by Anya Kowalchuk
Nina Chabel is in third year double majoring in English Literature and Art History. In addition to school and photography she sits on the Art History Students Association, the Fridge Door Gallery, as well as the Fridge Door Gallery Editorial board. In other words, she’s a busy girl. Luckily, I managed to chat with her at the Fridge Door Gallery 10th anniversary vernissage. The works she had on display are 3 35 mm photographs from her trip to St. Petersburg. She describes how they relate to the vernissage’s theme of materialize in her artist statement as follows.
These photographs of various modes of transportation I have encountered over the summer in St-Petersburg, Russia serve to remind the viewer of our physical form and how it transforms into movement and lets us experience various physical spaces. Transportation and its mechanical features serve to connect us with the world in a large or small scale: we are able to physically experience art in its material form by moving through space. When I was in St-Petersburg I highly relied on public transportation to bring me from one museum to the next where I was able to look at and appreciate a vast number of artworks.
Transportation facilitates our experience of materiality and brings communities closer to each other. The materiality of public transportation is often overlooked but it is what lets us experience the movement and energy of the people who are in movement with us. Myself, a being composed of material matter was moving through a city full of other material beings and I was able to experience art composed of materials that stood the test of time.
AK: ok how did you get into film photography? what sparked you interest?
NC: I was always using disposable cameras and point and shoot cameras to take pictures of my friends and it’s actually exactly last year that I decided that I wanted to get into photography more seriously. I wanted to have an artsy hobby that I was good at so I decided to try out photography. I bought my first digital camera last year but didn’t end up using it much because it had so many options and buttons and was pretty overwhelming. But, during the winter break last year I found out that McGill had a photography club so I signed up for a membership in January 2017 and started renting film cameras from the club and using their scanner to scan my film and eventually I ended up getting my own camera and kept on with taking pictures.
AK: do you work in other mediums or is film photography it for you?
NC: I tried painting and drawing but I’m very impatient. I want to see results right away. Also, I’m not really good at painting or drawing. I love that film photography is less abstract in the sense that you kind of already have an idea of what your picture is going to look like when you take it. But I also love the element of surprise in film photography where you don’t know exactly how the photo turned out: if you applied the right settings when you took the photos, did your film get exposed?
AK: could you tell me about your trip to St Petersburg and what kind of role photography played in exploring your heritage and a culture you’ve grown up with but not necessarily been completely surrounded by
NC: My grandparents are from Russia but I’ve never been to Russia myself, so this was my first time getting in touch with my roots. I was completely amazed and in awe with the whole city, its people and its architecture and I was taking pictures non-stop because I wanted to remember everything. I was taking pictures of almost everything, even the most mundane things like street signs and park benches because I really wanted to capture all of Russia’s essence. Living there for a month I relied heavily on public transportation to bring me from one place to another and I was amazed by how different it was from the STM and how many options there were (bus, trolleybus, metro, tramway, private bus!). I think that my photos really fit the materialize theme, with me materializing from one space to another in Russia along with the other public transport passengers.
AK: what kind of photography are you interested in? what do you look to for inspiration(photographers/styles/movements)?
NC: So far, I think my photos revolve around street photography and maybe documentary photography? But I am interested in all kinds of photography. I’m a big fan of Martin Parr’s and Thomas Struth’s work. Everything still feels so new to me and I’m still learning about all the photographers and techniques and everything else! In the future, I definitely want to expand on the kinds of pictures I’m taking. Right now, once finals madness is over I want to focus on a portrait project.
I try to look for inspiration in everything. I really love Instagram because there are so many photographers, experienced photographers and photographers who are just starting out, who are sharing their work! So, it’s really great to see what everyone else is doing. I am also a big fan of magazines and coffee table picture books
AK: what’s the next step for you as an artist- is photography something you’re interested in pursuing in any capacity?
NC: I really hope to keep on with photography; this has been my longest hobby! But I also want to learn more about the technical side of photography and hopefully in the near future, when I’m not too busy with exams, learn how to develop my own photos. Right now I’m finishing up with my art history and English literature undergrad degree and thinking about grad school. If I do end up in grad school, photography in an art historical aspect is definitely something I would want to study!