Born in 1981 in a small town near Buenos Aires, Argentinean artist Romina Ressia nearly lost herself in the hard-boiled world of money and finance, but thank God in her late twenties decided to follow her creative dreams. Reminiscent of classic Renaissance portraiture and still liFes, her images use such modern day items as a tennis racket, chewing gum or soft drink can to make a comment on contemporary society. Her series "Not About Death " shows elderly people dressed up as a superheroes lying in a coffin to confront us in a playful manner with such notions as heroism, death and decay.
Romina, you had a passion for the arts ever since an early age. How did that manifest itself?
I was all day drawing and attended many painting and drawing classes. I was only some eight years old when I asked my mother to enroll me on in a photography workshop, but at that time they did not have classes for children in the city where I grew up.
Still, you went on to study economics. It was only in your late twenties before you followed your heart and became a photographer. That must have been hard. No doubt, most people advised you to stay on the safer road. Could you tell us a bit more about that?
That was exactly what happened. I think art has always been my passion, but my family used to think it is a very complicated profession. They worried about how I would pay the bills in the future. I also studied for two years communication and graphic design, but did not like those careers. However, having worked in finance, and despite having good opportunities, I realized it just wasn’t my place at all.
Why study economics in the first place?
I guess because I used to be very good with numbers. In fact, I graduated with honors and in record time. I talk in the past tense because as my husband always jokes it seems I lost all of that ability when I started doing art … [laughs].
Enough about economics, let’s talk photography. Lens Culture nominated your series The Woman & The Hen in the prestigious 2015 Visual Story Telling Awards. What’s the idea behind "girl and the rooster"?
That picture is part of a project I am working on, entitled "The Champions".
The project explores how contemporary society sees and values things like glory and success. It talks about our preconceptions and values regarding talent and effort. It was born as a result of some personal questions about the scale of values in modern society. Last January I shot the second image of the series.
Your work is reminiscent of classic 17th century portraiture and still lifes, although you give it a modern day twist. What do you find so fascinating about 17th century art?
I am totally passionate about classic art and the Renaissance especially. I love its timelessness, the level of detail, the palette, the fact that the artworks allow us to discover new things even after centuries. But my work is more about the present than the past. I am very analytical regarding contemporary society and its behavior and I use things like anachronism and juxtaposition to create a timeline, on which one can see the evolution of mankind until today.
Where do you find costumes and props?
My sets are very austere and most of the time I use my own props and decors. Some objects are found at antique fairs. Clothes are not an easy thing, because that style is not very common today. So, often I also create the accessories and clothes for a shooting. There are also some Argentinian designers (like Pryor, Ramirez, Müller and DePorcellana) who have interesting designs that fit my photography. So, when possible, I also use their pieces.
Do you have your own studio?
I don’t have a studio. I rent one when I need it.
Your series "Not About Death" is a bit different from the rest of your work, as it shows (mostly) old people dressed as superheroes and lying in a coffin. Why the title?
The series is different as it does not have the painterly style that some of my other projects have, yet it still addresses contemporary issues. The title is precisely due to an inspiration that did not come from death. The work explores how, as individuals, we stopped in front of the real world, because of all the baggage we carry, inculcated through cartoons, comics and fictional characters throughout our childhood. It analyzes how strongly those values and beliefs have been incorporated into the collective memory and how resistant we can become against any external attempt threatening them. It also explores our vision regarding such basic issues as the passage of time, decay, its relation to human virtues and views on good and bad, the desirable and detestable.
All of the people you portrayed have an interesting story. So, Snow White was 94 and traveled 500 km to be portrayed by you. Who is she? And how is she today?
Yes, they are all amazing people with strong stories. Unfortunately, Cornelia, who posed as Snow White, passed away just a month before her 95th birthday. She was a mother of 12 children and lost six of them. She grew up in the countryside and despite having had a hard life, she always had a great attitude and sense of humor.
The only relatively young man is your partner who poses as Captain America. Why? And wasn’t it difficult to portray him in a coffin?
Well, I was a bit reluctant to portray him in a coffin, but I think the project demanded that commitment. I mean, the series talks about our resistance to accept certain changes and contradictions to the “collective memory,” and I considered that it was the best way to try to understand some of the aspects of how our mind works. The experience was very impressive, but after post-processing it, not in the moment of shooting, because we actually laughed a lot doing it.
Which photographers would you cite as a major inspiration?
My major inspiration comes from daily life. Talking about the painterly style, my aesthetics are mainly influenced by classic art, not by photography. Nevertheless, there are many photographers I like a lot, each with a particular style, such as Diane Airbus, Cindy Sherman, Eugenio Recuenco and Gregory Crewdson. Just to mention a few …
Most of our readers are not very familiar with Argentina. Give us five reasons why the rest of the world should come visit?
Beautiful landscapes; Argentinian people tend to be very friendly and open to foreign people; interesting cultural movement; Buenos Aires is a city that never sleeps; good food.
2015 was an amazing year for you: the Lens Culture nomination and some 10 exhibitions around the world. What will 2016 bring Romina Ressia?
I will continue working on my project "The Champions" and there are several interesting exhibition proposals for this year.