CROSS-INTERVIEW Crina Prida - Ontoshiki

When we came up with this new concept of making a number of "cross interviews" between notable artists we couldn't avoid to think in our amazing curators Crina Prida and Ontoshiki. They are not just great photographers but also awesome curators, interviewers and writers!
So we ask them to select a few images from themselves and from the other, match the images in doubles and ask/answer some questions.
So here you have the first outcomes from this intense cross fire between two remarkable creatives.

(George Lever)

CRINA: Justin, I came across your site ACCIDENTALLY, although I was aware
there was a curator called Ontoshiki on Citylab. Mind my ignorance, I am not familiar
with err... non-European names. My first thought when I browsed your Work was
"hey, this guy is a walking ninja with a camera!". The 'street' photography as seen
through your more conceptual series "Esoteric Voices" or "Darkness Within"
are at the same time intriguing and haunting. So let's break the ice with
a simple question:
what lies beyond your visual dark, esoteric photos?

ONTOSHIKI: I stumbled on the idea for esoteric voices, walking between worlds and the darkness within at the start of 2012 when I was exploring the concept of spirituality, reading about the thoughts and philosophies behind Gregg Braden. He is a scientist turned author who seeks to bridge the gap between science, technology and spiritualism. Science has only been around for 400 years or so and so there are a lot of things in this Universe that cannot be explained by science. The work Gregg has undertaken to explore the ancient teachings of the temples of Mayans, Egyptians, Sumerians and Tibetans among many other civilizations is both insightful and inspiring and I implore others to read or watch his lectures in order to be understand the world around us as well as the Universe within yourself. 

In addition to his teachings, I have also been reading widely from different authors, scientists, philosophers and futurists such as Michio Kaku, Ray Kurzweil, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bruce Lipton, Eckhart Tolle, Peter Icke, Terrence McKenna, Peter Russell & David Wilcock among others. I absorb what I read but take everything with a grain of salt while forming my own conclusions about life, our existence and the Universe.

I was inspired by the works of Alexei Titarenko's city of shadows so I used motion blur to capture the souls of random strangers on the streets of the "esoteric voices series" while in the "walking between worlds" series, i try to conjure up images of souls walking between parallel universes. I don't think I can compare the work I've done to Alexei's since I shot most of them within the span of a few weeks and a few rolls of film but I would like to go back to the drawing board and explore this series more technically when I move to Europe.

ONTOSHIKI: So tell us about yourself Crina. What is it like growing up in
Romania? Why did you choose to be a dentist and at what triggered you
to use photography as a medium to express yourself?

CRINA: I try avoiding clichés here, although it might be difficult. I have spent my teenage years in a very restrictive political context. The 70s and 80s were probably more limitative in terms of freedom than the days of Dracula (making a reference to my Transylvanian ancestry here).

I was lucky enough to have parents with solid intellectual training, and one of their best decision was to send me to Art secondary and high school. When graduating, I was stuck with the dilemma of choosing between art or literature, which were and still are, my favourite things, and through which I have learned to express myself, or pick a 'liberal' career, which was supposedly going to keep me safe from poverty, unemployment and worst of all, relocation to some God forsaken place as an obscure country art teacher or librarian.

I decided to study dentistry, and I have never had major regrets. While in university, the Iron Curtain fall occurred, and everything sort of fell into another pattern. I resumed painting and drawing for a few years, and later on, I think it was back in 2006 or 2007, I bought my first SLR camera - it was the Canon 350D, with a pair of crappy lenses.

A funny thing I still remember, is a movie I saw as a student, it might have been French or Swedish movie, not sure, in which the main character, a doctor, used to meet up with his friends for drinks and chats in a small room, and while they were ‘socializing’, he'd pull out a film camera and make rolls of portraits of the person opposite to him. I liked this doctor’s habit, later this voyeuristic obsession came back in a different form in Antonioni’s ‘Blow Up'; I carried this fantasy of doing the same, making portraits, slide an image capturing device between me and the subject when I was going to be a successful dentist...

