Martha – Natural beauty portraits

“I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day; how singular an affair he thinks he must omit. When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all incumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run.” Henry David Thoreau

It was all about natural beauty, soft light raining from a dark cloudy sky, and relaxed and interesting conversations, the photo-shoot done with the beautiful Martha. And now that I look at the images again, and share them with you, I like to believe that I perhaps managed to capture what’s inside all our hearts, in this still difficult year: a bit of hope. Do you agree?

Model: Martha Grace @marthagracesc

©2020 Flavia Catena

Portraits of Bethan

I still have mixed feelings about planning and working on personal projects, being the earthquake that is shaking the world (of course the present pandemic) a threat we have not learned how to deal with yet. Because of this and because I was luckily busy with commissions, I organised very few test shoots this autumn so far. The one I am sharing with you is the first done after over a month away from the camera (excluding when I used it as a tourist in Italy), with the idea to capture portraits that could look as natural as possible. Editing was also kept at its minimum and the model was barely wearing any make up. I believe that, especially in a time like this, simplicity, honesty, even in photography, is what we need more.

Model: Bethan Ellis

Tassita – An ancient Sicilian wood

When I finally realised that it was the Italian coast what I was seeing from the airplane, flying back home from England last August, I felt happy, free from all the stress (or at least part of it) accumulated in the previous months. The sea was again before my eyes, and soon after were my parents, my brother, left one year ago unware of all the things that the near future would bring. I spent some great time at home, enjoying my mornings at the beach, the hours swimming, the afternoons reading and writing, and alongside these idyllic moments, I also had the chance to explore areas of Sicily I did not yet know. Among the places visited, there is one which now holds a special place in my heart and that I want to show you: the Tassita wood. Located inside the Nebrodi Natural Park (north-eastern Sicily), the Tassita is the only wood left in Sicily with a predominance of Taxus baccata and some of the oldest trees in the island (between 500 and 700 years old). A natural marvel that I did not expect and filled my soul with joy! Like a child, surprised by everything, I walked around this fairy world where wild cyclamens were sleeping in the shadow of some big limestock rocks and the herbaceous vegetarion, the mosses, the heaps of leaves seemed to hide spirits belonging to a lost time. The fact that no one was around, except for me and my family, increased all these feelings and made me stop over and over just to admire what was around me, and listen to the voice of the trees, of the hidden birds, and the light wind. I was at peace and I felt blessed to be so generously embraced my mother nature.

Portraits at Oxford University parks – Tobi

August is here already, but despite the heat, the bright days and a closet full of linen dresses, I keep fighting against that feeling you get when missing something. And I miss summer. I need to wake up and be greeted by the sea, I need to smell orange blossoms and jasmine’s flowers, to pick some fresh sweet fruit from a tree and eat it, and get to sleep with the window open over a deserted field. The lockdown brought lot of nostalgia in my life, and photography, when I have the chance to work, helps me connect with the present, pushing the past away for a little while.

A few weeks ago, I met and photographed a lovely model based in Oxford, Tobi. We walked around Oxford University parks, and discovered a magic hidden spot I had never seen before, where tall, emerald grass was bowing to the wind, under whispering trees. Can you imagine, as I do looking at the photographs, a fairy moving from beam to beam, in a white long dress?

Model: Tobi Stevens

©2020 Flavia Catena

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Blue velvet – Portraits of Emelia

One month has passed since I did my first photo-shoot post lockdown. I was excited and worried at the same time, as working at a safe distance and yet dedicating the same amount of attention to the details seemed not as easy as it may sound. Yet, I faced the challenge and the outdoor world, certain that having someone again in front of my camera, someone to share ideas and to create with would have made the job pleasant in the end.

I had met Emelia, the lovely young lady I photographed, last winter. We went to a photography exhibition, in Oxford, and started discussing about how to collaborate (she is a great photographer as well and a writer, so we have many interests in common). At the time, I still had not bought the velvet fabric used for the shoot; after testing it first at home, I knew I wanted Emelia’s beautiful face captured in front of it. I did not know then that she had the perfect vintage dress – from the 70s – that would match its colour.

