The Photograoher turning anxiety into art
by Harriet Shepherd 2018
“Feelings are universal,” says Tania Franco Klein, neatly encapsulating one of the key premises of her work. “Everyone knows loneliness. We all know how it feels to be lost.”
Through her cinematic images, which dissect the American dream, the 28-year-old Mexican photographer hones in on the essence of anguish. It’s something Franco Klein is no stranger to. Her entry into self-portraiture was a personal reaction to anxiety. “I used to be very outgoing,” she says “I used to be able to go out to the street and approach strangers and bring them to the set. But now I've come to a point where I just can't talk to people.”
Turning the lens on herself became a way to continue her practice. “It wasn’t a choice, I just had no other option. I couldn’t process anything else in my life. I couldn’t work with people. It took over me. I had insomnia and most of my work was made between one and five a.m. It would come out of me being completely anxious – it was very solitary.” During this period, she began creating roles for herself. “I wanted to talk about the things I was feeling. This anxiety, it’s an epidemic. We are a suffering society and we need to talk about [it].” This apparently global feeling of displacement is part of the reason Franco Klein’s work can be appreciated by anyone.
Her fans include Academy Award-winning director Guillermo del Toro, who in March this year tweeted a link to an essay about her work in the Paris Review, as well as the 20,000 people who follow her Instagram account, @taniafrancoklein.
Her visceral images employ dramatic mise-en-scene to explore the uncertain and confusing scope of human emotion, and the space between darkness and light. In them, her characters are simultaneously lit in cinematic glory and swallowed by shadows in a palpable expression of loneliness and longing.
In her series Our Life In The Shadows (2018), a woman stares listlessly out of an open window, perched on a kitchen table. In another image from this collection, a different woman gazes through the mottled glass of her shower, conjuring a deep sense of sadness. Elsewhere, her 2017 installation Positive Disintegration, shown at Mexico City’s Zona Maco Foto Art Fair, takes its title from Mental Growth Through Positive Disintegration (1970), a book by the Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dąbrowski, who claimed that personality development may increase following periods of trauma and depression. “Once you enter the universe of my characters, you feel something,” Franco Klein explains, and it’s true.
Her works may speak of the past, with their nondescript and nostalgic timeframes, peppered with retro TVs and vintage wallpaper, but they resonate with the present, her characters plagued by the same fears we face in this age of anxiety. “I’m interested in that space between coming and going, that sense that life is never full. I feel like my characters are between this personal fight that we all have.” Franco Klein actually discovered photographywhile studying architecture at Mexico City’s Centre of Design, Cinema and Television. “I just fell in love with the possibilities of the medium,” she remembers. “It’s so approachable, anyone can understand photography.” Following her architecture degree, Franco Klein enrolled on a photography course in Mexico but became disillusioned with its rule-based tuition, so moved to the UK and began an MA in Fashion Photography at University of the Arts London.
Her approach to her craft was always different from other students, she says. “My teacher could see that I wasn’t interested in studio fashion, I was always interested in the concept, about talking about things to do with life.” This attitude is evident in her Vanitas Spectacle (2018), a conceptual series staged alongside work by Paris and Lebanon-based photographer Dorine Potel at Mexico City’s Almanaque Fotográfica gallery. Alongside Potel’s brightly-coloured images, Franco Klein presents a collection of moodily-lit photos that develop her experiments with chiaroscuro, the contrast of light and dark. “There's something very thrilling to me about working with light,” Franco Klein explains. “It gives me this adrenalin.” This dramatic rendering of light and shadow lends her work its filmic quality. “For me, it was always about creating, I love going out with my camera and just taking photographs of things I find, but I just don't think it's my work.” Instead, she carefully crafts alternate realities, scenes in which her drama unfolds. Unsurprisingly, Franco Klein grew up in a household of cinephiles. “I would go to the cinema four times a week growing up,” she remembers. “It’s always been a part of my life.” She says Brazil, Terry Gilliam’s 1985 dystopian epic, is her favourite movie, and it’s easy to discern this retro-futuristic influence in her work – a mix between past and present, nostalgia and displacement. “You can find me somewhere between Mexico City and California,” she explains. “But I never spend more than a month in one place.”