CRINA: During our line of emails prior to publishing this cross interview,
we agreed upon a generic title - sensual darkness; we are both fascinated by
feminine beauty, or rather, by its reflection through the camera.
I notice a lot of erotism and grittiness in your women portraits.
How do you select your models, and what is your 'secret' to make them feel
apparently so comfortable with their sensuality in front of your camera?

ONTOSHIKI: Perhaps it's a little cliche but I agree with the concept that photography is a reflection of ourselves. The moments we choose to record with the press of a shutter is a response to the electrical synapses and fleeting moments we experience in this lifetime. In this world, we live through our "senses" and we are able to experience feelings, emotions and thoughts that perhaps are non-existent in another plane of existence. These include unwanted emotions such as pain, fear, hate, jealousy & anger but also elements of love and lust, compassion and eroticism. I think sensuality & spirituality are intertwined and through my exploration of these senses I find a deeper understanding of myself and of the world around me. The lifetime we have in this vehicle is a very short one in relative terms of Universal existence so why choose a life where you are not satisfying your innate senses. Live life creatively, passionately with fulfillment, stimulation and inspiration. My journey down this path started just a few years ago but I am going with the flow of energy and living in the present moment. 

Sorry for digressing... back to the question. Most of the gritty portraits I take are of people I meet through my daily life and I believe these paths created through synchronicity, whether short-lived or long-term have purpose or meaning which I have yet to realize. I have no secrets - I just interact with my subjects and try to be myself. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't; that’s the only song I know how to sing.

ONTOSHIKI: How your art education influenced your photography and
why did you choose photography over say,
painting or other forms of expression? 

CRINA: hmmm...Let me answer with a twist.

I have been really mediocre at drawing in Art school - I tried to understand the technique by which three dimensions become two - but it simply never worked for me; drawing was mandatory of course for passing any exam, I managed somehow to weasel my way around, but my interest was aimed towards sculpture and ceramics, the three dimensional arts in general. I painted for a few years after graduating from high school, and was lucky to exhibit some of my paintings - there was this yearly "Doctors/Physicians Art Salon" in my hometown - an annual exhibition of art made by doctors. I remember that once I saw some really interesting photos by a fellow surgeon, they were displayed next to my paintings, which sort of brought back memories of the days when I used to shoot crappy photos with my Dad's Zenith camera.

At that point, painting had started being a drag; it was messy, tedious and time-consuming, while my private medical practice was beginning to grow; so I went out and bought a point-and-shoot camera - it was a 4MP Minolta-Dimage thing, and I started shooting randomly. After a few months, in 2006, if my memory serves me right, I started an account on, and that is where my photographic journey began.

Somehow I think I lost my 'virginity' where art/fine/conceptual photography is concerned on Pbase, it is the first place where I got to 'grow' by interacting with other photographers. After a couple of years I discovered DeviantArt, which I still find one of the best platforms for sharing art and conceptual photography on the web; I sort of changed lanes, it is still a place I value in terms of inspiration and personal artistic evolution, although I stopped posting there a while ago.

The thing is, I am still searching for a breakthrough - I am on one side painfully influenced by the boring, run-of-the-mill academic principles I'd been fed for 8 years in art school (and I am referring here to the basic but redundant notions of composition, subject, style), and on the other side I am fascinated with the freedom one can reach through experiment, randomness or accident, and the versatile engagement into conceptual art, be that photography, painting or any other form of visual expression.

To put it in less words - my art education has been always my turning point; I relied on it in the past, I still do - whether we're talking about the artistic part of my job, or my photography - I have the KNOWLEDGE - not properly updated or structured as it should be, I am not bookmarking pages, jumping from one reference to another, but it IS THERE. I may not be an artist myself, but I surely can recognize good art when I see it, while I can also feel rightfully nauseated by the shitload of art imitation and bad aesthetics which flood the internet.

CRINA: One of the reasons I come back to your site is also the 'inspiration' section:
as a matter of fact, I stumbled upon it firstly as I was searching for some
Helmut Newton reference; I am a fan of Newton, so might I ask,
how do you relate to nude and fashion photography in general,
and to European photography in particular?
Are there noticeable differences of principle where
erotic or nude photography is concerned?

