Guia Besana is an Italian-born, Paris and Barcelona-based portrait photographer whose work often focuses on women's issues and the theme of identity.
Guia Besana is a self-taught photographer whose images are regularly seen in galleries and publications around the world. With a specialist interest in women's issues, her photography projects often look at the theme of identity and are as thought-provoking as they are engaging. She lists Julia Margaret Cameron and Cindy Sherman among the photographers whose work interests her the most, but she draws inspiration from her own life experiences.
Guia studied media and communication in her native Italy, before becoming a photographer and moving to Paris. She has worked for the Anzenberger Agency and in 2016 joined London's nineteensixtyeight photography platform.
Her images have been published by CNN, Huffington Post, Newsweek, Marie Claire, the international edition of The New York Times and Le Monde. However, her personal projects and series have also attracted widespread acclaim, with the Baby Blues collection, which looks at the emotional side of motherhood through a series of staged and symbolic portraits, picking up the 2012 Amilcare Ponchielli Grin award.
Another of her notable projects is Poison, which explores over-consumption and habitat destruction. Guia admits that distilling the vast and diverse range of environmental issues into a tightly composed collection of images was not an easy undertaking. The hook for her was the feeling of helplessness, although she made sure that the images provided room for the viewer to make their own interpretation rather than being prescriptive in tone.
Underpinning Poison was the continuation of the feminine motif established in Guia's earlier work. This wasn't a decision based solely on her ability to identify with the female characters in the images, but also the conceptual contrast created between women as 'life-givers' and the scenes of destruction that she was depicting.
Guia's Traces project was another huge undertaking, this time focusing on the AIDS epidemic in Swaziland. The quiet and dignified compositions cut to the heart of the story without resorting to hammer-blow shock tactics.
In addition to her professional work, Guia has run creative workshops designed to help photographers experiment with the principles of photographic 'mise en scène', something which is such a crucial element in her personal work. She has also explored crowdfunding as a financial model for Under Pressure, a project exploring the role of women in contemporary society.
Guia has exhibited across the globe, including in the US, Argentina and Malaysia, and her work has attracted a host of international prizes, including the Los Angeles DCA Award and the Marie Claire International Award. She has also been a finalist in the Julia Margaret Cameron Award for Women Photographers.
How much direction do you give your subjects when it comes to their poses?
"I direct only if I have an idea in mind before the shoot. Otherwise I leave the decisions to the moment. It depends a lot on the subject and our first minute together."
Your work appears meticulously planned. Where do the ideas for the themes and compositions come from?
"Generally I have two or three themes that stay with me for different reasons. After a while only one seems to stick, so I start working on that one. I have an idea of an image in mind and start researching for props I want to include or locations I want to use. The themes are somehow always personal or deal with my own feelings and experiences. Ideas can start from a small thing such as a skirt or a real scene I witness, then I try to re-enact what I have in mind. "
Many of your portraits do not feature direct eye contact. What is it about an image of someone looking out of the frame that you're drawn to?
"I've always been drawn to environmental or conceptual portraits, where the surrounding elements have an emphasising role. For me, an object can be as important as the subject and having someone looking out of the frame creates a dialogue between the subject and what surrounds them."
What is your preferred lighting setup to use when you're shooting on location?
"I'm in love with continuous lighting but it's heavy and not easy to carry around, so I usually only use it for my personal work. For editorial assignments, where I need to be flexible and light, I usually carry at least a Speedlite and an umbrella."
What has been the most important lesson you have learned about photography during your career?
"Perseverance pays off."
"My personal work is composed of series of images that are staged. Shooting a staged image is the last step of the process. When I start thinking of an image and an idea, so much has to go between that moment and the actual shooting. Ideas can stay with me for months before I actually start collecting props and finding a location. This long process can easily include my editorial work, giving a good balance to everything. I think that interrupting personal work 'flow' with assignments in this way provides a good opportunity to go back to it with fresh eyes and rethink things."