It was somehow like swimming in the sea staring at all that blue through my lens, and taking photos came to me as the most natural thing. Despite the distancing, the face mask, and some funny moments (the wind knocked down the backdrop a few times), I felt alive again and happy. I have never taken for granted what I do and what I have, but I believe I will cherish times like this even more from now on.

Model: Emelia Mac (https://www.poetryofthecity.co.uk/)

©2020 Flavia Catena

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Nature’s Symphony – Photographs in quarantine

“All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.”
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

I used to photograph wild roses, butterflies and birds when I first started spending time with a camera (not really a fancy or a professional one), walking curiously around gardens and parks, in Rome. It was a happy time, that, a time of exploration, of wonder and creation. Somehow, despite the sadness and loneliness we are all experiencing now, I feel similar emotions and desires are filling my days. And infact, here I am, again, taking photos to flowers and insects, browsing among the clouds of the sky and the branches of the trees, asking the nature for a bit of her strenght and wisdom.

©2020 Flavia Catena

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A story from our time – La folla

There are days I fear the sun will never set and I will find myself trapped in a never ending loop of fears, boredom, despair and nostalgia, but some days are on the contrary too short for all the things I would like to do. I suppose these are feelings we are all having while isolated at home with the world outside fighting the invisible enemy.

When I wake up in the morning, I take a few minutes to reflect on how to spend the hours ahead, if working on my photography business, in the way I can, if reading all the books I could not finish in these past months, if studying all the things I have not even studied during my University years, or if writing, collecting present impressions, reviving past ideas, and letting my imagination free, which means to create just for the sake of it, and to be happy in the moment. Well, the short story I am sharing with you today (I am very sorry, but it is just for the Italian readers!) was not something I had thought about for very long, but rather something I used to contain the emotions of the time we live in.

Below are also some recent photographs done in collaboration with fashion designer Bianca Elgar and with beautiful model Opor Kunk.