ONTOSHIKI: I would say the difference between porn, erotica and nude is that porn arouses the simplest part of you often treating humans as sexual objects. Nude photography whether implied or explicit, arouses our visual senses generally by playing with curves, light and shadow yet there is no sexual suggestiveness presumed. Erotica arouses the most complex part of you, also known as the greatest erogenous zone, your mind, leaves your mind to wander imaginatively and allows it to fill in the blanks by giving sexually visual cues and hints. That would be what Helmut Newton’s photography would fall under - erotic fashion photography. He has a mind of a voyeur and I am much like him so in a sense his photography speaks to me. 

I grew up in Malaysia, a country with tough censorship laws similar to Singapore, where kissing scenes and cleavages were censored, nudity and sex scenes were cut, and many movies were banned altogether. On top of that, I come from a slightly conservative family upbringing. In my teens, my family moved to Australia and around this time (the 1990s), we were introduced to the world of the internet. Needless to say, it was a mind-blowing experience to see sexually implicit advertising on TV and other media and to be able to surf freely and have a wealth of information, pictures and videos at our fingertips. 

To be honest, I am only starting out doing nude and erotica and I have no idea where it’ll take me. I would like to somehow integrate this visual sensuality that is apparent in my existing work with fashion or commercial photography but if not, I will continue to pursue it out of personal interest.

ONTOSHIKI: So your photography is a blend of conceptual art and photography.
Who then has inspired your artistic or photographic style?
This can be philosophically or aesthetically.

It took me a couple of days to get back to you on this question, Jus. I decided to "sleep on it" - because I feel rather unprepared each time I am asked this question. It's not because I do not have my models and/or referential trends and artists, but because my photographic journey has known a lot of turns and ups and downs, to the point I am not sure if I am supposed to praise or blame these influences after all.

To get to the point though, my most intimate visual reference has always been THE cinema; movies scratch my retina in an unforgettable way, more than photography will probably ever do. It is not like I am carrying an imaginary film memorabilia box around - but in my photos there is always something I haven't seen or I have seen but expressed it wrong, and that becomes obvious the next time I watch a movie.

Since I am knee-deep into postmodern theory, I will name here Fassbinder, Woody Allen, Almodovar, Greenaway. But the story began of course earlier, with the Italian Neorealism and French "Nouvelle Vague" cinema of the 50-70s - it will be no surprise to you my mentioning Fellini, Antonioni, Truffaut, Godard. I have absolutely no idea how to ‘enter’ a photo session without this contextual approach.

There is a recurrent obsession for time and deconstruction in each of the above mentioned film makers’ aesthetics, and my only concern is that every still image I make should pertain to this. Not that I am doing it successfully, but to me, an image will probably hold some meaning when it relocates the originally captured information to a non-specific but clearly recognizable deconstruction of time/symbol/signifier patterns.

You ask me about “philosophical” influence. I am no longer an avid reader; however, I have shaped up a simple algorithm by which I filter information – and this starts with Derrida’s theory of deconstruction, Baudrillard’s simulacra and well, my favourite book on Postmodernism – Lyotard’s “Postmodern Condition”. Of course everything is subject to divagation and hardcore reinterpretation, but this is what metanarratives are all about...

In my personal journey, I have interacted with many photographers and image makers, I learned from some, I copied some, I feel this sort of jumping in and out trends makes us what we are. My favourite collaboration has been with Julien Marie, a French artist who not only worked with me on a number of really interesting projects, but also opened my eyes to my ‘dormant’ inside world. This ‘awakening’ is something I value more than beer...:)

Well, having said these, let me add a few random photographers I really look up to – for different reasons, and in no particular order – Man Ray, Avedon, Witkin, Saudek, Helmut Newton, Sally Mann, Cindy Sherman, Irving Penn, Daido Moriyama.

More recently – I love Alex Prager, maybe she cannot stand right next to the masters I listed above, but well, I like her cinematic approach to photography so there you go.

Images and words by Crina Prida & Ontoshiki.


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