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interview / photography

Gabriella Achadinha: Always recognize those who have that fire in their eyes

. 9 min read . Written by Facet Team
Gabriella Achadinha: Always recognize those who have that fire in their eyes

Facet Specs #1: Gabriella Achadinha

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Gabriella Achadinha

Our goal at Facet first and foremost is to render AI legible to human artists. Facet Specs is a new series of interviews that takes up the other side of that equation: sharing the stories and insights of photographers and engaging more deeply with their work and ideas.

Our first featured photographer is Gabriella Achadinha, an early recipient of a Facet artist grant. Her work uses Facet to post-process photographs of spomenik, Soviet-era Croatian and Yugoslavian monuments. After some lengthy exchanges via email, we sat down for a Zoom interview with Achadinha to discuss approaches to life and art.

Originally from South Africa, Gabriella Achadinha now lives and works in Berlin. Achadinha’s photographic work is heavily influenced by cinema. Having worked in the film industry for the past eight years (in Wardrobe, Production and Photography), Achadinha’s aesthetic influences creep in through the framing and composition of her cinematography muses. In her words, Achadinha is drawn to “scenes of individual stillness and contemplation in spaces of chaos, color, unbridled emotion and otherworldly locations.” Achadinha is in the midst of completing a book-length collection of photographs and poems. Two recordings of Achadinha reciting her original poetry can be found at the end of the interview.

Interview by Aidan Stone

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INTERVIEWER

Where are the places you have lived, and how have your travels shaped you?

GABRIELLA ACHADINHA

So I lived in South Africa, basically my whole life and for the past ten years in Cape Town, which is quite the hub for the film industry. So that’s definitely what shaped that sort of vision, you know, being on all the film sets, doing work behind the scenes. I moved to Berlin last year, June, and that’s been quite interesting because it’s very different… I mean, street photography is very much accepted in South Africa. People in Cape Town are very laid back and easy-going, and Berlin is a bit more punk. In Berlin, even if your camera is pointed up towards the sky, someone would stop and kind of question you, ‘What are you photographing?’ So that’s definitely changed the way I photograph. Here, it’s become a lot more still life and a bit more experimental, the collages. I’m kind of steering away from people and away from street photography in that sense.

INTERVIEWER

Do you feel at home in Berlin now?

GABRIELLA ACHADINHA

Slowly, not completely. Yes, but as I said, it’s very different culturally, so it’s tough to get used to it. It is a very different mindset. And I think it’s also got to do with the language. I’m not fluent in German, so it takes some time.

INTERVIEWER

Weren’t you in Portugal before Berlin for a time?

GABRIELLA ACHADINHA

I’m Portuguese; my family’s Portuguese, but I haven’t really lived there. I’ve been there on and off maybe three weeks at a time over the years.

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Kadinjača — 1

INTERVIEWER

What do the spomenik you photographed in Yugoslavia and Croatia mean to you?

GABRIELLA ACHADINHA

Everything was a question. Who created them? Why were they placed in such seemingly arbitrary places? (this obviously was explained through research and the historical significance of these battle sites). Why create such non depictive works of architecture that don’t allude to the events themselves in any way?

I recently had a discussion with a friend whose parents are both teachers and he said: ‘My mother would always say, to teach everyone equally and with as much interest, but to always recognize those who have that fire in their eyes, those who want to learn more. You can truly impart knowledge on them and have an impact’. That struck a chord.

These monuments, personally, really pushed me to understand the history of these countries and the struggles they faced whilst also allowing an appreciation for revolutionary design. There is an interesting article by Owen Hatherley in The Calvert Journal which dissects the need to fully comprehend the history and dissect it from the Tumblr aesthetic of abandoned space consumption, particularly in line with the appeal of ‘spomeniks’. I would fully recommend it to gain some insight into the history. However, I don’t fully agree with the viewpoint that the architecture alone cannot be celebrated.

My questions about the spomenik were answered when doing a bit of research, which was also enlightening in the sense of highlighting the importance of space-use and architecture in shining a light on the past. It’s incredibly difficult and problematic trying to portray these histories within a single image frame. This is why I find people are so drawn to the abstract representations… And perhaps from time to time it is so awe-inspiring that it forces an individual to ask these questions and learn more.

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Buzludzha — 1
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Buzludzha — 2
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Monument of the uprising of the people of Kordun and Banija — 2

INTERVIEWER

Besides being a photographer, you are also a prolific writer. When and why did your writing first begin to intersect with your photography?

GABRIELLA ACHADINHA

I feel that with images it’s often so obscure, you don’t really know what the photographer is trying to say… especially if it’s of objects or landscapes. And that’s just how I came to write. To give more of a background story. It specifically came around when I was doing a photo series that was about my family history. I did a series of objects I found in the old home… I wanted to give a story to the immigration process behind leaving Madeira, going to South Africa. There was no food on the island, it was basically cut off. That was the first series I did it for and it just continued.

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Saudades em uma Casa — 1

INTERVIEWER

I wanted to ask you about a very simple image of yours, a still life of a pink rubber glove covered in salt; and there’s a blue bowl there, a white bowl with lemons in it.

