“This series was inspired by all those things, but very specifically by the work of Carl Jung and the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard,” explains photographer Danielle Quenell about her series Spatial Primitives. “They both wrote extensively on the psychological aspects of physical space and architecture– how we shape it and how it, in turn, shapes us.” When you consider that Danielle did this project during the pandemic while living in a studio apartment, it becomes more fascinating. Part of the American Dream is to have a big three-bedroom house with a large family, a picket fence, and all. But that dream has fallen out of favor for most of us. Danielle embraced the distance from people as she let her creativity flow freely.
As a teenager, photographer Danielle Quenell frequented second-hand stores way before it was the cool thing to do. Like many of us today, she rescued vintage cameras from junk bins. When she found something she liked, she took it home and figured it out. Then she started experimenting with self-portraiture. It’s part of how she was able to explore “interior states” that she didn’t have another way to express. Her project, Spatial Primitives, is a fascinating exploration of this. Danielle’s approach is more in line with a photographer like Lidia Vives, who also became more creative during this time alone. Other photographers like Brian Bowen Smith, Kent Corley, and Chris Hoare spent time exploring as safely as they could. The differences in the way more introverted photographers approached their own vs. extroverted are quite stark. Danielle used herself as her subject in her work, trying to get into the most inhabitable places within her home.
“The idea of ownership of space started to seem kind of absurd when I was confined to it, and yet I had this idea that if I were paying for all of it, I may as well use it,” she states in an interview with the Phoblographer. “I was also interested in trying to find new ways to inhabit the space and intentionally positioning myself in parts of the apartment I could only assume had not been used in that way,” Danielle intimates she was probably getting in touch with her inner child while doing this.
“…no one could tell me not to climb into the top of the linen closet or the milk cupboard.”
Danielle explains that she’s very much an introverted photographer. She uses the medium to explore emotional, psychological, and spiritual states. So with this series, Danielle felt she could be as playful as she wished. “I felt an intense freedom to play and explore my relationship (both physical and psychological) to the apartment,” she said. “When I left at the end of my lease, I felt almost as if I were leaving a friend behind and wondered if anything of my time there would remain.”
Her inspiration comes from things not necessarily within photography. Some of the seeds are planted from books. Others are from conversations. And in the purest form of imagery, others come from her own dreams. Ultimately, it lead her deeper into her creative practices, something she feels is still evolving.
Upon reading her description of Spatial Primitives, I was curious. This curiosity stemmed from work I found to be positively stunning. Danielle emphasizes muted palettes and stark contrast to prompt the viewer to pay attention to specific things in the scenes.
Danielle Quenell’s Essential Camera Gear
Here’s what Danielle Quenell uses and a bit of info about each of them from her.
- Yashica Mat-124: I’ve had this camera since I was 16. The self-timer is still kicking and very handy for self-portraits. It’s also relatively light and easy to move around with.
- Gossen Luna-Pro light meter: A friend sent this to me when my first meter finally died a couple of years ago, and it’s been a reliably accurate little friend.
- Tripod: I am a glutton for punishment and bought the world’s heaviest vintage Gitzo at an estate sale for $20. I know there are lighter options out there, but they’re just not as pretty.
- Polaroid SX70: Say what you will about instant photography, but in the right hands, this camera can turn a landscape or portrait into a painterly vision.
About Danielle Quenell
Danielle Quenell is a writer and photographer based in the Pacific Northwest. Her work aims to transcend the specific moment of its creation and reveal the inconsistencies in our experiences of time and physical space.
By embracing a range of technology and processes— and often working in found or discontinued film and paper stock— every photograph becomes an exercise in vertical time: a celebration of deliberate slowness, decay and imperfection.