Work of the Week: Clarissa Bonet

From the series City Space
Perpetual Shadow, 2014 © Clarissa Bonet

Clarissa Bonet’s work explores aspects of the urban space in both a physical and psychological context.  She received her M.F.A. in photography from Columbia College Chicago in 2012, and her B.S. in Photography from the University of Central Florida. Interested in the physical space of the city and its emotional and the psychological impact on the body, she uses the camera to transform the physical space into a psychological one, providing a personal interpretation of the urban landscape.

She currently has two on-going bodies of work City Space and Stray Light.

Spilt Milk, 2011 © Clarissa Bonet
Spilt Milk, 2011 © Clarissa Bonet
City Space

The urban space is striking. Its tall and mysterious buildings, crowds of anonymous people, an endless sea of concrete constantly intrigue me. City Space is a ongoing photographic exploration of the urban environment and my perception of it.  I am interested in the physical space of the city and its emotional and psychological impact on the body. These photographs reconstruct mundane events in the city that I have personally experienced or witnessed in public. Stark light, deep shadow and muted color are visual strategies I explore to describe the city.  I use the city as a stage and transform the physical space into a psychological one. The images I create do not represent a commonality of experience but instead provide a personal interpretation of the urban landscape.

SL.2014.1030 Chicago, 2014 © Clarissa Bonet
SL.2014.1030 Chicago, 2014 © Clarissa Bonet

Stray Light

Building facades melt into darkness, their architectural details vanish, leaving only glowing windows in a sea of pitch black, like stars in the night sky.

Stray Light is an ongoing photographic project aimed at imaging the nocturnal urban landscape. We have all but lost the night for our progress. In its place we have formed a new cosmos, one of vanished surfaces and flecks of light. Carefully constructing each image from multiple photographs, I reform the urban landscape in my own vision – one that seeks to reconstruct the heavens in its absence above the cityscape. Light emanating from each window references a world unknown, evoking a sense of mystery and awe.

SL.2015.0608 Chicago, 2015 © Clarissa Bonet
SL.2015.0608 Chicago, 2015 © Clarissa Bonet

The following is an excerpt from an interview with L’Oeil de la Photographie:

Agathe Cancellieri: Did your practice change when you came to Chicago? How did this city influence you?

Clarissa Bonet: When I moved from the suburban area of Florida to Chicago, everything I thought I knew about life—the comfort of home, the routine—seemed to be turned upside down. It was almost like relearning how to operate in a foreign landscape: the way I bought groceries, the way I commuted, the way I did my laundry. Everything was different and it was the smallest differences that I found intriguing, bizarre but also very beautiful if you allow yourself to experience it. It was also a much more isolated life. Not to say suburban areas are not isolating, but it is a little bit more profound here in Chicago because you are seeing so many people with whom you are sharing your space but you will never meet or know them.

A.C.: So you started City Space as a kind of catharsis, to try to understand this new space and adapt yourself to it?

C.B.: When I started the City Space project, my experience with living in the city was so different that I just started making pictures about this experience. I felt really invisible as if nobody knew I existed. It was very overwhelming. So this feeling was the beginning of this project. This picture, Spilt Milk, happened to me. Not so long after moving here, I took the train to get groceries and ended up buying too much and being unable physically to hold it. I got to the train, got off at my stop but the bag broke. It was extremely embarrassing. Afterwards I wanted to make a photograph about this experience and I ended up making two other versions of the image before making this one. The first two were unsuccessful because they were merely descriptions of the event and did not visualize the feeling of the moment. In Spilt Milk, I use light to create a spotlight that references the tenor of the moment- isolating, embarrassing,  as if all eyes were on me.

A.C.: Would you say that Chicago has its own specificities in terms of space and aesthetics compare to other big American cities?

C.B.: In my photographs, Chicago is a landscape not different from others. I am not trying to make my photographs look like Chicago, so I don’t include street signs and I stay away from iconic architecture. That is also why I choose a neutral title for this Series, City Space. My photographs are a reflection of how I feel about the urban space in general.

A.C.: How did you evolve from the City Space project to Stray Light?

C.B.: Stray light started to take form in 2012. I wanted to work outside of this very directorial way of making pictures, as I was doing with City Space. I wanted to make images in a less complicated, preproduction way. City Space demands a lot of time and energy to find the locations, people, the right time of day, and the right weather all before I got a chance to even photograph. I wanted to work on a project in which I would be freed from that process.

A.C.: In this series it is almost like the city, its buildings, its windows are becoming  stars, constellations, part of the universe. Is it your intention?

C.B.: This project started to take form in my last year of grad school. It was inspired by my drive home at night. I would always take the same way home down Lake Shore Drive. On this road there is a bridge you must go over where the river joins Lake Michigan. As soon as you hit the bridge you are level with the city and it opens up before your eyes. It feels as if you are standing on the edge of the city looking in as it begins to engulf you. This drive has become one of my favorite things to do at night. The city at night elicits a very similar feeling as if I was looking up at the night sky. Light emanating from each window references a world unknown, evoking a sense of mystery and awe.

 A.C.: How do you technically give this feeling of infinity in your photographs? Are they a combination of several photographic shots?

With Stray Light I am working within the genre of collage. The most complex image in the series is made up of 97 individual photographs. Most of the time though, I use between 20 and 40 photographs to create a singular image. When going out into the field to photograph, I am collecting data in the form of stray light – light that emanates in the landscape from the thousands of windows that dot the night sky. After I have collected a significant amount of imagery I then pull from my archive to create the final piece.

Paths, 2011 © Clarissa Bonet
Paths, 2011 © Clarissa Bonet

Clarissa Bonet’s work has been exhibited nationally, internationally, and resides in the collections of The Museum of Contemporary Photography’s MPP collection, The South East Museum of Photography, and The Haggerty Museum. Most recently she received the Chicago Individual Artist Grant and was curated into a group show at Aperture Foundation Gallery.

To see more work by Clarissa please visit our website.

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