Alexandra Benetel on the Evolution of Her Surreal Photographs

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All images by Alex Benetel. Used with permission.

Back in 2014, photographer Alex Benetel was honored amongst the Flickr 20 under 20 photographers. Her work is expressive, surreal, mysterious, and enchanting. It’s been two years and in two years, a lot can change in a photographer. One year you may not know how to use the shutter speed and over 365 days later you could be shooting in studios all the time.

Flickr is actually what got Alexandra into photography–and like many of us she was hooked on what the community used to be. To that end, Alex prizes the idea of a photo: citing that she tries to do as much as she can in-camera.

And her work? Well, it’s evolved while staying true to its themes.

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Phoblographer: Your inspiration comes from your own stories and experiences. So how do the ideas all come together? Metaphors?

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Alex: There are quite a number of symbols used in my work that help tie the pieces of the puzzle together. I’m not really aware of how it all comes together; I just let it happen naturally. To be honest, the time when I realize how my fictional stories and personal experiences come together is usually months or years later. When I look back on my older work, the insight I have now is extraordinary.
Lots of surreal photographers try to express themselves creatively through their images. So what feelings, emotions and ideas do you feel you’re often trying to express? A lot of it seems like a fascination with dreams and fantasy.

When I first started photography, it was all about raw emotion. I was photographing myself so honestly that it’s sometimes difficult to look back on those self portraits because to me, they say so much. There is still an element of that in my work, however you’re right in saying that it’s grown into something more towards dream and fantasy.

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I’m the type of person that feels things quite deeply. I’m often off staring into space, day dreaming about things that have happened in the past, but also about things that may happen in the future. I’m a real thinker too, always analysing situations and creating worlds where things I wish could happen actually happen. I channel all of this which is why my work is nostalgic and reminiscent of a time that has happened, might happen or you wish could happen. I guess that’s why people also tell me my work is quite romantic in a way because I romanticize things. Someone once told me that my images give “a sense that one lonely soul has been left behind, but the uncertainty is in which world and time that lost soul resides,” which I thought was very interesting.

Phoblographer: Do you storyboard? How do you go about explaining your ideas to your models when you’re shooting?

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Alex: It really depends. When I can picture an idea so vividly in my mind, I’ll try to sketch it out. Mostly I go into my shoots with a mind filled with jumbled thoughts that will hopefully make sense as I’m actually shooting. Directing my subjects is something I’m still working on because often I’ll know how I want the photograph to look but have trouble expressing that to someone else. I’m getting better though! A bad habit that I don’t mean to do when I’m taking a picture of someone is completely stop talking. I’m often just so in the moment and am in awe of what I’m seeing that I have to remind myself to tell them, “Oh, you’re doing an incredible job – keep doing that!”

Phoblographer: How much of your work is photoshopped vs all done in camera?

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Alex: I try to get as much of it in captured in camera. If I’m using props then they are definitely all brought to the shoot and captured on the day. Photoshop is where I do a lot of colour work. With some photographs, I work with the colours that were captured in camera and just enhance them with curves. However, with other photographs, I bring in new colours using selective colour, hue/saturation and curves adjustment layers. Another technique I also conduct in Photoshop is stitching multiple photos together to create a wider scene with a shallow depth of field. Ultimately, some photographs require more time in Photoshop than others.

Phoblographer: How do you feel your work has evolved in the past year? What’s different about it thematically?

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Alex: I think mostly I became more confident with photography in 2015. My parents are forever telling me that I doubt myself too much and that I worry. They’re right. I’m always worried about whether photo concepts will turn out, about consistency and about not sharing enough photos. I still do that, but I think just a touch less. I stepped out of my comfort zone last year by actively going out and taking photographs of new people who are now also new friends. The confidence that resulted from that was what I needed in order for my work to evolve to the next level. In terms of themes, I’ve spoken about that before. There are themes that stay the same and some that are new but I’d much rather let others identify the themes they see in my photographs. I like to keep that sense of mystery, which is an obvious theme throughout my work anyway.

Phoblographer: What creative direction are you trying to take these days with your work? And how do you feel its evolving?

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Alex: I try not to think about it too much because when I think too much, photographs don’t turn out. I’m at a different stage in my life now that I’ve never experienced before. I’ve just finished my teaching university degree and am in this sort of limbo state. Currently, I don’t have a consistent schedule, which is not usually how I operate.

This year is the year that I want to travel and pursue photography but I’ve got to push myself to actively do that and being a homebody makes that tough. As an artist, I always want to grow and take my work to the next level. I feel that I’m becoming more interested in character development and it’s an area I want to strengthen in my photographs. We’ll see what happens – it’s a process that can’t be forced so who knows where 2016 will take me.

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Phoblographer: What about your work do you feel makes it signaturely and uniquely yours vs that of other surreal photographers?

Alex: That’s a tough question. I like to think my work is unique enough for people to recognise that it’s mine. There are a lot of amazing conceptual and surreal photographers out there whose work I admire immensely. Whilst it can be easy to get caught up in a fictional story, telling my story is just as important…so that may make me differ from other photographers? I feel my editing is also quite different. I’d be curious to see how my audience would answer this question.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.