I always find it difficult to talk about myself in situations where I know it’s expected of me to present myself and who I am. I find the pressure of trying to capture the essence of who you are in a couple of minutes or a couple of written sentences pretty unbearable. Almost every time, I end up saying something that I afterwards, to some extent, regret. First of all, who I am, is still very much under construction. However, one thing is clear to me and that’s the fact that I am a photographer. And I’ve come to appreciate this because I found out that that’s not little thing to know about one’s self.
I’ve tried expressing myself – what I feel and how I see things – in various ways, taking different paths, from drama classes to drawing, painting and writing. It wasn’t until I started playing around with a camera, taking random photos, that things would branch off in the right direction. Later, I came to observe and understand that I was my best, most genuine self when photographing. I just disconnect from whatever surrounds me and reconnect with it on my own terms, through the lens of the camera. I feel like I can think clearer and that I have found a way how to present things and ideas as I see them. It truly is such a wonderful and liberating feeling I have while shooting, a feeling that I can’t seem to get from any other activity. The best part is that right there when I’m shooting, I don’t have to try and explain it, I can just live it.
That was also pretty much the process of how my Piers series came to be. The idea itself came naturally while travelling and discovering the stunning, absolutely breathtaking scenery of the Swedish Archipelago.
For about two years I had quite an intense connection to Stockholm, where I would go to once every two or three months. And while my affinity for Sweden or the Scandinavian culture all together has not worn off one bit ever since, it is a bit unfortunate that my visits there in the past year have been fewer than I would. During my travels there, two things became some sort of a tradition. First, a visit Fotografiska, the museum of photography in Stockholm – which is beautiful not only for its exhibitions, but also because of the little restaurant that’s on the top floor of the building, where you can sit down and enjoy a nice cup of coffee while watching over the city’s harbor and Gamla stan (the old town city center). Second was travelling to at least one island in the Swedish Archipelago. The archipelago is very important to the Swedes and they take great pride in having a cottage on one of the islands. You can tell that, especially during the summer, when almost everybody takes the month of July off and goes and spends it at their cottage by the Baltic sea.
In my case, it just so happened that most of the times when I was there, it was during the colder seasons (autumn, winter or early spring), which meant that the islands were pretty much deserted, especially in months like October or November. Honestly, I did not realize how lucky I was to travel around in the archipelago “off-season” until I went there for the very first time in July last year and was slightly surprised to see how populated the islands were during the warm season.
Walking the islands from one end to the other, mostly through cold, wind and silence is among the best things I’ve ever experienced. It’s on these trips to these various islands that I first came in touch with the piers. I mean, I’ve seen piers before, but never as many at once, as one can see on an island in the archipelago. Boats and ferries in Stockholm are included in the public transportation ticket – that’s how important they are – and many people have their own boats in order to reach their cottages in the archipelago, which also means that many of the houses have their own piers. So, yes, there can be a lot of piers on some islands.
Strangely, I did not realize that there’s something about these piers until I returned home to Berlin after yet another trip to Stockholm in February 2016. I was going through the photos I’ve taken, digital and instant, and I was surprised to see that a bunch of them were just photographs of piers. I was also puzzled. I looked for more photos from previous trips and found more photographs of piers. That’s when it hit me! I had a theme that I did not know how it came to be and what it meant.
So, naturally, I started digging for answers as to why I photographed so many piers. What was my deal with all these piers?
It took me a bit of soul searching to I find the answers to these questions. And then a bit more time until I managed to put them down in words that would make sense to others too. So, as you know by now, I really like piers. I like them because they speak to me as if they were a secret door to a whole new dimension of unconditional freedom and possibilities.
Coming across so many of them over time, allowing myself to feel and giving myself the time to eventually decrypt those feelings, I came to find out as to what my connection to them is all about. It’s about their symbolism, about their organic texture, about where they lead and what follows after. So, there I was, standing on a soft wooden structure overpassing water, who’s ending – interestingly enough – coincides with the beginning of the horizon… Looking straight ahead, it feels as if I am lead into this endless unknown, where imagination has no limit and freedom’s at its best! Dreaming of this unconditional freedom, where I can let my imagination run free, I guess that’s why I find myself drawn to piers.
This was a bit overwhelming, but the more I pondered on this series, the more I saw Piers as a project approaching almost subliminal points on an artistic, personal and social level. On an artistic level, Piers is intended to stimulate the viewer’s imagination and to challenge him to look again, more closely, at the world around us. Maybe some of you might be surprised by the fact that I can see so much in something this trivial. But that is exactly the main messages of this series – to not take the small, simple things for granted; always pay attention to details, because they might help you discover beautiful secrets about yourself. Being willing to decode those secrets can lead to a more genuine self – which in my world is very important.
The social implication of this series is addressed through the presence and help of the digital photographs. While Piers was created using instant film as its primary medium, because of its inherent lacks and imperfections, almost each instant photograph also has a digital equivalent. The reason why I used both mediums is that together, they complete a role of conveying two different aspects, two different images of the same reality, where one is meant to highlight and complement the other.
Take the digital approach, for instance, which is meant to reproduce a very precise copy of the reality. By that, what it’s actually doing, is to underline and compliment the more romanticized, otherworldly approach that the instant film offers through its very own nature. In other words, the digital photographs are meant to accentuate the beautiful imperfections of the instant film by contrast. Perfection is very arbitrary, if not utopian, and there is a long history of social pressure to achieve perfection in all areas of life. This right here is another important topic that I was trying to handle through this project. Imperfections, not only can they be perfect in their very own ways, but they also possess this great power to generate beauty, as I hope you can see in this series.
Despite being a photographer for many years now, the Piers series was my very first body of work that provoked such strong feelings within me. I felt like there is no way around it. For the first time I felt like I need to put it together, build it a concept and get it outside the four walls of my room – which is what I am trying to do right now. All I wish for is that you will enjoy it!
~ Ioana Tăut
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