Francesca Tallone is a photographer and curator from the Central Coast of California with roots in San Francisco, Halifax, and Brooklyn. She has exhibited her work in the U.S., Canada, and abroad and has been featured in numerous publications. Her current home is Montreal where she has more film in her fridge than food. She keeps company with Pocket, her adorable black cat who once ate a whole cassette tape.
We’ve been a fan of Francesca’s photography for a long time. Her series, The New Angular, decorates our wall at home. Like most of Francesca’s work, the series is otherworldly, neither here nor there, yet it resonates with us in a way we can’t explain. Needless to say, we were thrilled when Francesca graciously agreed to sit down and chat with us about how she discovered her love for photography, who and what inspires her, and the kind of legacy she hopes to leave behind.
Interview date: August 15, 2011
Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. We’re pretty stoked.
Yeah, I’m super excited.
Before we get going with the interview questions, tell us what you’re currently up to as far as photography and curating.
I’ve been doing a lot of photography work with local Montreal fashion designers, shooting lookbooks and doing editorial type stuff. I’m starting on an amazing project shooting places in New York that I’m really excited about too, and I’m still working on a few publications and other printed matter.
And with curating right now, I’m working on putting together a few different shows. One is a huge group show based on the theme of a home or domicile and how it can be something that makes you feel really safe and comfortable or can sometimes be a little frightening. I’m also working on a smaller screen print show and will be co-producing a photo show in Montreal for the New York Photo Festival next year.
Awesome! How did you get started doing photography?
Well, I really started concentrating on photography when I was 19 or 20, but I’ve been taking pictures since I was 7 years old. I grew up outside of Boston and when my family moved to California in the late 80’s, we drove across the country. We spent about a week and a half on the road and went to all these amazing places. My parents had this little Kodak Instamatic camera that I remember taking tons and tons of pictures with and the Instamatic continues to be one of my favorite cameras to shoot with.
In high school and the first few years of junior college, I did painting, philosophy, some theatre, sculpture… I did all these other things because I just wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. In my early twenties, one of my good friends was making a short film and asked me to take pictures for it. It was the process of working on that film and learning different types of techniques and lighting that got me immersed in photography. It was kind of a ghost story, so I was taking high contrast black and white photos of people in period costume. It was such a fun experience. That’s when I realized, “I’m not a painter. I can’t paint my way out of a box.”
The idea of going to art school didn’t really appeal to me. I wanted to be able to study other things and not be riddled with school debt for the rest of my life. I went to San Francisco State University because it had a really good photography department and I liked their elective program. I guess I was kind of late because I was 21 or 22 before I decided to go to school for photography. I think that getting all these other perspectives and trying other things really helped to inform what I wanted to be doing with photography.
So you have a degree?
Yeah, I have a BFA.
Right after high school, I actually did go to art school for a little while at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I wanted to see if art school would work for me. I was doing really intensive life drawing classes and some graphic design but I didn’t really want to be doing that. That’s when I decided to go back to junior college to take other classes and figure out what I wanted to do. It took me a while. I worked a lot, lived at home, saved money, traveled all over California. By the time I was ready to get my BFA, I had decided to focus on photography and art history with a little bit of film theory thrown in.
“That kind of creative process [creating things with your hands] was something that was really important to me growing up. It wasn’t so much that I was immersed in art, it was more learning how to create something and then manifesting it in my own way.”
You kind of touched on this, but was creativity a big part of your childhood?
Yeah, kind of. My father is a mechanical engineer and he used to do a lot of carpentry. Growing up, he built our furniture and I remember helping him with an addition to our house in Massachusetts. He also restores vintage sports cars. My mom is an amazing seamstress and made all my clothes when I was growing up. Both my parents really like cooking and working in the garden. They were always creating things with their hands. That kind of creative process was something that was really important to me growing up. It wasn’t so much that I was immersed in art, it was more learning how to create something and then manifesting it in my own way.
Did you ever have an “aha” moment where you knew you wanted to do photography?
I looked at a lot of fashion magazines when I was a kid but didn’t really realize that I wanted to do that until much later. I think it was one of those things, growing up and looking at a lot of artists and photographers and realizing there was a way you could look at the world and interpret it on your own. I wanted to make photography that was part of the world but surreal at the same time, really abstract. My “aha” moment was maybe when I saw Francesca Woodman’s1 work because she was someone that really meant a lot to me when I started to take pictures. She was the one photographer that made me say, “This is really what I want to be doing and whatever I have in my brain that I can get out, it needs to come out.”
Did you or do you have a mentor?
