INTERVIEW WITH FIONA SEGADÃES DA SILVA
by Alice Oliver
Fiona Segadães Da Silva is an emerging photographer whose work delves into the intricate relationships between humanity and the botanical microcosm within the evocative confines of botanical greenhouses. Fiona's artistic journey was deeply influenced by a childhood marked by challenges, which propelled her towards immersing herself in images as a means of solace and self-expression. Fiona's photographic practice provided not only a means of personal growth but also a tool for finding meaning amidst life's complexities.
In a conversation with Sola Journal founder, Alice Oliver, Fiona unravels her creative evolution and the elemental experiences that have guided her path. Fiona's series 'Il ne reste plus qu’à s’enraciner ensemble' embarks on an exploration of the interplay between human existence and the intricate world of botanical greenhouses. These enclosed and dreamlike spaces form the backdrop for a narrative that delves into the nuances of coexistence and relationships. Through Fiona's lens, the unseen connections between individuals and the botanical realm are vividly captured, bridging the gap between the visible and the invisible. The essence of Fiona's work lies in the sensorial and non-verbal, a journey into the realm of the unspoken. Through her evocative imagery, Fiona seeks to communicate the intangible, using photography as a tool to unveil the hidden aspects of existence. The intimate connections between humans and non-humans, as well as the ethereal inhabitation of spaces, come alive in her photographs, forming a poetic tapestry that invites viewers to feel, not just see.
AO: Could you tell us a little about your early life, where did you grow up, and how did that environment shape you and subsequently your practice?
FSDS: Born in 1995, I grew up in a suburban town in France. My childhood was punctuated by difficult times so I always liked to immerse myself in images. I often looked at books with pictures, I also remember that I cut out and collected lots of pictures in magazines. Having grown up in a difficult environment, my photographic practice allowed me to take a step back, to build myself as an individual and it is sometimes a tool that I use to find meaning. The practice of photography is cathartic, it's a way of reclaiming reality, an attempt to create a place and to exist in a different way and not just through my social condition. Also, coming from a very urban space, mostly concrete, my practice also tends towards the desire to get as close as possible to outdoor practices such as hiking and walking. I always seek to immerse myself and to encounter landscapes and living beings.
AO: Can you tell me a bit about how your photographic practice started? What were some elemental moments in your photographic education that helped or hindered the shaping of your practice?
FSDS: Photography has been with me for a very long time, as a child I loved using disposable cameras and was obsessed with my family's photographic archives. In middle school, I started photographing more obsessively with my first second-hand camera. I photographed everything, all the time. I think I was hiding behind the camera a little bit, and I really wanted to build a photographic journal.
I prefer images to words, gestures and moving bodies reveal more clues than words. I guess that's why I'm very sensitive to photography. I am above all a great observer, I like to notice the smallest details, attitudes and coincidences.
I studied in a school of fine arts with the desire to immerse myself in the practice of photography. I was able to test incredible things: large prints, installations, and printing methods. Between 2018 and 2019, for personal reasons, I stopped making images for at least a year. Then the ardent desire to make images returned. I changed my way of working and adopted a slower practice of photography. I take the time to meet myself, to feel, to immerse myself before making images. Since then, I have immersed myself in my practice with great passion. I use the theoretical baggage learned during my studies while keeping an embodied practice. I try to be sincere in what I do and to keep the flame that made me want to make images when I was a child. I am a working class artist and photography is something I find meaning in. I take the time to do, to feel and to appreciate.
AO: Your project 'Il ne reste plus qu’à s’enraciner ensemble' explores the relationship between human existence and the botanical microcosm within the context of botanical greenhouses. What initially drew you to this subject matter and inspired you to create this series?
FSDS: At the beginning of this project, I often went to Caen City's botanical garden. There were small greenhouses that were a bit narrow, messy, damaged, there was really a special atmosphere in this place, something unique. I liked to go there, immerse myself in it and observe all the hidden details. I went there at different times, with few or many people, but this particular feeling stayed constant. It was really the end of a particular period, where I had felt all my relatives being anxious and confused. I wondered a lot about whether or not we belonged to the place we were crossing and living in. I also wondered about relationships, those that protect us, those that damage us, those that hold us back, those that we have lost.
I continued to go there often and worked on the project for a few months. When a place challenges me or touches me, I like to feel completely in this place, and this is what has guided the way of building my series. I wanted to offer an internal point of view, to translate the sensations provided by this place into my images. I concentrated a lot on details and on evocations. The forced cohabitation of these plants, the fact that they meet, confront each other and damage each other inspired me a lot. I found brutal and surprising poetry in this place. I also like that we force the aesthetic, the botanical garden which is basically made to be pleasant to visit but is also a violent and closed place which prevents plants from developing them. I found that these botanical greenhouses gather a lot of contradictions. I like to look at things from a sideways perspective in a time when ecological issues are becoming urgent and we are learning to build new relationships with the living things around us. I recently read an article on Mediapart (a French independent journal) about plant tears.
“And if the plants spoke, too?
