Alexandra Benetel is a conceptual and fine art photographer from Australia. Back when I was a beginner (over a decade ago), she was one of my favourite photographers. Today, she continues to inspire people worldwide with her dreamy portraits.
Read on to find out more about Alex's inspiration, her thoughts on pursuing photography full-time, what it was like working on a major photography project for Disney, and more.
What sparked your interest in photography?
Alex Benetel: I feel like I have always shown some interest in photography. I travelled to many places throughout my childhood and often enjoyed capturing the environment around me with a disposable camera or handheld film/digital cameras.
It became more of an interest in high school when I took a Visual Design course. There was a specific photography unit within the course that focused on pinhole photography and processing film in the dark room. I fell in love with that whole process. I was then introduced to Flickr and the rest is history!
Your work falls under the category of conceptual photography and fine art. How would you define these genres?
Alex Benetel: I couldn’t help but smile when I read this question. These two phrases were often thrown around on the Flickr scene when I was trying to develop my specific style. I was often found looking up what exactly these genres meant.
I would define these genres as something with a story, a message, a theme. It’s when the artist has planned out a concept to be visually presented in a certain way, to tell a certain story with, when their vision has ultimately come to life.
Your full-time job isn’t related to photography. Would you ever consider pursuing photography full time? Why or why not?
Alex Benetel: I’m in this constant battle with myself when I think about what my professional future looks like. I love being a primary school teacher and I like to think that I’m really making a difference. However, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t dream of a career in photography.
The type of avenue I would want to pursue doesn’t have a clear path, so I guess you could say that I’m still trying to navigate that. With the current fast-paced changing art world, I am a little worried of what the art space might look like within the next few years.
Would I consider it? Yes - always. It’s just about the right opportunity and the right job.
Every single photo in your portfolio is finely crafted to create a dreamy atmosphere that tells a story. What does your planning process look like?
Alex Benetel: These days, I’m really limited with planning time. My full-time career takes up so much time that I’ve lacked having the time to really sit down and plan a concept.
These days, photoshoots and ideas are quite spontaneous. A fragment of an idea will still pop up in my head after a good session of staring out a window, listening to a sad song, or watching a moving film. From there, I either draft up a quick (often unrecognisable) sketch in my notebook or jot down a few phrases on my notes app and save it for a rainy day (sometimes literally for a cloudy day, ha!).
Which photographers or artists have had the biggest influence on your photography?
Alex Benetel: I feel like it’s been a handful along the way. Without being introduced to the Flickr world, I wouldn’t be where I am today. We were all just teenagers, located all around the world trying to express ourselves creatively; trying to figure out our own style, our own story that we wanted to tell.
To me, that’s been the most influential part of my photography journey; trying out all of those wonderful and wacky ideas and supporting each other along the way. Still following and seeing all of those wonderful young artists and how their careers have flourished since then has been really special.
In terms of ‘bigger’ artists, I’ve always loved the work of Tim Walker. Lately, it’s all about cinematographers, more specifically Greig Fraser.
How do you want people to feel when they look at your photos?
Alex Benetel: I just want them to feel something, anything. To me, if they’re able to see layers of meaning, a specific story, something unique and otherworldly then that’s really special. I love it when it starts a conversation, when people tell me their own interpretations of a piece.
Many of your photographs are self-portraits. What technical advice would you give to photographers who want to give this genre a try?
Alex Benetel: It may not be super technical, but it’s important to have patience. It can often be frustrating being all parts of the process; the planner, the director, the model, the photographer and the editor. Often, our ideas are so clear in our heads but aren’t coming to life the way we first imagined it.
For a more technical answer, having a remote always helps (but isn’t essential). There’s still something fun about a self-timer and a frantic run. Just remember that focusing can get a little tricky. But the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.
Lighting is super important as well. There’s nothing like a cloudy day that softens out those harsh shadows.
Self-portraiture can be quite daunting because it creates a lot of room for discomfort and vulnerability. What advice would you give to someone who feels uncomfortable in front of the camera?
Alex Benetel: Trust the process and give yourself time. I’m the most confident in front of the camera when I’m alone. It allows me to block out all of the noise and be with nature and my thoughts. It allows me to focus on what I want to express.
