Fernando Sciotto Captures the Cycle of Life in Infrared (NSFW)

“The day I found out about Kodak Aerochrome, I knew I must have it,” the photographer Fernando Sciotto tells me. “The film is expired, discontinued many years ago. The colors are unreal. All the mystique around that film seemed poetic to me, so I bought it knowing that one day I was going to need it to do something special. I got it from eBay for about €120 a roll (35mm), and I had it in my fridge for several months.”

You can view this article and much more with minimal banner ads in our brand new app for iOS, iPadOS, and Android. And for $24.99/year, you can have a banner ad-free experience.

The opportunity to use that rare infrared film came in 2021 with the conception of the series Vitae Cyclum, an exploration of the cycle of life from birth to death and what lies beyond it. With this project, Sciotto tells the story of Gaia–both the model’s real name and the name of a Greek goddess–and a trio of mortal women, meant to represent humankind. 

In Greek mythology, the primordial goddess Gaia emerged from Chaos and gave birth to all life that followed. In Sciotto’s imagining, Gaia plays a similar role, but in his version, she’s the master not only of birth but also of death. The women die, and Gaia is left alone. I’m glad the artist kept that film in his freezer for as long as he did. The use of Kodak Aerochrome feels doubly poetic when paired with a series about mortality. Sciotto took something dead – an expired roll of film – and used it to give rise to something new.  

The essential gear of Fernando Sciotto

  • Contax RTS 35mm
  • Carl Zeiss 50mm f1.7 lens
  • Tiffen FLB Orange filter
  • Sekonic L-308x light meter
  • Kodak Aerochrome III 1443 135 film

Sciotto tells us:

“In this project, I used my Contax RTS 35mm with its respective Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.7 lens, a Tiffen FLB Orange filter, a Sekonic L-308,  and Kodak Aerochrome III 1443 135 film. The development was done in the REVELAB laboratory in Barcelona (process E6) and scanned with a Fuji Frontier SP3000.”

Phoblographer: Please tell us how you got your start as a photographer. What drew you to the medium, and what drew you to analog photography in particular?

Fernando Sciotto: There was a moment three years ago when I started a very long trip around Europe and Asia. I was always fascinated by the National Geographic photographers, who traveled the world taking photos, mixing with other cultures from a non-tourist point of view. So I decided to buy my first digital camera to accompany me on the trip.

I started with analog photography in June 2020. I did it out of curiosity. I wanted to get some vintage lenses for my digital camera, like the classic Helios 44-m, so I bought a Zenit 12 XP and went to test it out. Seeing the results I had, the experience filled me with satisfaction, and it was something that I hadn’t felt for a long time with digital photography. At that moment, everything changed for me. 

Phoblographer: Please tell us the story behind this idea and how it originated. Who are these women, and what do these characters represent to you? 

Fernando Sciotto: I wanted to work on a new series dedicated to the cycle of life, with an emphasis on irremediable death. It may seem a bit dark, but it is nature. I prepared the concept. I wanted simple images that look like an ethereal dream: bodies and nature together, reminding us of a passage from Genesis.

I divided it into ten images, following an order, and I also wrote an attached poem as a description of the project. The girls are Gaia, Eva Boch, Laura Rodriguez, and Yolanda. Gaia’s name is a great coincidence because she represents life on earth. Eva, Laura, and Yolanda represent humanity, and the hourglass represents time.

Phoblographer: These figures seem to be participating in a spiritual rite. Is that right? Was it inspired by a specific spiritual practice, religion, myth, or story?

Fernando Sciotto: Yes, I really wanted the images to generate a visual impact, with the poses of the models emulating a ritual, but I did not use specific ritual references. Each of the ten photos has its title: birth, discovery, notion of time, acceptance, teach, the world, love, death, the trip, and restart. Then we simply interpret each photo according to its meaning in the cycle of life.

Phoblographer: The idea behind this shoot, the cycle of life, touches on the inevitability of death. What memories, experiences, or emotions motivated you to explore this universal subject?

Fernando Sciotto: I am a person who has left everything and risked a lot to travel the world. I have traveled to 40 countries. I have lived in China, Argentina, Uruguay, and Spain, but I also spent long periods in Russia, the Caucasus, and Thailand. When I do photographic work, I basically seek to incorporate what I have seen traveling. I have a somewhat pessimistic and dark vision of the world. I have seen things that take away your hope in humanity. In my works, all that darkness is reflected a little–even in the colorful works that seem happy, there is always a bit of shadow hidden.

Phoblographer: How did you choose the models for this series? Why do you think your models trusted you with this idea, and why did you trust them to bring it to life?

Fernando Sciotto: Gaia was the exact profile I was looking for to represent life on earth. I already knew her because we had taken photos before. Eva is an illustrator and designer, and Laura is an actress. They are my friends, and I knew that they were going to understand my idea and that they were going to do it well. Yolanda is a photographer/model that I met that same day.

When I created the concept, I wrote it down on a piece of paper, and I showed it to the models. I explained to them how the infrared film worked and what I was looking for, and luckily everything turned out very well.

Phoblographer: What are some of the unique creative possibilities you discovered while using Aerochrome, and how did you take advantage of them in this series?

Fernando Sciotto: The film is expired, and a filter is needed. The ASA of the film was not very clear because it is shot differently depending on whether it is on the ground or aerially. The results that we see from the Kodak Aerochrome on the internet, with the natural landscapes tinted red or fuschia, are photos taken with large format cameras or medium format. I have talked to some people who had already used the film, and they clarified that they then edited the color in Lightroom to make it look red. That disappointed me a bit. 

I did not find many examples in 35mm–only the ones that the film seller gave me. To remove any doubt, I shot each photo at three different ASA settings to ensure I got what I wanted. My results are genuine without any editing. The colors have not been altered, but they could look different using other types of filters, obviously. I used a Tiffen FLB; maybe using a yellow filter could be different.

You’ll notice that my skies are not turquoise. Everything acquires a very homogeneous pastel pink tone, but in some photos, you can see the red leaves. I knew it was going to give me a “dream” aesthetic because it was expired.

Phoblographer: Did the limited, finite nature of the film influence your approach? Did it force you to be more intentional about the shots you took?

Fernando Sciotto: Yes, because it is a complicated film, and I had to shoot with very low ASA, I chose the spaces depending on the light, avoiding the noon shadows.

Phoblographer: Where did the shoot take place?

Fernando Sciotto: It was near Barcelona. In a place called Gallecs, there are hills with wheat plantations. In winter, only green meadows are visible. I wanted there to be green for the Aerochrome to turn it into fuchsia. The good thing about this place is that going a little deeper, you can only see nature, without buildings, roads, or other things that I did not want to appear in my photos.

Phoblographer: What is your favorite memory from your time making these images? Any moments that sent chills down your spine?

Fernando Sciotto: I remember well what I saw through the camera’s viewfinder. Each shot was very well thought out. What analog photography has is that magical moment where you see the result of all your effort–a feeling of accumulated surprise. And when I saw the first photos, the one of the arm and the one of the spine, with those shadows and the red tones on the leaves, that was special. 

All photos by Fernando Sciotto. Used with permission. For more from Sciotto, be sure to follow along on Instagram at fernandosciotto. Follow along on Facebook at FernandoSciottoArts and on Behance at fernandosciottoart.