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“In art as in vulnerability” : Through the lens of AGOSTINA CERULLO

Agostina Cerullo photographed by Jimmy Lee - Underground blog

Being a self-taught artist, at what age did you stumble across photography and start to realise that it was something you connected with as an art form?

I remember when I was a kid, I loved going through the family photo albums and I have vivid memories of looking through filmstrips and opening envelopes containing the photographs just developed. It seemed to be something so ordinary for everyone around me, but it was fascinating for a kid like me.

When I was a teen, around 15 or so I needed an escape route and I found photography provided that for me. I was creating without being aware of technicalities, rules or composition but I realised I had an eye for it, and it captivated me enough to start diving into the wonderful world of art.

Did you have any inspirations for your work, or is your style one that you discovered yourself?

In general, I am hugely inspired by the 70s, it was a time I wish I had lived in, and I believe unconsciously it comes out in everything I do. On numerous occasions various people have mentioned that my work and I reminded them of the 70s.

I really appreciate and admire Vivian Maier’s and Robbert Mapplethorpe’s work although I discovered my style after many times of trying different things that did not work.

Agostina Cerullo photography Underground England blog

In your own words, you believe in “creation as in destruction, in art as in vulnerability” what do you mean by this and how has this mindset influenced your work?

I grew up listening to Argentinian rock and there is this song that goes ‘’para odiar hay que querer, para destruir primero hay que hacer’’ which means to hate you’ve got to love, to destroy you’ve got to create first.

A few years ago, I stumbled across that song again and it sort of hit me, I realised you can’t have one without the other, they go hand in hand. Every time I am creating, I am destroying something else, but every time I’m destroying, I am creating something new at the same time.

It has influenced me and my work in a way to be more daring, more experimental and less scared of the outcome, of what it might look or feel like.

I believe that to create real art one needs to be vulnerable either with themselves or with others, vulnerability is the root behind creation and destruction as they are two sides of the same coin.

Whether it is your portraiture work, or the work that is more documentary style, there is a deep level of intimacy to your work, what is the thought process behind your specific choice in subjects?

I am glad you can see that. I like to create an intimate relationship with my subjects although most of them are strangers, I like to make them feel comfortable and I want them to be vulnerable in front of the camera.

I want people that aren’t the typical beauty standard. I want real people, with real imperfections, with real body hair and real fat, natural people, people that have a story, people that tell a story by the way they look, their style, scars etc. People that have been less represented by the media. People that aren’t scared of looking weird, because we all are.

Most of the people I have photographed for my series of portraits are artists, dancers, musicians, I find them more open to vulnerability and interested into expressing emotions.

Agostina Cerullo photography Underground England blog

On set you said that you work around the energy of the subject, has this led to any subjects that you have taken photos of that you have seen yourself in, and related to on a deeper emotional level?

Yes! There were more than a few people with whom we found we had either similar life stories or struggles and we had insightful and deep conversations. Someone mentioned that they felt so much lighter after the shoot as if they let out everything they were holding onto.

I guess most of my subjects are also chosen under the fact that in one way or another there is something in them that I see reflected in myself. The creation as much as it is about portraying their essence it also reflects mine.

Art itself is something anyone can create, however as someone of a marginalised background, how important do you think it is that the image making industry has become more inclusive?

In a male lead industry, it is so important! Younger girls need to see that they have the choice to become what they want to be and that there is so much more than only looking pretty. I was personally tired of seeing everything through the male gaze. I am happy that things are slowly changing and its inspiring to see other women creating.

As you have stated, as a female photographer you have experienced sexism before, was there any specific examples of this, and how did you learn to overcome the prejudices thrown against you?

Well, there are some men that think just for the mere fact of being a man they are smarter and know more about their subject than women do. I find that sad and irritating. I have never felt that I was less capable than a man to do the things that I like to do. If there are men that think that way, then they should know that the problem is in their heads.

I am usually very selective with the people I work with and I much rather working in smaller groups hence I don’t give too much opportunity for this to happen.

Although sexism is everywhere, every day.

That is why we should keep on being vocal about it and ignore the stupid and irrational prejudices that come along with being vocal and standing up for what is wrong, which usually are being considered a crazy and angry woman.

Agostina Cerullo photography Underground England blog

With far more acceptance in the fashion and art world, the questioning of beauty standards is something that has now become very common, do you believe that it has now become sensationalised, and even commercialised, losing the weight that it used to hold?

I mean in a way yeah it has and that makes it a great thing, for younger people to see natural people, people like them being in magazines, editorials, adverts.

It’s good to see others speaking publicly and showing normal things such as body hair, unedited skin, and natural body fat.

But at the same time, that doesn’t mean that beauty standards have actually lost the weight they used to hold, they have simply changed. Since the filters in social media were created, they are having a major effect in people of all ages, they allow you to change your facial structure completely into a ‘’perfect’’ version of yourself, hence when you see your normal self you can wonder why you don’t look pretty enough. I have heard crazy stories of teenagers wanting to go under surgery to look just like some of those filters. That is insane and it needs to stop. I appreciate people are being vocal about this subject, but we need to raise even more awareness, imagine what would it be like to be growing up and find all those face tuning tools, it is not surprise that depression statistics keep on rising even in younger people.

You have an upcoming exhibition at The Brick Lane Gallery starting the 6th of July, how does it feel to both be chosen to have your work curated, and having a wider audience view the messages that you portray through your art?

It is very exciting as I have been wanting to exhibit with them since last year and I am in awe to have finally been chosen to do so.

I think that in the digital age it is so important to keep on having real exhibitions, I feel like most work that we throw on socials go unappreciated, and it feels so different to see work printed and hanging up on a wall.

For me, the most important part of exhibiting is getting other people to see and engage with my work. I love finding people interested or even uncomfortable while looking at it. I want questions to arise when they are observing.

Agostina Cerullo photography Underground England blog

Recently you have done more editorial work and even ventured into making music videos, is your portraiture series something that you are looking to move away from, to try different visual narratives and image making types?

Hmm… I can’t fully answer that with all clarity. Honestly, it’s quite a struggle living inside my head, I am constantly changing my mind about things. Sometimes I feel like I am a different person every day.

What I can say is that lately I’ve been getting tired of my series of portraits but then a week later I find my love for it again… I might want to start another series of portraits but this time portraying people in their own space to show a rawer style. Although that will require some planning again and when shooting, I am all for spontaneity.

I’ve been wanting to shoot more street photography for a while now and I think it’s about time I do it and stop being self-conscious about it.

I am always looking to widen my skills, and I love the experimentation phase when I have no idea of what I’m doing. That’s what videos have been for me, an experimental phase. I’ve always had ideas that I wanted to make into videos and now that I have the basic understanding on how to edit, I feel like I finally have a point to start from.

In terms of moving forward I don’t think I will leave portraits behind me as people are among my favourite subject to photograph.

What can we expect from you next?

I have no idea, but I will be creating, and you can expect a variety of things from me, from a new series of photographs to experimental videos, to new drawings, abstract art, or poems, maybe even music. I have so much inside of me and so many outlets I love, I usually go with my intuition, and I create whatever feels right in the moment.

Although what I can say is that there are 2 books in the making, one of photographs and one of my time living in Venice Beach, LA.

Our ongoing series of reports on emerging and established artists with close-up Q&As, gallery reports and exhibition reviews, with a special emphasis on supporting diversity in art, women in art and the independent art scene.

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