Interview with Angelika Kollin
BIFA 2021 Winner, 1st Place, Professional Portfolio category, “You Are My Mother”
Q: Tell us a bit about your background? How did you discover your love for photography?
I am an 45 year-old Estonian photographer, married for 22 years, and a mother of 3 daughters. I moved around the globe all my life, changing countries, and continents. I spent the last eight years on the African continent, which became the most transformative life experience. It left the most decisive impact on my development as a multi-disciplinary artist. My passion for photography unfolded organically as I was maturing into adulthood. From the day I held my first camera, it felt like a natural extension of me. Looking back, it is clear to me that it is a common experience for someone who is doing what they are born to do. I am entirely self-taught; I have never followed or tried to imitate anyone’s else style, neither did I study books on photography or art until very recently. Photography was more the tool of investigating my emotional world, my past, and intuitively releasing and processing fragments of it.
Q: What was your last work and how did the initial spark of inspiration come about?
The last short series of portraits I did were “Life with a clean slate”; they are photographs of a 43-year-old Maria (name changed) building a new life for herself after serving a maximum sentence in prison. One of the biggest obstacles someone like Maria faces is letting go of the debilitating narrative of her past and a long list of negative judgments that tugs along with it. One must recognize, to move on, that no matter how horrific our past is – one needs to see it as a story. An old account that has run its cycle. Maria dreamt of having a family and a child when serving time in prison and seeing her prime childbearing years fading away. In the images, you will see Maria holding her firstborn. When you can accept and let go of your Past – you can meet your Future. I want to add this brilliant quote by Oscar Wilde: “The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”
Q: You were awarded Professional Portfolio Photographer of the Year 2021 for your truly wholesome work, You Are My Mother. How did the idea for this project come about? What is the most notable memory that you lived through during this project?
I stumbled onto the project, You are my Mother, almost by accident. I lived with my family in South Africa when the Covid pandemic started rolling over the globe. We found ourselves in one of the strictest six-week lockdown. I no longer had any access to my usual models and places (it wasn’t allowed to leave your house except for groceries and being in nature was illegal). Luckily for me, the large territory we occupied was shared by a mother and daughter, who moved in together for the lockdown. I focused my entire artistic flow on the forgiveness and healing in their relationship during this time, and before I knew it, it became a large project. A few months later, I expanded it into You are my Father, and jointly this work took me about two years. The most unforgettable memory was my constant amazement at how much each story mirrored something back to me. During this project, I became acutely aware of our inherent sameness in what we desire and seek during our lifetime.
Q: What genre do you enjoy creating in the most and why?
Hands down, fine art nudes. I am fascinated and intrigued by the human body. Not only do I find it remarkably beautiful and captivating to work with, but it also presents the emotivity and symbolism that I can only portray through such work. When photographing fine art nudes in nature, liberated of social guidelines and beliefs, a human body becomes like free-flowing poetry. It starts to organically “rhyme” with surrounding nature, it recites itself and sometimes it turns into a most dreamlike performance. As an artist, you simply can’t help but be inspired.
Q: What does winning this award mean to you?
Winning this award means that the resulting work of the two years is impactful and coherent. Getting such incredible feedback from the industry experts is incredibly reassuring and, in particular, during such a difficult time that we are all facing as an art community worldwide. To me, this award goes to all the genuine people who in full faith worked with me when this was just an inspiring idea in my mind; people who trusted my vision enough to allow me to photograph them intimately with their precious children. This award is for them, and for all the mothers and fathers who give their love ceaselessly to their families every day.
Q: What would be your dream project in photography if there would be no budget limits and you could travel anywhere, photograph anything/anyone?
My dream project is to go back to Africa to do a documentary project on Sangomas. Translated from Zulu, it means A Healer. I met a few during my life in Africa, and I would love to tell the world their story, capture this great ancient tradition, and create a beautiful book. I imagine myself diving fully into their environment and traveling extensively to show that you can encounter a lot of diversity even in these esoteric circles nowadays.
Q: What would be the one advice you would give to novice photographers?
Find your unique voice. Don’t chase approval; focus on what YOU are passionate about photographing. Give yourself entirely to that; find out why it interests you so much. Don’t be afraid that people might not like it; I haven’t met one artist who had not experienced rejections. It’s all part of discovering, shaping, and strengthening your unique style.
Q: Are you working on something new right now? Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Entirely unexpectedly, I started a new project in December this year. It’s my first attempt at the documentary genre, and I am deeply inspired to convey the story I am narrating. It is a story of Psalms, a happy three-year-old little boy. His story is too inconvenient for many and yet too familiar in areas struck by the opioid crisis, unemployment, and lack of opportunities. With his two older sisters, Psalms is raised by his maternal grandmother. His Mother, battling with bipolar disease and reappearing gripping addiction, keeps disappearing out of his life, sometimes for months at the time. His father just got out of jail after serving two years and wants to give his best for his only son from now on. Not an ideal family by many standards, yet this inconvenient situation and truth exist and is a reality for thousands of children. Their voices are most often judged, labeled, and ignored; as community members, they are not acknowledged in any possible positive way. Kids born into these complex families and surroundings have to battle with a difficult childhood and learn to feel shame and be different from an early age. Psalms is too young to understand these complexities of life, but he is old enough to desire the feeling of belonging to his family and society. We don’t choose to what circumstances we are born; our roots are outside our control – but in a healthy and well-functioning community, each individual gets to reach their full potential and become a big “tree.”
View Angelika Kollin’s Winning Work Here.