If we could hear ultrasound, we would never let our ficus trees die of thirst again, we would cover our ears before crossing a dry field and suddenly have a bad conscience while cutting flowers in our garden. Insects have known this for a long time, but we just found out: plants cry. Specific cries, depending on the misfortunes they suffer: a period of drought or a severed stem. “Plants do not suffer in silence”, can we read in the prestigious scientific journal Nature, which echoed this astonishing discovery. Ultrasonic microphones have captured, for the first time, specific “cries” emitted by plants under stress."
I think in my photographic practice I always search for a way to listen with my gaze. The gaze is a political weapon and learning to look is also learning to feel.
AO: In your artist statement, you mention your focus on sensory and non-verbal projections. How do you translate these sensory experiences into your photographs? How do you navigate the fine line between fiction and document in your imagery?
FSDS: I trust the evocative power of images, even in a time when the image has sometimes become virtual and created by software. I think of the image with a poetic scope, like a sculptor or a painter, I have images in mind, sensations and impressions that I seek to transcribe through the construction of images. I am an overly sensitive person, I feel mental and physical sensations with disconcerting intensity. Practising photography allows me to understand them. I like to use a state of emotional overwhelm, feeling absorbed in the space in which I work. I try to materialise the invisible processes thanks to the use of flash, manipulating light, I underexpose and overexpose my images a lot. I seek to highlight minute details. I also refer a lot to my subjectivity, trying to make visible the spectres and ghosts of sensations that inhabit me. I don't like to get stuck in a photographic genre, I take pleasure in making unexpected images, but also sometimes I stage them. I always use different types of images, some are more classic and wise. In a sense, they are more talkative and become evidence. Alongside other images that are more conceptual, silent ones allow mysterious narratives.
AO: The title of your series translates to "There is nothing left but to root together." Could you delve deeper into the symbolism and meaning behind this title? How does it encapsulate the essence of your project and the connections you draw between individuals and the plant world?
FSDS: A greenhouse is a forced cohabitation, they sometimes get damaged, they have no choice but to find a balance together. The main question is how to be together. Living together side by side without shading the others. As an infinite mirage that can lead to the desire to expand thanks to relationships. The plant world works through non-verbal communication and signals. I see an interesting idea, both to recreate the link between the livings, but also to question our relationship with other individuals. Knowing how to listen to signals, being interested in those around us, listening to all ecosystems. When I decided that the series would take the form of a book, I started working with Clara Bonura and her publishing house Demi-teinte. We decided that an essay would accompany the images and she contacted Marion Renier, an artist and author she knew. So the title of my series comes directly from her writing work. I pitched the project and she wrote a small essay for the book. This sentence extract from her essay means a lot to me and I chose to keep it as the definitive title of the series.
AO: Botanical greenhouses are closed, artificial spaces that create a dream-like atmosphere. How does this environment contribute to the narrative and visual aesthetic of your project? How do you capture the essence of these spaces and the emotions they evoke?
FSDS: The greenhouse where I worked was particularly small, damaged and overloaded. This is also why the place interested me so much. In this space, assemblies of exotic plants create a change of scenery. I chose to show sometimes global views, like postcards, ideal dream spaces and sometimes textured close-ups of organic matter. I found the contrast between the sanitised space and the fragility quite an interesting way to illustrate my subject.
AO: Your work explores the intimate relationships between humans and non-humans, as well as our haunting of bodies and spaces. Could you elaborate on these themes and discuss how they manifest in your project 'Il ne reste plus qu’à s’enraciner ensemble’?
FSDS: I sincerely believe that we must learn to feel a connection to the organic and biological world that surrounds us. Our society is moving very quickly and we are sometimes distant from the living systems that live with us, nourish us and protect us. I am very interested in the bridges between our internal worlds and in the multiple facets of other living beings and their microcosm. I give them a metaphorical place. Very sensitive to what is imperceptible but felt, I look for ways to make them visible through images. In my project, I use photography to offer an internal, fantasised and spectral approach to a place that brings together multiple ethical questions.
AO: Your project explores invisible relationships and the unspeakable. How does photography, as a medium, help you uncover and communicate these hidden aspects? How do you balance the visual representation of the unseen with the tangibility of the photographic image?
FSDS: For this project, I wanted to use a very tangible approach in my images to suggest the sense of touch with a certain distance. I wished for the images to offer the feeling of touching something with your fingertips. Apprehend a certain shyness. I mostly use flash to get as close as possible to certain details, also trying to create both textured and distant images. I needed it to be soft, searching for visual ways to highlight fragility while playing with a certain aesthetic and unreality atmosphere. We have often made the shortcut that the photographic medium exists as the writing of light. However, from the first attempts, we quickly felt that it has become more of the main intermediary between reality and its perception. The photographic act is a sensitive capture of light and it reveals everything does not immediately seem visible in reality. I think photography practice gives to be more connected to the world, through this prism you engage your whole living experience into your photographs. Photographic images are the result of ways of seeing the world, thereby they channel a lot of subjectivity and choice of perception. I really like working with off-camera, the subject escapes from the image so that we can guess what accompanies it. I like to think of images that suggest more than they show, thus playing with the ambiguity specific to the photographic medium.