“It is out of reality that the most peculiar tale of all is born … Some call me the Elder Granny, others – the Dryad, but my real name is Memory. It is I who sits on a tree that keeps on growing, and growing, it is I who reminisces and tells stories.”
—Hans Christian Andersen
These photographs are part of the Dream Chapter of my larger work on Fairy Tales.
This fairy tale is like a spell cast in an attempt to disenchant the past. It is an act of creating a new reality in which illusion is the truth. They say that childhood is a time when one’s mind is asleep. Acting as a guide leading my daughter to consciousness I intend to implant in her a belief that, as C.K. Chesterton writes:
“Fairy tales are more than real, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they make us realize that they can be conquered.”
Marta Berens’ non-logical, dream narratives seem to hold some kind of fascinating but inexplicable logic. Assistant editor Alexander Strecker decided to find out more.
LensCulture: Can you introduce yourself and explain how you first became interested in photography?
MB: I was born and raised in Warsaw during the fairly interesting time of martial law. From a young age, I was preoccupied with the need to remember, to freeze the moments that were important to me. Going through my grandmother’s photo albums was always a magical experience and I took every opportunity to do it. I thought of photography as the perfect medium for keeping memories. I couldn’t say the exact moment when this need first arose, it seems to me that it was always present.
I started to take more photos when my daughter Tosia was born. For Tosia’s first nine months, I found myself documenting every single day of her life. Very few pictures of my parents’ childhood remain—perhaps that’s where my insatiable need to document came from?
LC: Tell us more about “Dream Chapter.”
MB: At the beginning of my mentoring program with Sputnik, my tutor Adam Panczuk and I thought about a story I could work on during my year-long workshop. After going through many ideas, I ended up choosing to tell a story that I could create together with my daughter. The ‘fairy tale’ we began to tell together took the form of mutual play—and for me, a form of photographic therapy.
Tosia narrated the story and subsequently, I would interpret it through photographs. Eventually, I found that this was too theatrical, so the fairy tale shifted towards defining the thin line between reality and fiction.
LC: The camera’s usual purpose is documentary. How do you feel about shifting photography’s language towards the imagination, the fantastical?
MB: Paradoxically, I feel the story is documentary in nature. Indeed, the visual language is unorthodox for the genre and the form may surprise. However in my mind it is a pure depiction of my reality and of the powerful emotions that were present at that time in my life. In general, the boundaries of documentary photography today have blurred. There is a multitude of definitions but as long as what is recorded is strongly personal, I consider it a photographic documentary.
LC: Your style feels very personal, unique to you. Who are your inspirations?
MB: Just three years ago, hardly anyone knew I was photographing. Each time I was obliged to present my work to someone, my hands were shaking and I had a weird feeling. I never studied photographic theory or analyzed works by the masters of photography. Everything I have done was based on intuition and an insatiable urge to photograph and capture moments.
LC: What does “visual storytelling” mean to you?
MB: For me, visual storytelling is a certain kind of speech organ—a means of starting a dialogue through the expression of a feeling that is characteristic to whoever tells it. Without photography, I would lack an important tool for expressing my emotions.
—Marta Berens interviewed by Alexander Strecker
Marta Berens’ work, along with photographs from ALL the LensCulture Emerging Talents, were shown in an exhibition at the Galeria Valid Foto in Barcelona. Discover the work of all the winners on LensCulture.