La folla

  L’uomo aspettò che la folla si fosse dissipata prima di rimettersi in cammino. Così qualcuno incrociato per strada gli aveva detto di fare, e lui, senza porsi alcuna domanda, aveva seguito il consiglio.
La piazza fumava di sole, e la luce che rimbalzava dalle finestre dei palazzi rendeva abbagliante anche l’aria. Seduto all’ombra di una grande statua il cui volto brunito e consumato dal tempo appariva ormai irriconoscibile, l’uomo seguiva con gli occhi la scia d’ombra lasciata dall’ultimo gruppetto di donne che gli era passato davanti. Erano in cinque, tutte vestite di bianco, ampi cappelli di paglia stretti sulle tempie, e sandali slargati, di quelli che alleggeriscono la stanchezza dei piedi e danno sfogo ai gonfiori delle caviglie. Dal modo in cui si guardavano intorno, fotografando con gli occhi, laddove prive di altri mezzi, la bellezza che si lasciavano alle spalle, si capiva che quella fosse la loro prima volta in città.
Senza fretta l’uomo si mosse dal suo angolo d’ombra dopo averle viste sfociare rumorosamente nelle stradine intorno alla piazza. Casa sua non era molto distante; poteva vederla, spingendo lo sguardo attraverso l’arco di mattoni che dalla chiesa dei gesuiti, costeggiando un sentiero fitto d’alberi, portava a un cortile raccolto e da lì al quartiere in cui aveva sempre vissuto, in cui erano nate sua madre e sua nonna, e in cui entrambe, sotto i suoi grandi occhi verdi, se n’erano andate diversi anni prima.
Aveva ormai quasi raggiunto la chiesa e l’arco, quando un nuovo gruppo, misto di uomini e donne, gli sciamò davanti. In realtà, non si capiva neanche esattamente da dove venissero tutte quelle persone; pareva uscissero da ogni anfratto della terra e calassero insieme a ogni raggio di sole scoccato dal cielo, moltiplicandosi una volta raggiunto il suolo. Di colpo, la porta della chiesa si aprì, e pure da quella ne sgusciarono una trentina, forse di più. L’uomo cercò di contarli, ma perse il filo. La sua bocca secca faceva fatica a scandire anche un solo numero, e la sua mente, silenziata dallo stupore, ne era altrettanto incapace.
“Tieniti lontano dalla folla!”. Le parole udite poco prima da uno sconosciuto gli risuonarono alle orecchie.
Pur non riuscendo a immaginare la ragione che stava dietro a quel monito, l’uomo sentì improvvisamente di essere davvero in pericolo. Fu come una premonizione, qualcosa a cui la sua mente e il suo cuore reagirono in contemporanea. Allora spinse gli occhi oltre la folla, verso quei rari, sfuocati punti in cui il cemento della città tornava a vincere sul brulicare dei corpi molli, pigiati tra loro, gonfi di sole e risate incontrollabili. Se avesse aspettato di capire in che direzione ciascuno dei gruppi si sarebbe mosso, forse avrebbe potuto precederne gli ultimi passi e trovare una via di fuga nel mezzo di quelli.
Solo che l’attesa, quella volta, si dimostrò più difficile di quanto avesse sperato. La folla raddoppiò, triplicò in volume. La gente prese a calarsi dalle finestre, dalle terrazze, urlando come scimmie, per poi atterrare sul marciapiede senza neanche un graffio e con sul viso l’espressione serafica di un bambino che si è appena risvegliato da un sonno ristoratore. Anche le saracinesche delle botteghe chiuse si aprirono, e donne statuarie, rotonde, talune flaccide, iniziarono a sfilare sul marciapiede di fronte. In braccio ad alcune c’erano neonati che i loro ventri molli sembravano aver partorito da poco; altre, invece, stringevano filoni di pane come mazzi di fiori, facendoli odorare alle compagne intorno.
In men che non si dica, l’uomo, stordito dal frastuono e confuso, si trovò circondato, e capì che evitare la folla fosse non solo impossibile quanto pericoloso. Avrebbe dovuto andarle contro, remare in direzione opposta alle onde, quando l’unica scelta possibile, a quel punto, sembrava di seguirla o addirittura abbandonarsene. Spinse dunque lo sguardo verso il cielo, come per prendere fiato, e quando una raggiera di visi gli si parò davanti, sostituendosi alle nuvole, allora iniziò a correre, a scansare le braccia che gli calavano addosso, i petti che lo spingevano, i piedi contro cui i suoi talloni si trovavano a sbattere, e a schermarsi con un fazzoletto di stoffa dagli spruzzi di saliva che lo bagnavano e offendevano. In pochi minuti il rumore dei corpi ammassati, il caldo emanato da quelli che si sommava al caldo della giornata, l’aria rimbombante di parole incomprensibili, forse attinte a lingue diverse, sovrastò del tutto l’assediato che così cadde.
La folla, proprio quella da cui avrebbe dovuto tenersi lontano, lo travolse, e non ci fu modo, per lui, di rialzarsi, se non a sera, dopo che il mondo intero gli fu passato addosso, egoista, cieco, irrefrenabile. La prima cosa su cui i suoi occhi andarono a posarsi allora fu la chiesa, poi l’arco di mattoni, e giù in fondo la sua casa. La luce dello studio era accesa. Ebbe la sensazione che dall’altra parte ci fosse la moglie che, come ogni giorno, ordinava i libri che lui aveva lasciato sparpagliati sulla scrivania. Avrebbe voluto chiamarla, pur sapendo che non sarebbe mai riuscita a sentirlo, ma la sua voce, già prima fioca, gli rimase intrappolata in gola. Si alzò; respirava a fatica, e anche il suo respiro non produceva suono.
Costeggiati i negozi chiusi, si specchiò su ciascuna delle loro vetrine, e in quel momento lo vide. Vide, in carne ed ossa, il motivo per cui avrebbe dovuto evitare a tutti i costi quell’orda senza controllo. Un uomo che non gli somigliava più storceva la bocca sul riflesso del vetro; sembrava quasi avesse una maschera cucita sulla carne, impossibile da togliere. I suoi capelli erano passati dal grigio al bianco candido, la sua pelle si era raggrinzita, rughe profonde, spesse, avevano allentato le sue guance, e tolto mobilità alle sue mani. Il sangue affiorava già alle sue labbra.
Pensò allora alla moglie, ed ebbe paura che lei non lo avrebbe riconosciuto, o che addirittura non avrebbe fatto in tempo a raggiungerla, a dirle addio. La luce accesa nel suo studio si era fatta più fioca; sembrava lontanissima, lontana la casa, lontana la città stessa. Restavano una piazza vuota e un cielo insolitamente stellato.

