Remains to be Seen.
Interview by Ursula Lake
Photography by Gina Soden
Make chats to the thirty-three-year-old fine art photographer, Gina Soden who has made a career in photographing faded glory: Grand buildings that have been left to wreck and ruin. We find out about her travels and learn more about her (sometimes dangerous, but always) beautiful and unusual work.
Q. Tell us about yourself!
A. I grew up in Finchampstead in Berkshire with my Mother and Father and my brother and sister. I’m very lucky having such a wonderful and supportive family. We’re all great friends, and it’s has been so nice recently to welcome a new member to the family: my niece Juno who is just 2 weeks old. Growing up, my father was always a great inspiration to me, I used to borrow his film cameras while I was growing up, he’s always been into photography and is a great poet. I’d love to do a collaboration with him one day.
I studied at photography for 2 years at Thames Valley University, using various film cameras and the darkroom. However, the architectural style I shoot in now is mostly self-taught.
I very recently exhibited alongside Danny Treacy and Michael Boffey at The Charlie Smith Gallery, which was fantastic and a great thing to be part of. We also did a talk at Shoreditch House and I really enjoyed listening to the other artists speak about their work. I’ve also shown with The Fine Arts Society, Eleven Gallery at various art fairs such as Art13/15, Photo London and Pulse New York.
Q. Your photographs feature incredible architecture shown in a state of decay and destruction, how do you find these amazing locations?
A. I find locations all over the UK, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, France, Italy (my favourite), Luxembourg, Netherlands (much harder there) Portugal, Poland, Romania, Austria. I spend hours online researching, using blog posts, imagery, Google Translate, reading local papers, scouring Google Earth and chancing upon places. I also get inside info from co-conspirators. Sometimes finding these places can take several hours, and along the way, it is impossible to not find another building and get distracted.
I still have hundreds of places I still haven’t visited. It takes so much time and I can be a bit obsessive and it can be hard for me to stop once I have started! Things often happen when I am trying to find the building, I was looking for in the first place, I don’t find it, but find five other places along the way. Luckily, I’ve got a great group of friends and through them and my other connections, we try to help each other, often for different purposes. I get tip-offs at art fairs too, and from family and clients, which is very handy!
Q: Do you have any key creative influences to your work, artists other photographers etc?
A. I love Candida Hofer’s work, the grand scale of it and perfection of her straight lines is something I aspire to. I like to keep my compositions neat and ordered so that easier to read because the room I am photographing is really chaotic, full of peeling paint, texture, and story. Depending on the building, sometimes it leads my final outcome rather than me having a set way of composing the shot. For example, in my work Klinik, I wouldn’t usually shoot the image the way I did, but the leading lines, circle, geometry, and red door all led me to find the final composition.
I also love Wes Anderson’s single-point perspective. His movies are fantastic and inspirational. I also love browsing on Instagram now, saving works and photos into collections for further perusal later date and I follow different hashtags depending on what I am looking to find.
A. The locations you find yourself in sometimes look like they might be dangerous! Are they?
Q. Some are very dangerous, others not so dangerous at all. I’ve haven’t fallen through a floorboard yet; in the ten years, I’ve been doing this. Thorns damage me more or mosquito bites and most of the scars I have on my body are from them!
Floors sag and bend and creak underneath, I just use my common sense and avoid really bad situations. There was a French castle I went to recently, the only way in would have been over a flimsy fence and a shimmy along a narrow wall with a four-meter drop onto wood and stone. I saw my super fit friend go over who wobbled and didn’t look too happy so I thought; maybe I won’t do that after all! I was sad not to photograph that location as it sounded incredible but that’s the way it goes sometimes! It seems I can’t have them all! Others locations are so easy it’s laughable. No fence, no signs, open door, no one around. I would say those are the best, but where’s the story then?!
Q. We discovered your work via Instagram. How important is social media to your work and career?
A. I think nowadays it’s an absolute must! I sell my work throughInstagram, make connections with other artists and art fairs and galleries. I get inspiration from it daily and it’s often how I keep up to date with art news and exhibitions. I absolutely love it. I think we are so lucky now to be able to use a platform like Instagram.
Having said that, I’m still pretty low key, I don’t document and share everything, I don’t share my whole personal life either, but snippets. I like to keep my adventures low key, discretion is everything. Recently, on a trip to France was the first time I actually shared videos live on locations. I’ve been too paranoid before and also didn’t like to give too much away. But I am starting to think that it’s important for me to open up more and to share what I am seeing with my followers, they seemed to enjoy the behind the scenes! Just with certain locations, I prefer to be more discreet with.
Q. The photograph I would love to own is…?
A. I actually really love Juno Calypso’s work, she has a great back story and I love her symmetry, clean lines, and the retro look and colour palette! Can I cheat and have two? I’d have to own a Sarah Maple piece too, maybe White Girl.
Q. The theme of this issue is age is fundamental and essential to your work and the locations, is there a message you are trying to share with the viewer?
A. Aside from human destruction and greed, nature takes over quickly when humans vacate a space. The more ageing a building has the better, I love the textures and decay nature produces when it’s left wild. Even if a roof hasn’t fallen off exposing it to inclement weathers, water seeps in somehow and I’ve seen young trees coming through the floor of a hospital. A year later I had returned and the building had aged even more, and so had the tree!
I wanted to experiment with ageing in my Corrodium series which was exhibited at The Charlie Smith Gallery earlier this year. I used imagery from my journeys into abandoned buildings and hand-printed them onto the kind of rough surface I might have encountered on-site when taking the original photograph. The work is then further developed through a process of corrosion and ageing as well occasionally the addition of gold leaf.
The hundreds of places I visited over the last ten years are a huge reminder that even the most grandiose, opulent, over-the-top places that humans build are not immune from entropy. Money can’t help you escape the inevitable. Well, apart from the pyramids – those things are invincible.
Q. What and or where is next for Gina Soden?
A. Since I’ve got my weekends back and I’m not planning a DIY wedding in a former abandoned quarry anymore, I’m going a bit mad booking trips! I have just come back from France, going to Germany next weekend, then Ireland shortly after, Italy in September and France part two after that, as I underestimated how long it would take to drive around it and shoot all day in 40 degrees on the recent trip. I clocked up 2000 miles in a week so giving my car a rest and flying and hiring a car next time.
I am also starting to experiment more with mixed media, after seeing an artwork on honeymoon, which inspired me. When I get the time and I’m in the right frame of mind, I will get in the studio and get going. I’ve got lots of ideas but need to focus a bit. I hope the trips will help me do that, they can be very therapeutic at times; Although not the bits when I am sneaking through an abandoned factory with active security who are great at their jobs in forty-plus degree heat!
See more of Gina’s work at www.ginasoden.co.uk