Introducing Emanuela Franchini

Emanuela Franchini is a commercial photographer based in London.  She concentrates on making playful self portraits in her personal work.  Read on to learn how her work caught the attention of The Strokes and how viewers impart unintended meaning to her pictures.

How did you get started?

I remember my dad being very protective of his camera when I was very young.  It made me jealous.  I always thought, “as soon as I can, I want my own camera to play with”.  Eventually I got one as a present when I was eight and started playing with it like crazy.

It was a film camera, of course.  I’m thankful that I started with film because it gives you a different perspective—you focus more on framing and composition.  You have only a limited number of exposures and have to get them right.  With digital you shoot and shoot until you have the right light and composition.  I’m still thinking film in my mind even when I use digital.



How has digital changed photography?

Digital has changed everything. We need things fast and immediately. News channels are constantly putting images on their website and photos from an iPhone work just fine for the web. This is changing the perception of photography in a good way. Everybody is becoming less afraid of photography. However, photographers are living in difficult times. Newspapers are firing staff photographers in favor of quick snaps from an iPhone.

Are you formally trained in photography or art?

No, I’m entirely self-taught.

Some people go to the gym, but I go to my studio to let off steam.

Is there anything in your background that motivates or informs your work?

I have an urge to create. Some people go to the gym, but I go to my studio to let off steam. It may not turn out well, but I spend hours at a time figuring out what I can do with my camera and my lights. I take a lot of self portraits. It’s an urge.

What kind of commercial work do you do?

I do a lot of work for charities, which requires a special understanding about the budget. My income doesn’t come entirely from photography, unfortunately. I do web design as well.

I’m a believer in starting local first and finding opportunities in my area. I stop in to new shops and ask if they need any work done. You can go to a local club in your area, have a drink and chat with the owner. You might be able to shoot the next band that plays there as a result.

Tell me about your work that was published on The Strokes’ website.

It was pure luck. The individual who was looking after The Strokes’ image and promotion found the photo on my Flickr stream and asked to use it for promotional use on their website. I said yes, of course.

At the time, Flickr gave me incredible exposure. People were looking at Flickr in a more serious way than now. There were less users and better photos. However, Flickr is no longer what it used to be.

What advice would you give to artists using social media?

It takes a lot of time and dedication. In the past I would have said be on as many platforms as possible. Now, I suggest being on a couple and focus heavily on them. I see a lot of photographers trying to be everywhere, but the content is the same across the board. You will never have enough time to keep things moving on those streams. Pick two or three to focus on and post daily something.



How large do you print your work for exhibition?

I like it when its really big on the wall. 30-40 inches. It depends if the exhibition is sponsored and what kind of deal you have with the gallery. I don’t like small. Its great to see how people engage with the picture and take it in at every angle.

I think about a normal situation and add something that wouldn’t normally be there.

How do you find content for your self portraits?

I think about a normal situation and add something that wouldn’t normally be there. I want to see how difficult it can be to implement and bring it to life. The more challenging it is, the more excited I get. There are some unique challenges to self portraiture—when you’re balancing a steak on your face you can’t really see the camera!

How long have you been photographing professionally and how has your process changed?

Since 2007. I used to be very instinctive and didn’t plan much in advance. I couldn’t distinguish between the creative urge and analytical planning—creativity had nothing to do with making plans! Now, I’m more comfortable with having a creative urge and planning it on paper, especially lighting setups. Its a mater of learning how to take control of your creative urge.

Why do use yourself as the subject?

The challenge of balancing the role of subject and photographer. You can’t be in two places at once and I can’t use a remote because the camera struggles to focus. There are a lot of self portraits I haven’t taken yet because they might not be possible!

I like taking portraits of other people, but I’m not sure I could ask them to put spaghetti on their face. I’d much rather do it myself. Its fun and gives you a sense of freedom to experiment.

It gives me extra pleasure when I look at the picture because it was so damned difficult to make!

How does photographing yourself affect the end product?

It affects the end product only if the viewer is told its a self portrait. Otherwise, it doesn’t affect what they might perceive. I’m the one who is affected most. It gives me extra pleasure when I look at the picture because it was so damned difficult to make!



Can you explain the motivation for “On Your Face”?

I was doing a lot of commercial work at the time and was frustrated by its creative constraints.  I wanted to do something that was challenging, striking, and meaningful.  The most challenging situation for a photographer is not being able to see. I wanted to make a series of self portraits with something on my face to prevent me from seeing.  I began considering food, something you normally put in your mouth. I thought it would be interesting to put it on my face instead.

Sometimes we stuff our faces without really thinking about what we’re doing.  The series made me think about how we consume photography.  We don’t pay attention to it because there’s so much out there.  We’re no longer able to understand what good photography is.

Are you addressing any female issues in your work?

Not really.  It might appear that way because I’m a woman, but I never really talk about what I mean with a photo.

What other people think when they see my pictures intrigues me. Once, I exhibited a nude picture of myself holding a fish. It was interesting to hear the comments of those viewing the photo. Some people were finding it funny, some creative, some appalling because I was mixing religion with nudity, and others were outraged that I was naked!

We’re not in control of others’ perceptions.  Everybody has an interpretation based on their own ideals, upbringing, and cultural background.

Its amazing how the human mind can find a connection that isn’t there.

Tell me more about “Heterological Boundaries”.

Heterological Boundaries” is an ongoing collaboration with Cristina Cocullo, another photographer. We take very different pictures. She takes a lot pictures in empty spaces where human presence is perceived but no humans are photographed. In my photos a human is there.


Screenshot 2014-10-28 13.41.55

We wondered what would happen if we put our photos side by side. We printed images for an exhibition and paired them nearly randomly. When we showed them, viewers invented meanings for the pairings. There was no real connection on our part. Its amazing how the human mind can find a connection that isn’t there. 

Are you an artist or a photographer?

Every photographer is an artist, regardless of what kind of photography they make or if they do it for a living. Photography is an art. I’m an artist in that sense, otherwise people wouldn’t be interested in my work. You have to have art in your mind in your commercial work, even if you think it has no artistic meaning or artistic reason to exist.

How do you know when a series is finished?

You have to have a limit in some way. Otherwise, you’ll take boring pictures just to add to the series. I limited “On Your Face” to 12 photos. I wanted to turn it into a calendar. If I hadn’t set a number, I’d still be here trying to balance a bottle of wine on my face.

What would others say is your best piece?

It surprises me. No one notices when I take what I consider to be a good picture. But everyone loves the one that’s no good.  People are fascinated by the picture of the bathtub with my feet sticking out because its funny and twisted. I’m always told the light and framing are amazing.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I would like to do photography full time and start a non-profit that gives young, impoverished kids a chance to discover photography. 

Is there anything you wish you had known when you first started?

Not really.  Its good to learn as you go along.  Every photographic situation is different.  The event you shoot one year is not the same the next.  You can’t take anything for granted.

Practice makes a good photographer.

What advice do you have for budding artists?

Its tough out there, but don’t give up.  You have to do commercial work, but its going to give you a good foundation.  Practice makes a good photographer. And after finding yourself in all sorts of situations, you’ll be able to apply that knowledge to your artistic work.

See more of Emanuela’s work and follow her on the web:

Web – Flickr – Twitter

Tumblr – LinkedIn

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