©2020 Flavia Catena

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Female photographers: Joceline Allen

Bodies seem trapped behind a veil; delicate young women trying to escape from the dream they move inside. Hands, faces, melancholic eyes are in and out of the frame, between lights and shadows.
I immediately fell in love with Joceline Allen’s photographs, when I found her page on Instagram, and I could not stop looking at them. My first though was: “this girl must really love what she does!”. On a daily basis, browsing around social media, I keep seeing so many works alike and images unable to instill any emotion. This is not the case with Joceline’s work. That’s why I have decided I had to meet her and include her in my series about female photographers.
And we did meet, one day in February, in the beautiful location Gunnersbury park. Joceline appeared to me as I had imagined her: kind, passioned about her work, honest, humble. We had a very long and pleasant conversation, during which Joceline told me about how she entered the photography world. She was still at school, in London, dreaming to be a fashion designer, when she moved her first steps towards this new media, and her love for it must have grown day after day so much that she decided to attend Falmouth University, in Cornwall, studying fashion photography.
Her style developed with strength during and after those years at University. Her romantic and fragile women got a voice in her images. Photography itself became a kind of therapeutic process, Joceline said, a way to deal with all the doubts, the heavy or disorientating thoughts each of us have to face while moving from youth to adulthood.
She is strongly inspired by a variety of artists among which Todd Hido, and by the theatre and film photography industry (I can see that from her dramatic use of lights) towards which she is dreaming to move one day. I really wish her dreams come true, and most of all to keep creating with passion and enthusiasm what we will recognise as the special signature of her heart.

Thanking you Joceline so much for working with me on this project, I invite you to look at her work online. Website: http://www.jocelineallen.com; Instagram: @jocelineallen.

@2020 Flavia Catena

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Portraits in Oxford and London

“Hope” is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops – at all
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.” Emily Dickinson, Hope is the thing with feathers

Here are a few portraits taken at the end of last year to some beautiful and talented girls I worked with in Oxford and London, focusing on natural beauty and candid moments.

Alisa
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Odella
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Agnessa
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Silence

The world, these days, is so loud, rushed, caothic! I was thinking about it this morning, still curled up in bed, and suddely I remembered the day when I was travelling to Etna – the Sicilian volcano – with my parents, and the moment we went out of the car for a few minutes to admire the landscape. No one was around, not a human being, not an animal. Birds were not chirping as there were not trees or bushes. The silent, in that black, desert space, was so perfect, so complete, that it seemed like Earth itself has stopped spinning. I could hear my own breath like when underwater; each of my little steps was echoing. I almost feared like, by just being there, I was destroying the harmony of the place. And so, for a moment, I stopped moving, I stopped breathing, and I became part of that marvel.

I was away from the blog for very long, I know! The truth is that I have been feeling the urgent need to keep myself hidden in my own little world; I have been looking for that perfect silence both outside and inside of me. Does this feeling ever touch you as well?

Sharing now some of my most recent favourite photos, I wish you a Merry Christams and Happy New Year!

©2019 Flavia Catena

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Model: Jade Van Kooten

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Model: Dovile C.

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Model: Lauren Walker