GABRIELLA ACHADINHA

That image was taken in Portugal in Espinho. It’s actually an image of my hand. It’s very much a self-portrait of a hand. It was very awkward and I didn’t think it was very graceful when it was being taken. It’s actually one of my favorites.

INTERVIEWER

Who are some of your main creative influences?

GABRIELLA ACHADINHA

I love Ana Mendieta; she was a Cuban American performance artist. Her work is phenomenal. She also works with nature and themes of feminism. And her life story is also quite sad. It’s interesting someone hasn’t done a movie on her because she was murdered when she was thirty-five years old. Her art was about gender-based violence and about women abuse. And she had a very tumultuous relationship with a sculptor called Andre. And he was basically accused of throwing her out of a window; I think it was a sixteen-story apartment. I’m also a massive fan of Francis Bacon and Titus Kaphar. I really love Titus Kaphar for his work and, you know, what he does with switching around imagery and representations, which is incredible. His works are amazing. He takes a lot of photographs from the past or actual classical artworks and reworks them to put the focus in a specific area, which, with my mixed media, is quite an inspiration.”

INTERVIEWER

What are your cinematic influences?

GABRIELLA ACHADINHA

I would say my favorite movie would be Paris, Texas. I absolutely love it. Everything about it: script, aesthetics, cinematography. I also love In the Mood for Love. And so many others… one that I can’t stop watching, which is very much related to a more-esoteric-sort-of-feeling I would like to get in my images in the future would be: I Heart Huckabees. Script-wise it’s incredible. I think as well, for visuals, would be the film: The Taste of Tea, which is a very unknown, obscure Japanese film. It’s very beautiful.

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Haru
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Azuis
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To Them Flowers
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What Dream
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Cosmos

INTERVIEWER

As opposed to art, are there any parts of nature, or landscapes that especially inspire you?

GABRIELLA ACHADINHA

Cinema and contemporary art definitely inspire my direction, but the natural landscape has always formed an essential part of the work I produce. South Africa is an incredibly beautiful country with a diverse landscape: the desert in the Karoo, the tropical vegetation in Kwazulu-Natal, fynbos and oceanscapes in the Western Cape. Growing up in that natural landscape, as opposed to in a big city with an urban scene, definitely shaped a preference towards the natural.

INTERVIEWER

In Rilke’s novel, Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, the narrator speaks about learning to see; how have you come to see the world the way you see it?

GABRIELLA ACHADINHA

Learning to see is a very eloquent way to put it — it is an ongoing process in training the eye, teaching the eye, reprimanding the eye, questioning the eye. It’s very easy to fall into photographic tropes of trend and going along with the commercial viability of what is considered ‘the world’. The world as I see it is still evolving, I regularly look back at the archive and am embarrassed by particular ways I would photograph subjects or situations. That’s okay; it signifies a process of growing and learning, which is the ultimate reward. Recently, this particular push towards the surreal, collaged, subject-less work I’ve been creating is a result of this aversion to being another perpetrator of stereotypes or indulging in exploiting the unfortunate for subject matter whilst they experience none of the financial or career gain.

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The Waiting Room

INTERVIEWER

Can you speak to how you edit? What other programs do you edit with beside Facet? What are your favorite editing tools? Any interesting hacks, go-to features of any editing tools?

GABRIELLA ACHADINHA

I would say it’s the usual process of editing by first making selects; so going through all the raw images first and foremost and usually making 25 final selects. I try to allocate a maximum of 25 minutes to each image as I try to stay away from over-editing (unless it’s a collaged piece). Lightroom and Photoshop are the other two programs I generally edit with. I particularly love the Brush tool to highlight and select certain areas and adjust the hues to a more pastel, 50s hand-painted feel. I’m not really familiar with any particular hacks as I do use general brush tools mostly.

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Taste of Home

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any words of encouragement or musings for aspiring artists?

GABRIELLA ACHADINHA

I wouldn’t consider myself experienced enough to offer said musings. I would, however, give the tip of avoiding comparison and feeling the pressure to fit into mainstream trends. Easier said than done, but as the monetary focus of an artist’s worth is often based on social media-benchmarks of likes, it’s clear to see how this could impact one’s unique vision. It’s something I struggle with as well and which I am daily trying to overcome.

INTERVIEWER

Where does your art lead us? Who might we become if we travel with you through your artwork?

GABRIELLA ACHADINHA

That’s difficult to say. Photography, as with all creative fields, is dependent on subjective taste and experience. Some might enjoy and resonate with certain works whilst others probably feel indifferent. My current goal is to create works that stir something in the subconscious, particularly through the more surrealistic mixed media works, that awaken something. I’ve been working with Tarot for twelve years and this has started to seep into my photographic works. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s film ‘The Holy Mountain’ and his book ‘The Way of the Tarot’ is a huge reference into the journey I would like to create someday.

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Model: Eva K
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Model: Thandeeka Steenkamp
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Gabriella — 2

Listen to Gabriella read her poems "Divinely displaced"  and "How is it so simple?"