I think my mentors have been people in my life at different points in time. I haven’t had just one mentor. There are people who have had an impact on me creatively and emotionally over the course of the last ten to fifteen years. It’s not necessarily one person guiding or leading me on an artistic or academic route, but it’s more people who are important to me at certain points in my life who I would consider mentors.
Was there a point in your life when you decided you had to take a risk to move forward?
Yeah. For sure. Moving from San Francisco to Halifax on a whim was a risk. It was literally like a ten minute decision. At the time, I really needed to do something that was outside the realm of anything I’d considered doing before. Ultimately, it was a really good decision, but at the time it was terrifying.
What made you decide on Canada?
I was dating someone who was from there (Halifax).
So you grew up in the Boston area?
Yes, until I was 7.
And then you went to California.
Yeah, I lived there from 7 to 24.
Then to Halifax.
Then to Brooklyn, NY and back to Canada, Montreal this time.
Yeah. That’s exactly what happened.
You’ve lived in a lot of places. How does where you live impact your creativity?
Oh, man. A lot of it is like… the different places I’ve lived have had different paces of life. What people are doing in each place is different.
Being in really beautiful cities with a lot of history, exploring, going on long walks, and learning about the historical aspects of all the neighborhoods is really important to me. A lot of the personal work I do draws on the history of places, my personal history, or nostalgia and things like that.
The artistic and music community in Halifax is really close-knit, really tied together in important ways. Being around art, hearing good music, and seeing people who have an idea and actually go for it helped me be motivated and inspired. It’s a good way to discover things I want to be doing by being in places where people are doing things they want to be doing and not just talking about it. It’s also just really beautiful there.
Are your family and friends supportive?
Yeah, they really are. My parents are way more supportive than they probably ought to be.
Who has encouraged you the most?
Probably my parents. They want me to believe in what I’m doing. They know I’ve never been able to do stuff I don’t believe in.
And then my good friend, Nicole, who is incredibly encouraging. She’s an illustrator and one of the hardest working people I know. Whenever I talk about doing something and don’t actually do it, she tells me, “You’ve been talking about doing that forever, you should really just do it.” Seeing her do the things she says she’s going to do is really motivating for me.
What kind of jobs have you had?
I worked at a few art galleries in Halifax. It was good to see how art galleries are run. I opened a gallery in my house, Gallery Deluxe Gallery, with my friend/roommate Paul Hammond, and was the alternative spaces coordinator at the Khyber Institute for Contemporary Art for a while, as well as on the board of directors. I also worked at the Dalhousie University Art Gallery. I shot for the weekly paper in Halifax too. Growing up as an idealistic child, you think, art is great, we’ll make money. You don’t always consider the business aspect so it was really good to see that side. In New York I worked at Giant Robot, which was a bookstore/art gallery, and did photo editing and retouching at MTV for a while.
The non-creative jobs I’ve had have kind of killed my soul and I really hope to never have to have one again.
I’m currently doing some work retouching photos, which is good because it’s a skill I want to get better at. I’m also working as a seamstress. These are jobs that aren’t tapping my creative energy or making me upset when I’m doing them and they’re helping me do other creative things I’m interested in.
When you worked non-creative jobs, did you find it difficult to create or get started on projects in your spare time?
Yeah, for sure. I would get home and just be really exhausted and not want to do anything. Yeah, it was not fun.
Do you feel a responsibility to contribute to something bigger than yourself?
Not really a responsibility, but I would love to have any kind of influence on people the same way that people have had an influence on me. Meeting people who have seen my work and tell me something about how it resonated with them is really nice. I would love to have that impact on people, even in really small ways.
Are you satisfied creatively and where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?
I don’t think I’m hugely satisfied creatively right now. I would love to do a lot more personal work. I want to start doing more publications. My body of work is relatively strong but I still feel like it’s lacking something and I want to focus more intensively on that in the next few years.
I’d like to travel more and do art shows in different cities. It would be nice to be relatively stable financially in the way that I can take off 6 months and travel and go visit countries I’ve never been to or visit friends in other countries and make art with them. Traveling is important to me. I don’t want to be stagnant. I want to live somewhere and be settled but still see other places. I have a tiny gallery in Munich called ¨ gallery (umlaut gallery) with my friend, Estella Mare, and I want to be able to be part of that.
Knowing what you know now, if you had to go back and do it all again, would you do anything differently?
