NATALIE SO

Interview by Ruben Davis

Natalie is a Sophomore concentrating in VES. Chris Killip’s Intermediate is her third photography class. Previously she took Greg Halpern’s Intro and Sharon Harper’s Intermediate classes.

Ruben Davis: So why pizza?

Natalie So: Well I was originally working with street photographs of people, because over the summer I was doing street portraits in New York, mainly I was loitering outside of the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center for like 4 hours at a time, and shoot people coming in and out of there. It was actually a suggestion of Peter Sutherland. He was like, “You know, you look so harmless. You should just go out there and ask to take pictures of people.”

I wanted to continue that here, but the first few weeks – you know, last year I used a digital camera and it was faster and you can be more stealthy, but this year with the Mamiya – I don’t know, people seemed to be more guarded. Didn’t want their pictures taken.

RD: I can relate. Its hard to sneak up on someone when your camera seems foreign to them.

NS: Yeah, so I was really frustrated one weekend, and I was walking past ABC pizza and there was this little girl in the window who looked so sad and I just really really wanted to photograph her. So I went inside the pizza shop and ended up asking her and her father if I could photograph them. After that I was just like, “Why don’t I just photograph other people in here?”

I realized that when people are eating, their guards are really down, they’re open to being social, willing to be on camera, and surprisingly people weren’t self-conscious. I feel like there’s a certain demographic of people who go to pizza shops who aren’t as self conscious as, for instance, well I’ve found that middle aged women of middle class are the most self conscious people. They don’t want to be photographed. But people in pizza shops are fine with it.

RD: So it’s because of socio-economic status that they’re comfortable?

NS: Well, no. I’ve always been interested in adolescence, and Angelo’s where most of these photos were taken is great for that because all the Cambridge Ridge & Latin kids go their for their lunch break, so then it turned into taking pictures of people in pizza shops just kind of happened.

RD: So what do you see in common between the images you ended up including?

NS: A lot it is based on the person being photographed. The ones I ended up choosing had something interesting in their gaze. There’s no particular characteristic, but maybe I’m interested in the commotion going on in the pizza shop. Its interesting because you start finding all of these similarities and patterns between the shops. Like the checkered floors, the painted walls, the type of people who work there, it’s all great.

RD: So this seems a pretty far cry from street photography. You know, the LES Center for Harm Reduction isn’t exactly Cambridge Rindge and Latin.

NS: Yeah. Every semester I feel like I’m oscillating between shooting inside and outside, but I feel like it’s the same exploration of people. I’m just interested in people, not on an anthropological level, just people.

RD: Well I think the formal similarities between the photos help connect the people, you know, establish a human commonality. You mentioned the checkered floors…

NS: The chairs are actually really interesting because you find that a lot of the chairs are red but in Harvard House of Pizza the benches are orange, same with in ABC pizza, and then in Angelo’s they’re like middle school chairs. Its bizarre. Angelo is kind of an anomaly because it’s the only place that has cool tones, you know? Its weird, most pizza shops use really warm colors like orange and red.

RD: So did you try to have them have like a unifying or contrasting color scheme?

NS: No… these are just my favorites of the ones I’d taken. I feel like they all say something different, so that’s enough.

RD: Is there anything about your own process that’s changed over the year?

NS: So to make the boy photographs from last year, I went into peoples’ house and shot them over and over. I feel like that’s kind of what I did with the pizza places, cause I’d seen most of the people over and over. I mean its not as intimate, but they’re still moments of vulnerability. I mean, I don’t like constructing the image (even though I’d like to try that at some point) I just like putting myself in a setting where I don’t know what’s going to happen.

RD: There’s a totally different way a baby interacts with the camera than this photo of a baby from your earlier work. I feel like you’re trying to play with the performative nature we expect from a portrait, and other times you disregard that expectation.

NS: With teenagers, sometimes they like to play-act in front of the camera, but I try to avoid that. If I take a series of them, there’s always one where they’re not as tense and those are the great ones, that’s who they are. That’s what I try to get.

To see Natalie’s earlier work, visit www.nataliesophoto.com

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