Spanish photographer Helena Aguilar Mayans is a fine art photographer who seeks out obscure and abandoned places to create a backdrop to her timeless photographs that touch upon themes of beauty and decay. She regularly uses film to add a magical sensitivity to her work and was recently given a roll of LomoChrome Metropolis film to test out. In this interview, Helena talks to us about her work, what inspires her to create and how she experienced shooting with the Metropolis film.
Hi Helena, welcome! Can you make a brief introduction to our readers?
Hi, thank you for inviting me to be part of this! it’s a real pleasure! I am from Olot, a little town surrounded by volcanoes, in the north of Catalonia, in Spain. I am 32 years old and I’ve been experimenting with photography since I was 16 years old. I have a BA in Fine Arts and a MA in art education both from the University of Barcelona.
You are a Fine Art photographer, please tell us a bit about your photography background. What’s your story? When did u start taking photos?
I’ve studied Fine Arts, and I have always been interested in Art. My love for photography started when in high school a teacher explained about the art and work of Julia Margaret Cameron. And I was so impressed. I discovered that photography was something more than just “registering a reality”, the idea that you could create more dreamy and ethereal images through that medium was a game-changer. I then started to work with friends and stage some ideas for pictures and I haven’t stopped since then.
A lot of your photos portrait women in abandoned places: can you tell us the meaning behind it and how this project started?
The project started as a way to understand and analyze the art of the end of the 19th century - beginning of the 20th century in Europe: symbolists, decadents, aesthetes… I was really inspired by them and I wanted to better understand their art and ideas. I wanted, as well, to add the feminine presence that’s always present in my work. Once the project started taking shape, all these paintings that are part of my universe and art that inspires me, became more as a kind of aesthetic influence, and the project itself turned into something else. It became a way to talk about mental spaces, femininity, and the way I sometimes feel in this world.
The project is accompanied by literary references, such as the concept of the room for one's one forged by Virginia Woolf, these places I picture become shelters, safe spaces, where one can be free and far from the world. They are also spaces for contemplation and feminine own spaces. Even if the places look abandoned it’s a way for these women to be, they can be alone there and the place becomes a kind of portal, a way to be far from the noise and stress of the world.
The idea of the ruin is approached as an element of evasion and evocation where nature recovers its space, but the project is not just a record of a heritage that will either disappear or be transformed, it becomes a place of shelter and contemplation and a reflection on how we inhabit and feel spaces. It is a return to the secret places of childhood and a gateway to the universes we mentally inhabit.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
From many things actually. In general from art: I have many references coming from paintings, especially the one I mentioned before. I love to get inspiration about the use of the colors, poses, integration between subject and background… Literature is also a great source of inspiration for me, it helps me especially to create those feminine characters I envision. The Brontë sisters are forever my fave authors. Historical clothing, in particular the fashion at the turn of the century, applied arts and crafts, architecture, especially Art Nouveau are also things that inspire me so much. Music and cinema are also a great inspiration, and last but not least other photographers, both “old” and contemporary ones are also important references.
How do you find all those magnific abandoned places?
Oh, it’s months and months of research beforehand. There's a lot of work involved and also a lot of time, but I kind of love this research part too, and while looking for one place I always end up finding another, and it’s never-ending. I spend many hours using google earth looking for potential spots and sometimes it is also about just stopping somewhere you see while driving the car. You can find real gems. I feel so fascinated by such places. Also, a lot of places are already listed online and it’s just about finding a way to get to know and discover them. I can research for many many hours, sometimes I even stay overnight. I like to choose the places very well, to find spots that I think can be a good scenario for my pictures and fit with what I try to transmit.
Can you share with our readers the process behind a typical shooting day?
Usually, I have an idea in mind, like a little story I want to tell. I research some visual references, mostly paintings and then I think about the outfit. I also like to flow and let the place offering things. It sometimes feels like the space directs me or offers me something completely unexpected. In short, I would say I can have some things planned (a general idea, an outfit, an atmosphere…) but usually not the pictures. I love to see what happens once in the place, where the model can fit better, and where I can find a harmony between human presence and architecture. It somehow feels really intuitive but I love this part, I can feel really transported. I usually work with friends as models, so usually, the feeling during the shoot is very relaxed and familiar. And it’s good because we can share the feelings we get from these places, some places give you a lot of calm and in others, you feel tenser, and we usually get the same vibes.
Some of these wonderful photos were taken with the Metropolis Film: what are the features that impressed you the most?
I loved the palette it gives! It even reminds me a bit of the autochromes. I think it adds a very special atmosphere that works very well with my universe and style. I really enjoyed shooting with this film roll and I will definitely work again with Metropolis. I always loved greenish and muted tones so I think it’s a perfect fit for my work! Thank you once again for giving me the chance to try it, it has been a lovely discovery!
You often use Lomography films in your work: which one is the one that you like the most?
I’ve been using Lomography film rolls for many years now, both black and white and color. My favorite is the 120 color with 800 ISO, I love the versatility it has. It's so useful in conditions where you don’t have much light, which I sometimes encounter in those abandoned places. I never use a tripod, so for me, this film is always a must! and has been a big help on several occasions hehe.
You mainly shoot in Medium Format: why this choice? And what is the camera you mainly shoot with?
When I was at university I was mainly working with 35 mm and large format, I really enjoy large format and I would like to work more with it again. But it was a bit too complicated to bring a view camera to those places so I decided to switch to medium format, to have a bit more quality than 35 mm and to also have something more portable. For this reason, I decided to get an affordable camera to test and see how I was feeling with medium format. And I’ve got a Kiev camera, it has its issues but for now, is what I have. I've been using it for so many years now and I have a special love for it.
Do you have any interesting projects or collaborations planned?
Yes, I have several projects in mind right now. One that I started to work on lately it’s about the idea of the abandoned garden and architectural follies. It’s in a very early stage so I do not want to say much about it for the moment. I’ve been also working on the idea to turn my project on these abandoned places into a book. This has been on the table for years now, and it’s going very slowly but I am collaborating with some amazing people for it and I think it can turn into something beautiful. No idea when it will be done, but for now it’s something I am slowly working on.
Last month I also did the promo pictures for the upcoming album by Norwegian multi-instrumentalist Sylvaine. We really connected and I think there will be some nice shots from it. We also had some creators joining us on board: Under the Pyramids (jewelry) and Amentia Studio (clothing). Everything did fit perfectly and I cannot wait to share the results of this project soon!
Follow Helena on her Instagram profile to see all her works!