Try to spend as long as you can taking photos and trying new things. Don’t rush it, be spontaneous, keep moving, and try different angles. The more you do it, the more comfortable you will get. Not everything you create or take has to be published for everyone to see. Allowing yourself to breathe and ignoring the pressure helps. Have fun with it.
You’ve achieved many incredible things in your photography journey, from working with Disney to being named as one of Flickr’s 20 best artists. Which achievement are you especially proud of and why?
Alex Benetel: Those two achievements are definitely the highlights of my photographic career. Flickr 20 under 20 was so validating and truly one of the most special moments in my life. For such a long time, I doubted whether my photography would be recognised on a larger platform.
That week in New York, I met and connected with so many artists I had looked up to for years. I re-united with friends I met through Flickr and made new ones, too. I was able to finally network with people in the field of photography and art, but also see my work exhibited and viewed by so many people (some really important people too). Something shifted and I felt like things were possible and that I could do something really great with photography.
On your website, you say that your goal is to “create beautiful photographs that capture mysterious yet dream-like worlds, filled with oddities that encompass aspects of reality.” On a practical level, how do you create mystery in your work?
Alex Benetel: I get the most inspired on cloudy days. For me, a storm rolling in or the sound of imminent rain immediately elevates a sense of mystery. In my work, the most important aspect of creating a mysterious scene is fog. The whole idea of not seeing the whole scene immediately heightens the whole idea of ‘the unknown’.
You’ve been hired by Disney and Instagram to take stills on movie sets. Since this kind of work is very different to what you usually do, what were your first impressions like? What did you find the most challenging?
Alex Benetel: It was like an out-of-body experience. I honestly thought I was dreaming. I have loved film since forever. The whole film world, including the behind-the-scenes process, the actors’/actress’ processes and insights...just everything.
I was so nervous and anxious about whether my style would translate into that world. I definitely put pressure on myself to get some incredible shots that would not only reflect the film being made, but also reflect my signature style. The most challenging part for me was just being confident in general. I had to tell myself, "You’re here for a reason. Show them what you can do because you may never do it again."
Working around people on set can be challenging, particularly because you don’t want to be in anyone’s way. That, and time. However, it’s just about making the most of the opportunity and taking as many shots as you can!
What is the best photography tool or accessory you’ve ever used?
Alex Benetel: The best photography tool I’ve used would be Photoshop. There’s nothing like importing a photograph and then adding a few things to it, regardless of whether it’s something complex or simple. It’s the final step and, for me, where it all comes alive!
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself during your journey as a photographer?
Alex Benetel: How important networking and making connections can be.
When was the last time you had creative block? How did you overcome it?
Alex Benetel: Honestly, I feel like I’ve been in one for quite some time. It comes and goes in waves, but generally since the world shut down, things have definitely changed. I think environment plays a huge part in it. I used to go on a couple of trips a year, but haven’t done so in a while.
I recently went to Uluru and found that trip sparked some inspiration, so I feel as though I need to explore some new environments to get those creative juices flowing again. Generally, I try to listen to new music or watch a film with an impressive plot and cinematography. That usually inspires me in some way.
Otherwise, even if you have no ideas at all or aren’t feeling motivated, pushing yourself to go for a walk or even take a new photo can be a positive step forward towards getting out of that ‘funk’.
Please give the readers a prompt/idea to inspire them during their next photoshoot.
Alex Benetel: Recently, I have been studying a text with my students called ‘The Lost Thing’. We’ve really analysed all of its hidden meanings. Shaun Tan’s texts are always so incredibly layered. I think creating about the idea of being lost in a strange world would be an interesting concept to explore.
Where do you see your photography going in the next 10 years?
Alex Benetel: I really do feel that the art space is rapidly changing. I really do hope that I’m still creating magical and otherworldly photographs. I hope that people still value a physical artist creating photographs and employ them based on their talent and uniqueness. I hope that I do more film set work and am able work within the film and television industry. I also hope that I still am creating personal work as well.
What do you think of Alex's work? Let me know in the comments!