Alexandra Serrano is a young Mexican-French photographer who lives in Paris. She graduated in Aesthetics and History of Art at the University of Paris 8 and got a Master in Photographic Studies at the Westminster University of London. Her works are present in various publications and personal and collective exhibitions in Europe and North America. In 2011, she received an Honorable Mention at the Prix de la Photographie Paris-Fine Art (PX3), and in the same year she took part in the project “Intimate Space”, organized by the Brazilian artist Georgia Creimer for the Youth Olympic Games held in Innsbruck (Austria) in 2012. She exposed her series “Between Finger and Thumb” at the Circulation(s) Festival, a Festival for Emerging European Photographers. The same series was also exposed at the Festival “Fotoleggendo” in Rome and Toronto, London and Boston for the annual edition of the Flash Forward Festival of photography for emerging young photographers. In 2013, she exposed in a collective exhibition in Portland, “Shadow and Light”, at the Black Box Gallery, while in 2014, she has returned to France for the Festival “Les Nuits Photographiques de Pierrevert” and the “Le Grand Gosier” at the Duo Gallery. Alexandra works also as freelance photographer for The Telegraph Magazine; she took part in the art documentation organized by Collettivo Cochenko in 2012 and 2013, and in collaboration with the artist Camille Hernot developed the photographic work “Overlapping Figures” and “Ikebana Project”.
She is currently cooperating with the Art and Cultural Center Centquatre-Paris.
B: The subjects that you usually develop through your pictures are very autobiographic and tied to the past: your family, your childhood, your memories. A way to impress and stop the time that goes by. What kind of importance you give, and how do you relate with the time going by? As it seems to me that you wish to stop time to highlight the existence of the world around you and of yourself.
A: My work is not so much about stopping time but more about rewinding it. I seem to have this perpetual feeling of nostalgia for things that no longer are. But it’s not something that paralyses me, but rather a feeling that I like to explore and reflect upon through photography, a medium which in its essence is undeniably linked to the past.
As for my attachment for childhood, I believe that the latter is a very important time in one’s life for it constitutes the essential formative period in the development of the future adult and his/her psyche. I have kept very vivid memories and feelings from this period, both joyful and painful. In my last series Between Finger and Thumb, invoking the past is very much about achieving catharsis whereas in my current series on huts it is more about reclaiming the past in order to become once again contemporary of what has once been lived.
B: You said that memory is not infallible, and that often memories can be incomplete fragments of moments lived. Is it for this that through your pictures you reconstruct, or better reinvent a new story to tell? Is this a leitmotiv that you often use in your works?
A: In his essay on Screen Memories, Freud explains that it is not until the child is around six that memories form a narrative pattern that is temporally connected. This suggests that many of the childhood memories we recall as adults are not memories, but rather constructions of our unconscious. What we remember of our childhood years are fragments, vivid details that our unconscious embellishes and transforms, thus modifying their real meanings.
The photographs that I make, and this is particularly the case for my series Between Finger and Thumb, put forward these details, these fragments of memories to which I try to give more meaning by re-contextualising them through semi fictional narratives.
B: Your images are like microcosms that gather feelings, emotions, fears, moments lived in the past. Would you describe your photos as intimist?
A: My photos are intimist in the sense that I aim at capturing the fragile moments of our daily lives. Moments that belong to the private sphere of the family and of the self.
B: “Between Finger and Thumb”, “Corners” and “ I Am Vertical” are works that talk about you. “Postcode War”, instead, is totally different: you deal with a very sensible subject, the war between the two major gangs (farms) Hackney Man Dem and Tottenham Man Dem, which since 1997 have made the neighborhood of Hackney the center of this feud in the north of London, an area with an impressive rate of homicides and petty crime. Yours is no longer a look inside you but a look that projects outwards and denounce a social situation that has become endemic. How come you chose just Hackney for your project and not a neighborhood of Paris, the city where you live, where there surely are similar realities, or Mexico, your homeland?
A: I chose Hackney because at the time the project was made I was living in East London at the border between Whitechapel and Hackney. The project stopped when I moved back to France after completing my studies. At the present time I still consider the work unfinished; perhaps a chapter on Paris or Mexico would be a good way of giving a second life to the project.
B: The places you have chosen to photograph have witnessed a series of murders perpetrated in the last 13 years between the two gangs (farms). Pictures that are intentionally underexposed and taken at dusk; there are no human beings, but one can still perceive that in those glimpses of streets and dark corners something has happened. A sense of drama accentuated also by the bareness of those places, which causes in the onlooker a subcutaneous fear that is hard to explain. Has it been the same with you, when you were on location?
A: Of course there was fear. Some of the locations were banal street corners, others were very gloomy and isolated. Photographing at dusk meant that I was alone: no one to disturb me but also no one to help me if needed. But together with fear there was also a sense of voyeuristic guilt as I was photographing the places where young men had died with a very subjective approach that wouldn’t have necessarily pleased the families of the victims. Perhaps this is why I chose not to publish or exhibit this project extensively.
B: And expressing it in an image has it been your way to define and exorcize that fear?
A: Exorcize no, but define, definitely. The photographs of Postcode War reflect very well the tension I was undergoing while on locations. They express the real fear I was feeling but desperately trying to repress while shooting. The images are long exposures taken with a medium format camera which requires great concentration for the light measuring as well as the focus are completely manual. I couldn’t allow myself to be overtaken by fear; I needed to be fully concentrated!
B: Looking at your photographic background, I find it quite curious that you have chosen, for one of your projects, places where murders were committed. Why this choice, and what was the idea at the foundation of your project?
A:I think what triggered the project was a book I read by the British writer Ian Sinclair called Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire: A Confidential Report, in which Sinclair retraces the history of the London Borough of Hackney. It’s a fascinating book that gave me the desire to know better my neighbourhood. Hackney was my temporary home at the time, it was the place where I spent the first five years of my adult life and it was as important to me as my childhood home. Guided by the book I went to explore abandoned asylums, old factories and retraced the steps of notorious criminals. I also began to pay more attention to the local news and that’s when I became aware of the gang war. At that time, in 2009-10, there was approximately one shooting a day. I started collecting newspaper articles on the shootings as well as police records, which I would find on the Internet. Hearing about these crimes happening so close to my flat was terrifying but at the same time rather exciting. Out of curiosity I began to visit the crime scenes after each shooting. It was only a bit later that I started shooting them.
Today the crime rate in London has dramatically decreased, mainly thanks to the Olympics which have undeniably made Hackney a safer area although taking away some of its past which made Hackney a unique place in London.
B: Dou you think that you will work on similar subjects in the future?
A: I’m not sure. For my next project I’d like to work on public baths which are reopening in Paris due to increasing poverty. But that’s more linked to intimacy than to crime!
B: I finish by asking you how did you begin your collaboration with Centquatre-Paris, the art-cultural center where you are currently working, and more specifically, with the Maison des Petits?
A: My job at the Maison des Petits is to put forward artistic propositions for children and their parents, in relation with the Centquatre artistic line up.
The Maison des Petits is a care centre based on the French psychoanalyst Francois Dolto’s ‘Maison Verte’ but with a strong artistic dimension as it was put inside the CENTQUATRE. It is important to know that the CENTQUATRE has been built in one of the poorest district of Paris with the highest concentration of immigrants and single-parents families. It is this population that we work with and try to familiarize with art and culture.
B: Alexandra, thank you for your time.
B.O. © Floz Visions 2014