All images by Loreal Prystaj. Used with permission.
There may already be a multitude of projects exploring man’s relationship with nature, but among the best I’ve seen that embody this is the aptly titled Reflecting on Nature by New York City and London-based visual artist Loreal Prystaj. This visually stunning and clever body of work was evidently inspired by nature, but probably not in the way we mostly see. Instead of looking for a location based on an idea, Prystaj immersed herself in what she could find in her surroundings and let them work their magic on her project.
Her use of a mirror definitely embodies the “reflection” part of the image, but with the goal of showing us possible answers to some bold questions she raised. “What if nature looked at itself? What would it see? What would we be? Would our identity stand out or would we be a small detail? Would nature change us? Would we be a beauty mark or a blemish?”
While you ponder your answers to these questions as you browse through Reflecting on Nature, I invite you to also dig deep into Prystaj’s inspirations, motivations, and visions for this series in the interview below.
Phoblographer: Hello Loreal! Can you tell us something about yourself and what you do?
Loreal Prystaj: Presently, I am attending the Royal College of Art in London for my Masters in Photography, and will graduate June 2019! My work often exposes the relationship between nature and people, the human form and space, or man-made spaces and nature often with a juxtaposition of the body in its environment. I strive to express ideas through photography, which is the medium I use consistently — in installation and interactive pieces — as well as applying myself as a character or form in my performance and video work.
Phoblographer: How did you get into photography? How did you discover the kind of photography and imagery you make now?
Prystaj: I was introduced to photography when I was 18 years old. Before pursuing photography I painted and illustrated my ideas or concepts. I never felt satisfied practicing painting and illustration, though I continued to be attracted to the aesthetic of paintings and detail of illustrations. When new ideas would arise I would become discouraged because I could not work as fast as my concepts came to me. Photography was the happy medium – I still felt I was a painter, with light and shadow rather than paint and brush, but I was able to create images that kept up with my ideas.
Phoblographer: We’d like to know more about your Reflecting on Nature series. How did the idea come to you? What served as your inspiration for this project?
Prystaj: In 2016, I was accepted to attend the Arteles Residency in Finland. There, I had the opportunity to create whatever I wanted, and being that it was a completely new experience I wanted to shoot a series I felt the new environment inspired me to create. Like a dried sponge, I would try to soak up everything around me to discover something I had not thought of before. After many walks, observing my environment, and taking in my surroundings, Reflecting on Nature came to me.
Phoblographer: What made you decide to do this series as a self-portrait project?
Prystaj: It is easy to say I photograph myself as a character, form, or concept as a way to ‘self-express’, but it is much more than that. It is a personal response to my environment and what surrounds me at one given moment at a time. . . Which is in constant flux. Also, I often shoot, think of new concepts, and create by myself, dare I say, I am the most convenient model – I am always there!
Phoblographer: Reflecting on Nature features a lot of greenery and foliage. Was this intentional? Did you think about incorporating other elements for this series?
Prystaj: Yes, the series is full of all sorts of nature, that is for sure! As for adding more elements, I felt less was more in this case. The greenery and foliage was provided solely from my environment; rather than having and idea and finding the correct scene, my surroundings inspired me to create the series. The images were supposed to present a scene of nature interlaced with the beautiful uncanniness of human limbs.
Phoblographer: “Would our identity stand out or would we be a small detail?” you asked in your project statement. What would be your personal answer to this, seeing how Reflecting on Nature turned out?
Prystaj: On a large scale, we are in fact a small detail, but we do have an effect on Nature. Also mentioned in my statement is, “Nature is very relevant to each individual’s well-being, but more so than it is part of us, we are part of it.” I felt the images portrayed this well.
Phoblographer: Which aspect of this project did you find most challenging? How did you work around it?
Prystaj: The most challenging aspect of this project was being at the right place at the right time. Planning ahead to capture the right lighting was crucial. If the sun was out, oftentimes it would create glares in the mirror, so I had to wait for bright overcast days, for the most part. Also some elements of my environment were seasonal–for example, the field of yellow flowers only were in bloom for five days. Had I not photographed in that time frame it would have been a green field. Lastly, the fog was quite challenging to capture. I went through multiple trials, waking up earlier and earlier each day. On day four of trial and error I realized I had get up at 2:30AM, to be set up to capture the correct fog (and sunrise) by 3:45 AM! It was as though my process for Reflecting on Nature validated nature never comprises with humankind, but we have to abide by its schedule, weather, and cycles.
Phoblographer: Can you give us an idea about how you brainstorm for your projects? Do you find that ideas come to you as quickly or as often as you want/need them to?
Prystaj: I always keep a journal with me for moments when a new idea arises, but when I am stumped or want an idea to come to me, I often go for long walks, lay in the grass, go to a museum, almost anything to get my imagination or curiosity going. There are times my ideas come quickly and other time not so. What is most important to remember is that a relaxed mind is a creative mind.
Phoblographer: What do you consider to be the most crucial element that makes your style truly your own?
Prystaj: That is a hard question. Well, my work does change often depending on where I am – there is not one concept I try to present all the time– there are many. Depending on what inspires me at one given moment in time, my work changes, though the one thing that makes my work truly my own is that majority of it is me. I photograph myself often, even though this should not always be mistaken as “self portraiture”, but more so a form, concept, or character, for I do not often see “myself” in my work.
Phoblographer: Lastly, what would you advise those who want to develop their own unconventional approach to photography?
Prystaj: It is important to create work that genuinely comes from within. This is the only way that a new and unique point of view is found. It is an easy trap for an artist to generate work she perceives her audience will like. True, the viewer ultimately determines the greatness of an art piece — great art impacts a vast spectrum of people. But a volatile audience cannot be predicted, hence great art is rarely a calculated guess; it is often an accident. The only way an artist can introduce new perspectives is continuing to be curious, ask questions, and explore. Seeing the world through curious eyes leads to new discoveries.