To rummage: to search among things. "I like this word," says Italian photographer and Canon Ambassador Guia Besana. "I have this vision of me rummaging." She's searching for the right pictures to tell her story.
In the field of photojournalism, it can be hard to find your calling – you have to carve out your niche to stand apart from the crowd. But after travelling the world reporting, Guia found her raison d'etre much closer to home: she found herself telling more and more stories about women.
"I related to subjects that I understood," explains the former photojournalist. "You recognise in others what you see in yourself."
Guia began her career in photography as a researcher for photo agencies including Magnum Photos, wanting to travel the world chasing stories. Success came, and she found herself behind the camera reporting on worldwide issues for world-leading titles.
But on reflection, Guia felt an ethical conflict about reporting on issues far removed from her own experiences. "I started questioning whether it was correct for me to decide how a story had to be told when it was about a culture that was not mine," she says.
Photojournalists once spent weeks, months or even years understanding and capturing a story but "now everything is fast and you have a week to tell the story."
Inadvertently, her portfolio began to fill with female-centred stories, and editors began to notice: The New York Times, Marie Claire, Le Monde. "Le Monde saw I had a lot of work on women, and started to call me for similar work.
"There are so many photographers, so [making it clear you have] a specific interest in something means that an editor – who has in mind so many names, so many emails – will think of you."
But it wasn't until 2006 that Guia's career took a definitive turn towards the subject she's now best known for. "I was pregnant and alone in Paris without family. I had my partner but he was travelling a lot... I started thinking that the solution was to photograph my state of mind. That's when I started telling stories about myself, which were real and true, but using fiction.
"It sounds quite contradictory, but for me fiction is more real than reportage," Guia says. With fiction, she has the ability to carefully construct visual responses to her own life, as opposed to hastily drawn conclusions on assignment. "I decided to work on my personal experiences of being a mother. I tried to stage the conflict of motherhood in photography."
A subsequent series of projects, including Baby Blues, Under Pressure and Poison, elevated Guia's work onto a world stage, winning her awards and recognition as a Canon Ambassador, and allowing her the freedom to explore and share her experiences as a woman.
Her fine art work is notable for its vivid colours, retro glamour and the curiosity it instils in its viewers. "The narrative can be inside one picture. You can imagine what might have happened before and what might happen after... it is near to cinema in that there is a story," she explains. "But ethically there was less struggle for me. In this moment when everything can be so fake, this fiction is reality."
Guia now carries this approach through to her editorial work, using fictional scenes to depict real-life stories in glossies such as Marie Claire, Femme Majuscule and Burn Magazine.
Her portfolio is a feast for the eyes, with carefully considered colour, textures, composition and details such as makeup and clothes. The depth and draw doesn't solely stem from her narratives, but her casting choices: her models are often street cast. "I don't pick professional models, because they know how to pose – it is less surprising for me. Professional models are not embarrassed, while street casting gives me subjects who are not so used to standing in front of a camera. This does make them uncomfortable and that's when it becomes more interesting for my work," she tells us.
And it reflects in the refreshingly relatable look of her characters, which despite having a fashion aesthetic, aren't sexualised. The women are beautiful, but not objectified; they're slightly awkward, but real.
In her recent project, A Rummage of Flowers, Guia played with themes of fragility, power and indecision. "When a woman overcomes fragility, that's when she becomes powerful," she explains. "The more I see flowers, the more I appreciate what nature gives me."
Guia also identifies indecision as a female trait. "Women can be strong and be unsure of what they want. I really wanted to try to capture that," she explains, referencing the generally strong but sometimes deliberating expressions seen among her four models.
The resulting dynamic images play with light, colour and our emotions. Working in a studio, it was important for Guia to be able to move around, stop and develop her concept as she worked. "I like my camera to be light," says Guia, who worked with the Canon full-frame mirrorless EOS R. "I don't feel it's something that comes between me and the subject."
Her immersion in the shoot is part of the reason she loves to work with the smallest professional camera in Canon's range. "Photography can be very nerdy and I'm not a nerd, but I love this camera," admits Guia. "I think it's really something about how it's not distracting me – it lets me work. That kind of shape and size doesn't get in between me and what I'm trying to do: connect with the subject. [If subjects] see you with something really big in front of you... even a model can be intimidated."
Guia looks for faster workflows that enable her to achieve her vision without breaking the creative flow of her shoots. "I tore the paper, the flowers were messy... I like to play," she says, explaining how she uses continuous lighting to allow her to review the scene as it will appear in her photographs. "The EVF simulation of the exposure [in the Canon EOS R] means there's no waiting and testing exposures. I use the multi-function bar to change the ISO – I don't use the vari-angle screen, but I use the touchscreen for focus as I look through the viewfinder.
"When you use the silent mode there is a white frame that appears [to indicate a shot has been taken] – it's really completely silent. I like that when you focus you don't have the beep, but I want the click of the shutter in the studio – it makes me feel secure it's taken."
Guia usually uses a Canon EOS 5DS R and considers resolution to be king, with detail in the textures along with accurate colour rendition important for her print output. "I had a mixture of lenses on this shoot. The Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM is an amazingly sharp lens. But I also like to have the detail I had with the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, which I discovered seven months ago and love. The EOS R has this adaptor that is amazing, and it's not very big. You can mount all of your EF lenses – that is really important for a photographer, not having to change all their equipment with a new system."
With her personal projects, Guia prints her work an average 120cm high. Shooting in Dual Pixel Raw with the EOS R, she thinks ahead to the final output. "I've never had RAWs like this," she says. "The colours are beautiful already. Everything has to be sharp – it's what you see in real life. The eyes have to be sharp."
Eye-detecting autofocus and a combination of the EOS R system's 30MP full-frame sensor and brighter-than-ever lenses gave Guia both a lot to work with in post-production files, and little to do. "It's really impressive!"
Reflecting on the new addition to her kitbag, Guia enthuses: "It’s small and simple on the outside, but complex on the inside."