Interview #79: Tessa Bolsover


CUS: How did you get into photography?

Tessa Bolsover: When I was a kid I would fool around with my mom’s old cameras, take selfies on my flip phone, that sort of thing. I was much more interested in painting until a few years ago when I bought a cheap little film camera and fell in love.


CUS: Did you study, or are you studying, photography? If not, how did you learn?

TB: I studied art and creative writing at a small interdisciplinary university in California. I took a few photography workshops and darkroom classes but mostly I learned on my own through experimenting, reading theory, and seeing exhibitions.


CUS: Tell us a little about where you live. How does your city/country/location have an effect on your photography?

TB: Right now I’m living in Portland, Oregon, the city where I grew up. It’s a temperate rainforest so it’s very rainy and green. I spend a lot of time exploring the forests nearby, there are hundreds of waterfalls and canyons and mossy green forests. My surroundings have always had a huge impact on my work. I’m really interested in how we engage with natural spaces, and the emotional ties between bodies and environments.


CUS: Tell us about your photographic process.

TB: It’s very fluid; I’m always shooting, editing, and sequencing simultaneously. I like to think of my process as collecting fragments of light and piecing them together in a way that resonates as a singular work.  


CUS: What did you have for breakfast this morning?

TB: Watermelon.


CUS: Who are the individuals in your photographs?

TB: Most of the people in my photos are close friends. For the last year or so I’ve mostly taken photos of my boyfriend, Samson. 


CUS: What makes a good image?

TB: I think it’s entirely subjective. Personally I find myself drawn to evocative images where I can feel the photographer’s fascination with the subject.


CUS: Where do you draw inspiration from? What is the motivation behind your image-making?

TB: I draw inspiration from all kinds of sources. Books, films, paintings, music, daydreams… but I think at the core of my image-making is simply a fascination with light and the idea of preserving a moment in time. 


CUS: Tell us about the locations in your photographs.

TB: I take photos anywhere that I think looks interesting. Deserts, forests, my bedroom, the backseat of a car… My favorite place to photograph so far has been southern Utah, where I took many of the images in my series “Fracture”. Everything was so huge and otherworldly, the landscape made me feel like I was dreaming. 


CUS: What can you tell us about your projects "Distances" and “Fracture”?

TB: Those two series are closely related in my mind. “Fracture” began as an experiment using photo sequencing as a form of visual poetry. Both series juxtapose gestures, landscapes, and still life to explore the emotional bond between bodies and environments, the sensation of longing, and images as a form of memory/eulogy.


CUS: What are your thoughts on digital vs. film photography; photography and the Internet? (For example, mass amounts of images being uploaded every day via sites such as Flickr, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram…) 

TB: I love both film and digital photography, although I’m more drawn to film for aesthetic reasons and because I like the slower process. As far as photography and the internet, I feel lucky to be making images in such an interesting time. So many more experiences are being imaged and archived than ever before and I think in a way the internet has made possible what photography set out to do originally. Susan Sontag touches on the topic (in reference to camera industrialization) in her book On Photography: “From its start, photography implied the capture of the largest possible number of subjects…. The subsequent industrialization of camera technology only carried out a promise inherent in photography from its very beginning: to democratize all experiences by translating them into images.”


CUS: How do you differentiate “art” photography and “non-art” photography?

TB: That’s an interesting question that I don’t really have an answer to. I think anything can be art, it depends on how one engages with it. 


CUS: Do you think that the Internet (as opposed to a gallery, photo book, or any other art institution) is a legitimate place to showcase photographic work or do photographs have to be seen in “the flesh” to be fully appreciated and experienced?

TB: I think the internet is a completely valid platform for showcasing photography and there is a lot of potential for work being created and curated there. That being said, there’s still something really magical about seeing a beautiful print in a physical space.


CUS: Your favorite photographer?

TB: Recently I’ve been really into Esther Teichmann (I just got to interview her for SMBH magazine, which was super exciting for me), Claudine Doury, Edward Weston, Robert Mapplethorpe, William Wegman, Nan Goldin, Sally Mann….


CUS: If you could collaborate with anyone who would it be?

TB: Bjork.


CUS: Tell us about your work with Ballad Of magazine.

TB: I’ve been writing for Ballad Of for almost a year now and it’s been a wonderful experience. I write a weekly article featuring/interviewing emerging artists about their work. 


CUS: Your dream equipment?

TB: I hope to buy a Hasselblad 500C at some point… In a perfect world I would also have the 20x24 Polaroid camera that William Wegman used.


CUS: Your dream location to shoot?

TB: Antarctica


CUS: What is the biggest challenge you face with your work?

TB: My biggest challenge is probably trying to remain completely in the moment while I’m making photos. Sometimes I get so preoccupied with the images in my mind that I can’t really see what’s right in front of me. 


CUS: Describe your most recent dream. 

TB: I took a nap today and had a really vivid dream that I was sitting in an empty room picking my nose. 


CUS: What are some of your favorite books and films?

TB: My favorite film at the moment is Embrace Of The Serpent. Some of my favorite books are Nox by Anne Carson, Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson, East Of Eden by John Steinbeck, The Lover by Marguerite Duras, and on and on….


CUS: If you could photograph any person (past or present) who would you choose and why?

TB: I would love to photograph my great great grandparents and to see what their lives were like. 


CUS: What are your plans for the spring?

TB: Making photos, camping, writing, reading, playing music. I also just got hold of a projector and want to start working more with video and installations. 


CUS: Can you tell us about any upcoming exhibitions or publications?

TB: I’m working on a solo book with Little Paper Press that I’m really excited about; it’ll be released later this year. I’m also showing a series of enlarged abstract polaroids in Portland this August, and I have a few other projects in the works that I hope to exhibit.


CUS: Our last interviewee, Rosie Brock, asks: Best photo-related advice someone ever gave you?

TB: “Read Camera Lucida.”


CUS: Last but not least, what would you like to ask the next interviewee?

TB: What makes a moment worth photographing?

Tessa Bolsover is a 22 year old photographer, musician, and writer based in Portland, Oregon. She's a member of the band Opals, and an Online Editor for Ballad Of... Magazine.