like to learn more, to have more control over that process.

It's incredible when you really consider all the things a photograph can do .
It's such an accessible medium, and I love that anyone can be a photographer. I know a lot of artists and photographers are kind of bothered by that, but I think it's really sweet. Without sounding cliche, or lame, it's nice that it's for everybody. Photography's a good medium in that if you have certain ideas, certain interests, you can realise them fairly easily.

Do you think of yourself as a photographer?
I wouldn't consider myself a photographer, I'd consider myself an artist working with photography. It's a different mentality. At the end of the day the work has to leave you with something beyond "this looks good, this is en vogue." For me, it's less about the image itself and more about everything that came before it: what I was reading the week I took it, what movie I watched yesterday. All those things affect my eye, and then once the photo is out there, it's finished.

That makes sense.
At the same time—and I don't know if this is just self doubt—but I get the feeling that photography isn't enough anymore. I'm doing my own thing, I'm not doing it for anyone else, but upon reflection I go, "Is this even enough?" How can I push this further? You know, I've been using the same camera for 10 years or more. I want to be challenged more, and I think viewers do too.

To an extent, I think you already challenge people with zines, because, unless you're in a gallery, it's becoming more rare that you'll sit down look at 30 or 40 photos by a single artist in a row.
I make a point of not putting my work online, and maybe that's detrimental to me as artist — you know, I don't have a following, but I don't think it suits my work. I think it's smart to have a website, it's smart to put your photos online, but I don't know! There's just something that sits in me that's not quite okay with it. If you're interested in what I'm doing, I have the books I've made at home; you don't have to buy one, just come over and have a look. Maybe it's for me to grow as an artist, to catch up — maybe it's a process I'll go through and eventually arrive at a place where I'm happy to forward a body of work.

What else do you in the future, as you push on?
I think for me, it's forever ongoing. If I look at my photos from high school, there are a lot of them I still stand by — most of them. I think that if you look at my photos from then and now, the ideas are still the same. The way I take pictures of people in spaces, or missing from spaces, it's all the same. It's just kind of, the practise has been refined. I'm constantly working, I'm constantly finding myself in everyday places that stimulate something in me.

You can find Aspassia and South Pacific here.