Italian photographer Guia Besana‘s work explores notions of the duplicitous world in which womanhood and perfection are synonymous. Using personal and deeply felt experiences to depict complex but universally felt emotions, Besana has become an unexpected champion of the female condition. Her series Baby Blues depicts the surreally isolating experience of raising a young child, while Under Pressure speaks to larger issues of women attempting an impossible balance of work, marriage and motherhood, beauty and acceptance in the contemporary world. The photographs are colorful nightmares of psychological tensions, each woman trapped or suspended in these alternate universes of expectation. We asked Besana about her inspiration and how she uses Squarespace to keep her audience up-to-date with fresh work without sacrificing design or utility.
Your series Under Pressure and Baby Blues both explore the anxiety that simply goes along with being female. Why do you choose to focus on these issues?
“In photography I have always been drawn to subjects involving women. Becoming a mother has crucially influenced and changed my personal work and has drawn my attention to subjects which are directly related to me.
“I became pregnant 3 years after I moved to Paris. At that time I was working on assignments for magazines and I was very happy to have a child. I had a happy pregnancy but when I found myself at home, with my newborn baby, I realized the difficulty of coping with work and motherhood. I wanted to do both well. My daughter is the best thing that happened to me in life and photography is obviously not compatible with the first period of motherhood since it demands physical efforts and absence from household. That’s when I considered translating these visions and feelings into my photography. I was hearing about all my freelance girlfriends struggling with the same issues, conflicted about being a working mother. Giving a voice to this subject was something important to do and to share. Dealing themes personal to me make it easier to go in depth.
“Under Pressure is the evolution of the previous series Baby Blues. After this series, I felt like exploring further the relationship of our society and women’s roles in it. There is a lot of talk about regarding female leadership, empowerment, etc. Women are often pushed to outperform in society and against masculine performance indicators. I wanted to treat the subject of the multiple roles of women through a more feminine, instinctive and direct perspective.”
How important is the performative aspect of your work? What are you hoping to convey with the staged, theatrical quality of these images?
“The staging process is very important for my work. Mainly because the pictures I make are a translation of scenes I have in mind. Inspiration comes from the amalgamation of different ideas: observation, expressions, notes I take and stories I hear. The challenge is to create an image which I like to say is ‘suspended’. I like the photo to read as a pause between something which is occurring and something more compelling which is not immediately clear.”
The home in your work ceases to be a safe space and becomes more complex. Could you tell us a bit about the role of the domestic setting in your images?
“Visually domestic settings are charged with immediate symbolism and acknowledged values. I like to start from there and then give a twist. It creates that contradiction I like to work on.”
Some of your props have very pointed meanings (the wedding veil), while others are more ambiguous (the sports helmet). Could you tell us a bit about your use of these elements?
“I try to simplify the message by respecting obvious choices of props. This gives an immediate starting point. In the case of the wedding veil, the choice is quite obvious; for the helmet, I picked something which could translate as the separation from the real world that the woman feels. She is dressed for an evening party, but holds a working suitcase and appears apart from reality. It’s as if she’s moving forward by inertia; blinded with all her thoughts wrapped in the helmet.”
Could you tell us a bit about the specific tropes of femininity you play off of?
“I work in conflicting themes – burn-out, marriage, ideal love, search for happiness, relationship with one’s own body, technology and more.”
What are the pros and cons of commercial work?
“Commercial work is necessary in a photographer’s career. I think it is the area of our work where we confront ourselves with a challenge: trying to create something which responds to the needs of the client while maintaining a personal signature. It is a mistake to think it is not possible. Commercial work can be an opportunity to develop also personal work.”
What Squarespace template did you choose and why?
“I chose Atelier for its simplicity.”
Your website features a wide variety of images and galleries. How did you keep everything organized while still maintaining a clean aesthetic?
“For galleries sections I chose to edit pictures that are coherent in form and charged with my personal vision. I post work in the ‘News’ section that are a little different.”
What’s your favorite feature of your Squarespace site?
“I love template switching … it’s fun to use even though I tend to stay with the same one! Also the flexibility you have in changing color, font, layout, etc. Very simple.”
As an artist, what are the benefits of being in control of your own site as opposed to having a designer built one for you?
“Major benefit for me is being autonomous. It increases the possibility to update the site with new work at any time, and I do so frequently. One of the major problems I notice in websites is seeing same works for ages …”
Do you have any upcoming shows or events where people can see your work?
“I’m showing two prints from Under Pressure in my hometown of Turin, Italy at the Photissima Art Fair from November 6 – 30th, 2014. Baby Blues is also now in Marie Claire France for November. I was able to put the tear sheet on my website today!”
All images © Guia Besana