Burning to belong: Q&A with Natalie Michelle

Lumens II, 2017

Lumens II, 2017

Meet Natalie Michelle, a photographer from Northern Ontario who is drawn to abandoned spaces and the concept of home

Hey, Natalie. First off, could you tell us about you and your work, in a nutshell?
Hi, I’m Natalie. I like dogs, strong coffee, and depressing music. In my free time I like to drive around aimlessly in hopes of finding abandoned structures I am yet to explore. I’m currently based in Northern Ontario, where I co-own a photography business named Pixelpond, so my life pretty much revolves around the creation of images, whether for commercial or fine art purposes.

How did you come to take self-portraits?
I have a fair bit of social anxiety, and I don’t like asking people for help so it’s no secret that I’m a bit of a loner. I first started taking self-portraits to facilitate learning the technical aspects of photography, and in turn the process became a form of therapy. While I do have some amazing friends who have assisted me in creating some of my images throughout the years, I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting someone else through any of the potentially harmful situations I tend to embark myself in, like being barefoot in abandoned buildings or risking any serious burns etc.

Where did you train, or are you self-taught?
I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts (specialising in photography) and a minor in Film Studies from the University of Ottawa in 2014, but there’s still so much to learn. I plan on continuing to postgraduate studies in a few years after completing several exhibitions and residencies.

_I don't remember,_ 2015

I don’t remember, 2015

Where predominantly do you take your photographs? (we notice a lot of them are taken in abandoned spaces – why are you drawn to this?)
Most of my photographs are taken in various abandoned spaces I’ve stumbled upon throughout the years. I grew up in a small town surrounded by its fair share of architectural ruins and had a few friends in high school with a shared interest in abandoned buildings, so exploring became one of our favourite hobbies. I still harbor an archaeological curiosity that draws me to these temporary places, and since most of them are set to be torn down in the near future I like to interact with them and document them in my own way before they cease to exist. On the days where exploring isn’t an option, I sometimes try to challenge myself by creating something entirely from the comforts of my own room.

What are your major influences and themes in your work?
My work almost always revolves around the concept of home, in terms of physical space as well as the inherent human desire to belong. I’m very interested in the things we leave behind, and exploring how our environment influences us, and vice versa. Sometimes I just like to take a photograph for the sole purpose of having a tangible memory of a particular space.

Weight_Wait, 2018

Weight_Wait, 2018

Name some artists whose work inspires you, and tell us why.
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Francesca Woodman since I was introduced to her work by comparison several years ago. She was incredibly proficient from the age of thirteen and produced an immensely influential body of work in such a short amount of time. I’ve always been interested in how she seems to interact with the space so effortlessly in her photographs. I’m also a big fan of Nan Goldin for her honest, cinematic depictions of intimacy. My non-photographic inspiration include cinematographers such as Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and musicians like Julien Baker (I’ve had her latest album on repeat for months.)

What kind of camera and equipment do you use?
I like to switch it up whenever I feel like I’m being too dependent on one specific format. Lately I’ve been shooting a lot of instant film, but my go-to is usually a Rolleicord vb type II that I got when I was 19. When I’m relying on the convenience of digital, I shoot with a Nikon D600 or D800 with a 24-70mm or 50mm lens. I also often use a Pentax K1000 that I found at a thrift store several years ago for $15.

Bloom, 2018

Bloom, 2018

Tell us something few people know about you.
Of the five tattoos I currently have, two are lyrics from Bon Iver songs. So far I’ve seen them in concert four times in three different countries.

Where are you taking your work in 2018? 
My first solo exhibition is currently up at the local gallery in my hometown, and in April I’ll be starting a month-long residency in Stöðvarfjörður, on the east coast of Iceland. I’ll be going back to Iceland again in December 2018 for a residency in Reykjavik.

Keep informed on Natalie’s latest projects and work by following her on Instagram and checking out her website

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