Tereza Cervenova is one of our favourite portrait photographers, and a huge young talent. Her work has a gentle subtlety beyond her years – both calming and questioning – and has already been recognised with prestigious prizes such as The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize and the D&AD New Blood Awards.
Here Tereza reflects on her practice – what inspires her, and what leads her on her journey of inquisition.
My work features predominantly people and their close environment and it is strongly connected to the human experience. Experience both spiritual, as well as physical. The human body and our feelings and emotions are the core elements of my photography and the way I use images for storytelling.
For me photographing people is the most natural thing. What I care about most in my practise is to be able to capture the closeness and intimacy people can have between each other. To be able to get under the skin of the viewers and let the image speak for itself in their own language.
I often find metaphors and echoes between people, places, and objects. People create environments and thus their personas are reflected in their space. These echoes and links between people and the world around them fascinate me and I am actively looking for these connections. I tend to look for the human element in objects, in plants, in architecture and vice versa. I believe that everything is interconnected in one way or another and in the urban environment it gets an even more interesting dimension – the way man influences, builds and changes the world around him becomes a direct evidence of his existence and I am interested in this tactility of growth and development.
Both of my most recent projects – Verse & See Through – have a very strong presence of these observations between the human and the reflection of the human in the other. In Verse I used the echoing of human gestures in plants and objects. In See Through I relied more on the power of association and multi-layeredness of the images. But in both series the focus is on that flow and space that surrounds us and what it means to us.
I study gesture all the time and sometimes I take photographs of the same movement, pose or expression over and over again because every time it’s somewhat different, every time I find something else in it. We constantly change as the life passes by and I am interested in capturing that change as it happens. I photograph people to whom I feel pulled towards, who have this emotional charge that makes me want to photograph them. The people I love and I want to remember the moments we spend together and give them an important place in my work. But also people who I don’t really know, chance encounters, friends of friends, passers-by, and in these encounters I explore how intimate and deep into the personal space of a person I can get and how this exchange between two strangers translates into the photograph.
Three of my probably most important images that I took last year are Yngvild, Sing, and Hold On. These three images were created in completely different situations and my relationship to the people in them varies greatly from image to image.
‘Yngvild’ is the portrait of a young woman in her profile, leaning onto the window, which causes this illusion, which interconnects the inside and the outside world, as she becomes part of both. I had never met Yngvild until the day I took this photograph, however, I have heard a lot about her. We have a very dear common friend Iekeliene, and it was her wedding in the summer of 2014 that we met for the first time. I took the photograph as Yngvild and I were left alone as our friend and her husband to be left to do some errands. We talked about all sort of things including how we manage to work as female artists in a contemporary art scene today. During the conversation I asked her spontaneously if I could take her portrait and she agreed. I only took one roll of film and when I took this photo it was one of those rare moments when I could feel I just captured something special. And indeed, thanks to this photograph I have been awarded the prestigious John Kobal Award, awarded to a photographer under the age of 30 chosen for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize in the National Portrait Gallery.
‘Sing’, is a photograph of Isabelle, girlfriend of my very good friend Deborah’s son Theo. I saw a photo of her on Facebook, in which she was with Theo (I had no idea then that they were a couple). There was something about her that made me go out of my comfort zone and I messaged Theo and asked him about ‘this girl with curly hair’. I asked if he knew her and if he thinks she would be up for sitting for a portrait for me. I was only then that I found out about their relationship and luckily Izzy was very happy to sit for me. As we were starting the session, we talked about her university and the fact that she sings in a choir in Cambridge and that one of her dreams has been to become an opera singer. She then went on to show me the proper way to breath and that’s when I saw it. There was something so unusual about that gesture, something that fascinated me. I asked her if she could hold it and that’s when I took the photograph. Now it has become one of the most important pieces in the still developing body of work See Through.
‘Hold On’ is probably my most favourite image from last year. It symbolises so much of what has happened to me last year, and also encapsulates the themes that are the core of my practice – intimacy, love, ambiguity, closeness, warmth, juxtaposition, loss, touch, caring. It is so ambiguous, it doesn’t give you any certainty of what is happening, however what it does give you is this vast field for interpretation. There is that tension between all the elements in the picture. The figure of a woman is the centrepiece; she is standing with her back to us, looking into the depths of a wardrobe. There is a hand, we cannot see whose hand it is, but the person is holding onto her and doesn’t want to let her go. There is this sadness in the image, which is in contradiction to the act of holding hands, which we normally associate with being in love and happiness. I can’t really put it down in words exactly what it is that is so captivating about that photograph but I can feel it’s very special and it means a lot to me.