Regarding Fairy Tales: Claire Rosen [Q&A]

Looking at photographs everyday, it is easy to just skim through portfolios. I am usually in a hurry, trying to find something that stands out for one reason or another; something that makes me go back for another look. This is exactly what happened when I found the work of award-winning commercial and fine art photographer, Claire Rosen. I must admit that I initially went through her images fairly quickly, then went on to something else. However, I soon found myself coming back to them again and again, especially her more personal work. Whether looking at commissioned work, or her own personal projects, the concepts behind the images pulled me in. They made me curious. I wondered where her ideas came from, how she implemented them, and if what they meant to her was what they meant to me. According to her bio, her work is “inspired by fairy tales, fables and other children’s stories” and, in fact, her Fairy Tales & other Stories series is what first captured my attention. Every image in the series is a self-portrait, or, as she says, “an alter ego”, based on familiar characters. We don’t often get to see clear faces, but instead, have to interpret the scenes for ourselves, just as we would when reading a fairy tale. I was thrilled when Claire agreed to answer a few questions about her work for us.

F+B: You seem to have a great sense for the fantastical. What brought you to the use of fairy tales and mythology in this project? Did you set out to create a specific body of work centered around mythology or did it start as just one image and evolve from there?

CR: I constantly go back to this idea of an artist’s roots and childhood really forming the type of work that they are drawn to making. My family has had such a strong impact on the type of pictures I want to create. I have four younger sisters and my mother was always reading us fairy tales, mythology and other children’s stories with amazing illustrations. As you might imagine dress-up and make believe were a big thing in my house growing up. My mother would constantly take us out of school to see the circus or bring us to the Museum of Natural History or the MET museum, she made the world a magical place full of curiosity and possibilities. My father instilled in me a strong interest in philosophy, psychology and more cerebral pursuits so I think that the blend of influence from the two of them has really influence the subject matter I am drawn to.

I recently looked back at early work that I made in my first few photography classes at Bard College at Simon’s Rock and Savannah College of Art and Design. Even in those early images, I never wanted to photograph the world around me, I was always setting my pictures up and they all have many of the same references and themes that I use today. It has really been one continuous thread since the beginning that has carried through to even my commercial work.

I began this self-portrait series very shortly after graduating from college. I felt that the motif of a fairy tale was an appropriate metaphor for the way I felt at that time, as the stories are all about self discovery and growing up and this was a period of uncertainty and transition for me.

Claire Rosen - Princess Pea Claire Rosen - Snow Woods

You worked on this project for a few years. Is it complete? When you work on something for so long, how do you know when you are done?

I don’t believe the project is “complete”… I think I will most likely continue to make self-portraits forever (maybe not as regularly) but I do feel more as if a chapter has been completed. I really noticed an evolution in the series and I think my last self portrait, Quest, is a turning point to a new chapter. Which makes sense because I am changing, so the story is changing and the images are changing.

We’ve spoken to a number of photographers who are quick to point out the importance of personal projects, beyond what they bring to your portfolio or body of work. Are projects like this (self-portraits) therapeutic for you?

Yes, absolutely! Photography allows me to sort out what I think about the world and how I fit in it. Self-portraits allow me to do it in a big fluffy dress :) Joking aside, I really do enjoy making this work, it gives me time to reflect on what I am experiencing and a lot of times I am surprised by what an accurate reflection it is to what is going on with me.

Claire Rosen - Drink Me Claire Rosen - Swamp

How do you go about planning shoots like these? Do you sketch out ideas in a journal? Do you have the details completely worked out before shooting?

My process varies a little bit from shoot to shoot but generally something will spark an idea; be it a dream, passing an interesting location, finding a unique prop or a big dress, seeing a piece of artwork or reading a story that inspires me. From that initial element I will brainstorm and build a concept or narrative around it. My brainstorming process focuses more around words than sketches (I am horrible at drawing) – I write descriptions of what my picture will be about, refine the idea, do research if necessary and then I make lists of things I need to accomplish the shoot. Then I go on something I would equate to a scavenger hunt to find all the necessary pieces for the shoot.

A lot of the time I have a very clear idea of what I want to happen ahead of time but sometimes I only have a loose idea and I will bring a lot of things with me to experiment and play with once I am on location. When I was making these self-portraits very regularly, I would always have my camera (Canon 5D Mark II) and lighting gear (Dynalite RoadMax Series) and a trunk full of dresses and props at the ready… so some were quite spontaneous.

Claire Rosen - OpheliaClaire Rosen - Briar Rose Claire Rosen - Icarus Fallen

You write on your site, regarding Fairy Tales, “This series speaks to living in the 21st century, a time when we are constantly bombarded with noise, information and moving images. Still imagery, by contrast, allows us to shut out the noise and hear ourselves. I use photography to both escape and convey the overwhelming nature of our modern reality.” Part of living in the 21st century means most people will likely be viewing your images on their computers, tablets or even phones. Do you see that as a barrier in getting people to experience fully what you want your images to convey?

I personally think that the images are stronger when experienced in print or book form, but if it’s a question of seeing the images on a computer screen or never seeing them at all, I think I would rather people see them! I hope that they still can create a space for reflection amid all of the distractions we engage in as a part of our daily online lives.

Claire Rosen - Fairie Catching Claire Rosen - Quest Claire Rosen - Classics

Claire Rosen’s work requires more than just a passing glance. Inspired by fairy tales, mythology, fables, and magical lands, her art explores the duality that exists in life. When I look at her work, I see that sense of hope in the darkness, the loneliness in the midst of contentment, and beauty found in the ugliness.

To see more of her work, visit her site at http://www.clairerosenphoto.com/