Um… maybe. I would have moved to New York earlier. I thought that when I moved there I had a really clear idea of what I wanted to do. I knew I wasn’t going to be there forever so I had a sort of casual time constraint. I don’t think I worked hard enough when I first moved there. I was caught up in the fact that I was living in New York and I forgot the reasons I wanted to move there in the first place. I would have thought more critically about my time there and really worked harder because I was only there for 3 years. BUT at the same time, I’m of the mind that everything we do informs everything we do and where we are, and I pretty much like where I am right now, so it’s hard to say if anything should have been done differently.
Did you move there for work?
Kind of. I moved there because I had always wanted to go there. I had won the Surface Magazine Avant Guardian competition2 a year and a half before, which is why if I had moved there earlier, it might have been better for me. I really wanted to go to New York for work, but like I said, I don’t think I tried hard enough. I could’ve done research on photographers I wanted to work with or agencies or magazines I wanted to approach. I did do that, but not to the extent that I wanted.
If you could give advice to a young person with an interest in photography, what would you say?
I would say really learn about what kind of photography you want to be doing. Study the history, learn about the processes. Learn about photographers. Never stop taking pictures. Take a ton of pictures. If you take 3 pictures you love, that’s good. If you can learn to take 100 pictures you love, that’s really good. Put your photos away for a while, look at something else, and then come back to them and re-evaluate them, re-evaluate yourself.
Every time I go somewhere new, I think about taking new kinds of pictures. I didn’t even take pictures of people until 5 or 6 years ago. When I moved to Halifax, I was taking blurry pictures of the sidewalk and buildings and things. It took meeting people who said, I really love your work and we could do this with people in it and me saying, cool, do you want to be the person in my photo? Buildings are beautiful, but they’re not emotive in the same way that people are emotive.
Alright, I think we just have the easy questions left.
Okay. I like that.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I like coffee and long breakfasts. Then I write some emails, edit photos, stare at the internet for a while and maybe hang out with Pocket and then go for a walk or a bike ride. These are all nice weather things. In the winter, it would look like me crying because it is 17 degrees below zero (celsius) and sleeting. So far this summer, my days have been a lot of swimming, bike rides, picnics, dinners at friends houses. We do a lot of dinners at friends’ houses up here. It’s nice.
What does a typical day look like when you’re planning to go out and shoot?
The last fashion shoot I did was for my friend’s clothing line. We all met up for breakfast and walked over to this park. I was, at the last minute, going through all my cameras and getting film and lenses, figuring out how many rolls of film I needed, and deciding if I should bring everything with me (because I tend to do that). Set-up was hectic because we had a strict time constraint.
For the Giving Up the Ghost3 series I did, it was a process of a few month’s worth of time. Walking around finding locations, gathering the clothes I needed for it, and figuring out the best time of day to be in certain places took more time. I had to find places where there wouldn’t be people wandering around. I didn’t want anyone else in the photos. Typical day for that sort of thing is to play it by ear.
That’s cool. Okay, the really fun questions. Current album on repeat?
Do you know Wolf Parade?
I have been super into Spencer Krug’s newish project, Moonface. It’s him and an old friend of mine. It’s a two piece and just really amazing.
Growing up, I liked The Day the Earth Stood Still, the original one. I really liked Cloverfield. I love monsters. I’m the worst. I have a film minor. I should be better at movies. Um, The Bicycle Thief is one of my favorite movies of all time. And The Breakfast Club.
How about books? Do you have a favorite?
The Velveteen Rabbit!
Yeah. The most recent book I’ve read that is a favorite is 2666 by Roberto Bolano. I have a hard time with favorite books because I read a lot and like them all for different reasons. I also like The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.
Very cool. When we were thinking of questions, we weren’t going to ask these kinds of things, but you learn a lot about people by asking these questions.
Oh yeah, for sure.
Okay, last question. Your favorite food?
I really like soups a lot. And Japanese food. I eat a lot of sushi.
This isn’t on the list, but what is your cat’s name?
It’s “Pocket.” Do you wanna meet her? I’ll go get her.
[Tina] I’ll go get Jackson.
(Our cats, Pocket and Jackson exchange meows)
Okay, we’re gonna add one more question.
Go for it.
What kind of legacy do you hope to leave?
Well… (long pause)… It would be really nice if people thought that I was a good photographer. But I would really like to be the sort of photographer that someone could see, during any part of their life or learning process, who would have an impact on others so that they would want to do art, even if it isn’t photography. To do something that would motivate somebody to do what they really believe in or want to do, that would be really cool, in a “your work makes me really want to take pictures” sort of way.
“I would really like to be the sort of photographer that someone could see, during any part of their life or learning process, who would have an impact on others so that they would want to do art, even if it isn’t photography.”