Ventiko is the most extraordinary photographic artist I have even encountered! Her photos look like Renaissance oil paintings, and amazingly enough the elaborate sets for her photo shoots she constructs herself, often from mountains of newspapers, or hundreds of milk cartons. In this article about her processes, some of her lighting secrets are revealed as well. This full article was a published on the VASA blog:
New York: Photographic Artist Ventiko–Entering Her Version of Reality
Ventiko’s photographic images remind one of paintings by master Renaissance artists like Michelangelo, Da Vinci and Raphael. Ventiko creates the sfumato and chiaroscuro-like painting effects in her photos by skillfully directing photo lights on her portrait subjects amid rich shadows.
Ventiko credits development of her photographic style with the influences of a Black and White photography course and an in-depth art history course, both completed during her first year at John Herron Art School, where she slept days and “obsessively worked on prints” each night in the computer lab or in the school darkroom.
The following year, Ventiko began working as an apprentice for her Maestro, photographer Tony Clevenger. Ventiko describes her apprenticeship with Clevenger as “a lucky period in my life. Maestro taught me how to be an assistant, but more importantly he taught and encouraged me to become a photographer. Loading Polaroid backs,120 and 220 rolls, 4×5 sheet film, and running an E6 processor were daily occurrences. As was sweeping the floors. The greatest gift I was given was trust, because he taught me how to use the Dynalite strobe lighting system and a film Hasselblad camera and then gave me these tools to take home and experiment with.”
It was during this Dynalite strobe period that Ventiko began constructing sets for her portrait subjects to occupy, incorporating everyday found objects, clothing and drapery.
“After mastering the Dynas, Maestro taught me how to use Broncolors, and a year and a half ago I purchased some of my own. When I moved to New York, settling in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, my images darkened–both visually and metaphorically.”
One of Ventiko’s dark images, The Nightmare, which won an award on the art news site ArtSlant, can be viewed in a portfolio of her artwork on her website www.ventiko.com
“The Nightmare investigates relationships depicted in Christian art from the Gothic to Baroque epochs. It is not based specifically on any one work, dream or nightmare. I hope the image is beautiful so that the viewer is disarmed and open to the meaning of the work,” Ventiko stated.
Another of Ventiko’s images, Gyspy, depicts her muse, which Ventiko described meeting. “My oldest friend Jaybird and I dressed up and went to see Armen Ra perform on his Theremin at the Gershwin Hotel. Fifteen minutes into the performance, from my peripheral, I saw light enter the back of the room and as the doors opened a figure in black ascended the stairs. One of the only seats open was on the second row from the front on the aisle next to me, where she took her seat–a tall brunette wearing a short black dress, black veil and black leather opera length gloves, oh my. So not to be rude, I didn’t acknowledge her presence. Fine, I was nervous. After Armen Ra finished his piece, he left the accompanying stereo playing and walked out of the room. After the silence became uncomfortably awkward, I turned to Gypsy and said “hmmm…is that it? It’s a bit unfinished don’t you think?” To which she replied “Well, no, that is what makes it wonderful, leaving an element of curiosity. (Perhaps I ought to tell you that Gypsy lives her days in the body of a man and at night she comes out to inspire me.) We continued the conversation in the lobby. Thank heavens Jaybird was there to give me the courage to ask Gypsy if she would allow me to photograph her. She said she would and we exchanged information.”
Their meeting led to an outing to Jamaica, Queens, were Ventiko and Gypsy found a sparkly red taffeta ball gown for their upcoming shoot. “The red ball gown was the first article of clothing that we purchased together. Seeing Gypsy try the dress on moved me deeply, as she was wearing her daily costume of a man.” Ventiko began to question “what is right, what is wrong, who says so, and why something is accepted as truth. For the first time in my life I related on a personal level with someone’s struggle with identity and the shame and guilt brought on by others, and that coincided with my self-acceptance and self-expression.”
Ventiko kept the gown on displayed in her studio. One day, leaving the studio, walking outside in her trash filled neighborhood, “some discarded newspaper took to the air via a gust of wind. That was my Eureka moment. It was then that everything made sense. I wanted to both clean up the trash in the streets, and create something beautiful and representational of my life.” Thus began Ventiko’s late 2008, mid 2009 newspaper project and the creation of the first newspaper costumes.
“The newspaper project started small. I was collecting newspapers from the neighborhood bodegas’ trash piles (The New York Post or The Daily News) and keeping only the black and white pages. To maximize the amount of black and white pages, I started collecting The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal from the city’s
bodegas late at night and schlepping them back on the train. These newspapers represent the values of the Machine and by manipulating each page of black and white print I visually exercise my Civil Disobedience against the accepted societal norms. After I had accumulated copious amounts of newspaper, it then took me three days–twisting and manipulating the” norm” into something that is desirable– to create the paper skirt for the photograph A Display.”
In Ventiko’s loft, the newspapers she had collected became an organic sculpture that she lived with, and in, for 9 months. “During that time the newspaper set continued to reshape itself into a variety of forms–it was a dragon tail that became a centipede that took over the hallway, until finally cremated in a 20 ft trench in Montauk.”
Another photo set Ventiko built in her studio, came about when “a friend of mine tipped me off that a woman emptying a storage unit in Long Island was giving away props and costumes for one day only. I rented a car and dashed out there and was rewarded with 4 parachutes, army netting, bags and two red velvet deco style chairs.”
Ventiko then located some free sand (hauling not included) and built a set in her studio using two of the parachutes suspended from the ceiling along with the army netting, and created a ten by ten foot sand pit. “The set became a fixture of my life for several shoots during a three week period. When it was time to strike the set, my two cats were quite disappointed, as they hadn’t needed to use their litter box in quite some time. Perhaps you might be interested in the story of the octopus I got down the street for the photograph Julia? Let’s just say the result was a great holiday card and very nasty infection…for me.”
Ventiko is currently creating new work in two very different series. “In the fall of 2010 my mother began chemotherapy and eventually had a mastectomy to treat her breast cancer. This awakened in me many emotions that had been suppressed. The photographic works I am currently creating are a continuation of themes and motifs introduced in Tenebrism– birth, death, rebirth, loss, suffering, pain, remorse, shame, humility, guilt, fear etc. Recently I created Le Mort inspired by Le Mort de Marat by Jacques Louis David.”
In her second series, Ventiko creates wearable costumes out of recycled milk cartons from a nearby elementary school. ”The costumes have been used for both performances and photo shoots. Currently I have two full body dresses/robes, halos, collars and panties made from milk cartons and am constantly creating more. I must create something with my hands or I feel unfulfilled and restless,” Ventiko explained. “Each day I must do something related to photography. That can be shooting, editing, research, visiting museums, galleries and art fairs, processing information gathered, or creating sets.” When a portrait subject steps into Ventiko’s studio, they enter her version of reality. This reality is most often accompanied by the classical music of Erik Satie, costumes, wigs and assuming a character. “The set, people, props, costumes, make up, and posing are created, chosen, decided upon, applied and directed by me. In the final stage, I create a work of art by using my camera, as if I were a painter, to capture the composition I have created from the vision in my mind. The final image is a portrait of the essence of the individual free of constraint.”