Evelyn Bencicova: I Am Absolutely in a Trance When I Am Shooting
For Evelyn Bencicova photography is a craft, a calling and a way of life. Her obsession with shooting is transmitted to her assistants and models — the poses that the young women were in were sometimes so uncomfortable they had marks left all over their bodies, but they were so absorbed in the process they didn’t pay any attention to them. Evelyn told Bird In Flight how she earned the money for her first camera, how she sees pain and close relationships, and why it is not enough to be a beautiful model to take part in her project.
Grew up in Bratislava, Slovakia. Currently studying in Vienna at the University of Applied Arts, class of photography and fine art.
Before taking up photography, I was working as a model. This was the only way to earn money for camera equipment. The other option was to work at McDonald’s. This was also a perfect opportunity to come closer to the creative process. I was observing how photographers are working, about the light on my face, to understand the angles, to see the process from many sides. Since then, my strong side is communication. I can communicate well with people and get close to them. It’s also because I don’t see models as somebody who just come in and give me their best face for the photo. For my projects, I really want to choose people who I want to photograph and get closer to. Most of the time I photograph friends or people with whom I intend to be friends with. This way they are giving me something for the photo. I really appreciate it and I also feel that I need to give something back to them. I don’t think that the photography process is a one-sided thing.
When I was a kid, I always knew what I wanted to be, but when the time was coming closer to the point when I really needed to decide what I would be doing, everything was becoming more blurry. If I were to think about the specific moment when I decided to be a photographer, I can’t actually really say. A lot of times I am mentioning my eye surgery. Before I was 18 I had a really big problem with my eyesight. I was wearing – 8 glasses. Without them I was almost blind. I started photographing after that. As a child I was never dreaming of being a photographer. I always knew that I would have some creative tendencies but I was never thinking about this specific medium. When I was a kid I was always trying to bring some kind of magic to children around me. It was depressing for me to see people who had nothing to do, just sitting at home and waiting for the day to end, and then another day will come, and then end. I was never like this. I am very fascinated with everything.
The basic idea of the project “Close” is to show the relationships between two people that can be really different. I did not know that this was going to be a project. I just wanted to make one photo, which is now my favorite photo — the one with a girl and a cat. I wanted to photograph this feeling of being close, but it’s quite impossible to stage the cat. At one moment it happened, the cat was in the right pose and I found the moment I was looking for. I liked that I had a clear vision of what I wanted, but I did not have it absolutely under my control.
The title is “Close” but the kinds of relationships between people are different. Sometimes it’s more about empathy or fighting — different emotions that can occur when people are close to each other.
For most of the models, and I often work with amateur models, photo shooting with me is quite unusual. There are two kinds of attitudes that I have towards my work. One is when I am more of a psychologist, talking to people, having the time to know one another. And the other one when I am more like a “dictator”. An example is my project “Ecce Homo”, when there were a lot of people and all the conditions were not perfect. The topic of “Ecce Homo” is humanity. And this is the main reason for leaving out the faces. It really does not matter in these photos who is in the picture. I wanted it to be anybody. If we could see faces, it would destroy the whole effect to see people as humans.
There is nothing more human than our body. The absence of clothes is not there just to show the nude or to make it more provocative.
Clothes are saying a lot about you, your social class and the era. I like to do photos that are timeless and you cannot really tell if they are made now or twenty years ago. The poses were really uncomfortable. Sometimes we finish and models show me marks all over their body. When I ask them why they didn’t tell me, they say that they heard such enthusiasm in my voice that it got into them and they just wanted to hold it.
I am absolutely in a trance, like an obsessed person, when I am shooting. I am addicted to it. I am in my studio from the morning till late in the night. People come, we sit and talk, then we take photos the whole day like this. Photography is a great way to live my life and how I get to know different people.
My photography is also about my and other people’s experience during the shooting. I love the feeling when people are in front of my camera. I am happy that there are so many people who are willing to do it for me. In a project like “Ecce Homo” this is such a compliment, as they will not be recognizable in the photo. One friend who was assisting me was telling me that he could also do it, but he just did not know how to force twenty people to come and do the same.
I really like painting and I go often to the galleries. It’s a great inspiration for the light and composition. I can be inspired for years by a movie or a picture I like.
When I already know what I am doing, I am also trying to do some research, to read about the topic and to be educated about it. Though I am not the kind of conceptual artist who is developing the whole idea of the project and then just follow it. For me it will be a bit forced. It’s more about my interest. All of the things come naturally.
For example, for ‘Ecce Homo’ I got inspired by a really basic day when I was waiting in the hospital for almost 11 hours. I had really bad pain.
I was observing all the people around me, and their reaction and behavior changed during these hours. I thought about how people feel after so many hours of pain, and that in the end you are just left just with your human emotions. I got inspired to explore this topic.
I always knew what kind of movement and composition I want for the images, but I did not do sketches, everything was done during the shooting process. In some photos there is a perfect symmetry, in others one person is trying to get on top and push down other people. It was stressful, as most of the time I did it secretly, so we did not have much time. At some of the locations nobody even knew we were there and what we were shooting.
I like location scouting. The viewer can see when my photos are about people or places. “Ecce Homo” is more about places. Most of the time location is a starting point for me. It’s hard to choose, but when I come to the location I have the feeling that this is a place. I don’t want to sound esoteric, but I just feel the energy. I am still partly based in Slovakia because it is good for locations.
The project “Asymptote” is in process, and it still does not have a clear concept. It started with a common interest with my friend and colleague Adam Csoka Keller with whom I am working together on it, about the life of our parents and grandparents, and previous generations in general. We understand, of course, that their lives were influenced a lot by the regime. By listening to their stories we wanted to compare the differences between the generations, what kind of heritage, message and influence that generation is passing to the following one. We want to connect photos with information from the interviews that we started to do with different people about their lives under socialism.