Hailing from the beautiful city of Curitiba in South Brazil, photographer Josiane Dias has a unique perspective when it comes to her work. This has been further refined by the fact she has lived in cities such as Tokyo, New York, Geneva and Tel Aviv, where she is currently based. Her work is inspired by both the urban and natural landscape. In this interview, she talks about how travel has shaped her both artistically and personally, her hometown and what keeps her motivated.
Documenting the world we inhabit is a core belief for most photographers, how do you approach this task differently?
I try to capture the poetic dimension in everyday life. I look for something hidden, unseen, and not obvious. I like things that are not evident; I search the extraordinary in the ordinary. I am reaching for the artistic expression, a narrative of the present moment that is timeless. I enjoy exploring the territory that is beyond our daily experience. Once, one of the professors at the School of Visual Arts said that we are always expressing something about ourselves in our work.
I tend to agree with her these days because I realise that I am photographing what is in my inner-self and simply depicting the outside world. I want to capture a certain reality and interpret it, give it a meaning that is mine. It is interesting to notice how people see the same things in different ways. I particularly like something that Franz Kafka once said about photography. He said that "One photographs things to get them out of one's mind". So my work is subjective in the sense that I am trying to create my version of the world, my vision of it.
I also consider the photographer as a creator. In my latest project, Flora Abstrata, I look for the relationship between photography, painting and our perception of nature. I manipulate the image to present this dialogue between natural and built landscapes. I tried to create an organic and abstract composition to show my interpretation of reality, not only reproducing this reality but challenging the idea that a photograph has a direct relationship to the subject. Instead, I wanted to make visible my perception of it, my subjective response to what I see.
You’ve lived in some very different cities throughout your career ranging from Tokyo to Geneva, New York and Tel Aviv to name a few. Do you have a favourite amongst them and why?
I've lived in each one of these cities at different moments in my life. They have all contributed incredibly to my trajectory as an artist. I think I can say that each one of them is like a building block of my identity. Tokyo, in particular, was a very rich and diverse experience because it opened the doors to Asian culture and aesthetics which have been so important to modern art. But the city that played the most important role both in my personal and professional lives was surely New York, and that for a lot of different reasons.
First of all, it was there that I felt most at home since the very first day. I felt I was welcome and accepted and I think this is because it is a place of such incredible cultural diversity. It is a unique city in this sense. Secondly, for an artist, New York is a paradise not only because of the numerous cultural options, such as museums and galleries but also for the high quality of schools and academic institutions and the people who work in them.
I had the chance of studying at the International Center of Photography (ICP), founded by Cornell Capa and among the best places in the world for studying photography. A rare privilege, really. Another experience that played a crucial role in my formation as an artist was the time I spent studying fine arts at the National Academy School, where I found wonderful professors and a friendly, warm, collaborative academic setting. To sum it all up, I usually say that my experience in New York was like living 50 years in 5 for all the intensity of the professional and personal experiences I had during the 6 or so years I spent there.
You were born in the beautiful city of Curitiba in Southern Brazil. Could you tell us a bit more about the city?
Curitiba is a city that has a strong European heritage, particularly from Eastern Europe. For instance, I studied at a school that was run by German teachers, and I spent my teenage years watching European art house movies. Also the city is agreeable and well organised, and it has the best public transportation system in Brazil, maybe in Latin America, and many public parks. It is in many ways a very environment-friendly city. There has been a trash recycling program for several years for example. Unlike other cities in Brazil, the weather in Curitiba has all the four seasons, and the winter is rather harsh and humid with subzero temperatures sometimes.
How did it shape you as an artist?
My passion for photography came from my passion for European cinema, particularly Wim Wenders, Fritz Lang, Bergman, Fellini, Rossellini, Eisenstein and Truffaut, to name a few. I watched everything that showed at the city's art house cinemas. Maybe because Curitiba is not a coastal city and its weather is always cold the movie theatre ends up being a great and cosy place to spend time. I also went very often to the Public Library. It used to be an incredible place. I spent whole afternoons there, getting acquainted and making my personal incursions into distant and diverse worlds. So I see that this more subjective and artistic narrative greatly influenced me. I wasn't very much interested in the current reality but in unveiling other, unknown or unseen realities. To travel through imagination.
How do you keep yourself motivated on a daily basis? I know a lot of younger artists could benefit from your advice.
I like very much to discover new things and places. Besides frequently visiting art exhibitions, I keep a daily routine of readings on art and artistic production. I read magazines, articles, books on art. When I was in New York, I used to go to all the most important art fairs (Armory Show, Frieze, Aipad, Scope, Nada, etc.). This contact with contemporary artistic activity is very enriching. I try to cultivate a sense of curiosity about the current art scene. I am always in search of something to inspire me, to provoke me. I also like to try new things, including projects with other artists. Another thing that I consider important is always to be working on some project. I work everyday, even if for a few hours sometimes. This keeps me motivated.
Could you please tell us a bit more about your brilliant body of work titled ‘The Floating World’?
Of course. The Floating World series is based on the Japanese Ukiyo-e culture that represents the transient and ephemeral nature of life and also the realm of worldly pleasures. Interestingly, the term "ukiyo" in Japanese Buddhism also represents the sorrowful world with its endless cycle of birth, life, suffering, death and rebirth. The flowers portrayed in this series are experiencing a process of transformation, between life and death, pleasure and sorrow. They are no longer part of a plant or a whole. They are now free to seek and follow their individual path. They are alone, by themselves and are at the mercy of nature, of the unknown. So, these flowers represent an individual with his/her personal and unique history spreading out through his/her existence and also at the end or the transformation of it. They are not portraying a still life but a changing, moving life. For me, each picture represents a feeling or a state, like birth, passion, encounter, separation, loneliness, splendour, strength, and so on.
Those pictures were taken at The New York Botanical Garden. I chose to work with the macro lens because it gave me more freedom to capture this moment/piece of reality with a more artistic approach.
Where are you currently based at the moment? Do you go back home to Brazil often?
After having lived for almost six years in New York, I am currently based in Tel Aviv. I moved last Summer. I go to Brazil every 2 or 3 years if I can. I would like to go every year, but this is not always possible.
What was the best piece of advice you were given?
I received a lot of good advice over the years. One of the most useful was to always get out of your comfort zone. We have to try new things as much as we can to avoid finding ourselves stagnated into something because it is easy or because of the fear of failing. It is like Samuel Beckett's famous line: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better". This brings me to another advice that I think is particularly relevant to the young people nowadays: always have patience, and persevere. It is important to experiment new things, to be open to novelty and not be afraid to be in a constant learning process. I know it can be hard at times, but it is necessary.
If Josiane were a colour, what would she be?
I like all colours, but the one that best expresses who I am is orange.
This interview first appeared in the April 2017 issue of CreativPaper Magazine which you can read here.