Charlene Galea is Malta based artist and photographer. Before the launch of our collection of photobooks with her, we chat about life as an artist in Malta, performance art and body, and the value of cross cultural collaborations.
How would you describe your style of art and photography?
Just like my character - impulsive and spontaneous yet very thoughtful, energetic and with an eye for so many details.
Which artist’s works have you been completely drawn to? What artists or ideas have influenced your own body of work?
Whilst studying in London College of Fashion, where I had started experimenting with photography I was immensely drawn to Wolfgang Tillmans, Nan Goldin and Corinne Day. What I found fascinated within their work is a similarity to my own lifestyle across the years I was living in London - the dark side, the community vibes, the vulnerable human body, the honest approach.
Please briefly share with us your process of working on a photo series? Are you an intuitive photographer or do you plan extensively? What camera do you use? Why the obsession with analog?
I use analog (automatic) as explained before I am impulsive and usually jump from one subject to another. No planning is something out of my lifestyle as an artist for sure. Same with perfection—it is something I cannot breathe. I use several small analogs - snap and shoot and those with more zoom out lenses. My favourite cameras are Nikon and Olympus but I love to test with whatever I may come across in some market, hoping that the film (inside the camera) has worked.
What is a project closest to your heart and why?
Each one of them. Usually when I am working on a project, there is a spike in my emotional heart rate, a stir in my everyday life and an explosion in my working brain. Something unique provoked me to research and develop a project professionally, therefore I treat each project with the same devotion and passion.
What is it like being an artist in Malta right now?
Since I came to Malta in 2017 (after 13 years of being away), I have slowly seen great changes within the art scene, more females are now doing their own thing. For a long time the scene was more male dominated, so I am thrilled that I have been part of the change to more equal voices. In relation to when I create performance art, this is all very new to Malta—I find it more challenging to diversify what is considered art through my own body.
I do accept my work can be quite quirky to the island, but expression should not be conservative nor limited. In the start of exploring performance art and shooting my own body, I have been criticised constantly for being narcissistic or not knowing what I am doing, but like a painter needs time to sketch, a performance artist needs time to explore space and subject. Throughout the project, I enjoy showing the process, not just the outcome. In general, I am grateful for the various exhibitions and collaborations I have taken part in since I have returned.
Collaborative shoots in Malta
"I accept my work can be quite quirky to the island"
Where do you think photography is headed in Europe? Particularly fashion photography?
To be honest I have stopped focusing on fashion photography as I do feel the direction now is so blurred. When I look at images I see an infusion of life, space and posture. Fashion is the outcome as we live in it daily and it changes and evolves with us. I hope that it keeps thriving sustainability, positive body images, diversity, community and speaks the language of world issues happening around us and not just hedonism and appearance.
Image from Charlene's Anti-Billboard Campaign
In what way has the pandemic influenced your work? Has it limited or inspired new ideas?
I have never experienced a proper lockdown, since both the times I have been working—In the 1st Covid wave in 2020 with Covid Helpline and 2nd wave with Vaccine Helpline. I knew because of my severe ADHD that staying home can be a threat to my health, therefore I looked for work which was temporary but well-needed for the community. I have only just done my first quarantine for 14 days. I have created projects out of both working experiences, one will be presented in September 2021, called ‘Pandemonju Pandemiku Penali’. Both experiences have enriched my knowledge towards being empathetic and listening to others, helping to make a change.
The project I have done in the 1st wave called ‘Backlog’ will be presented in the future when people have started to forget about Covid. It is mostly about a connection I have created with a girl from Brazil who ended up at my place in March 2020 and got stuck with me. We went for long walks and photographed each other very often. It is about connection, trust, being away from home and survival.
Image from Project Backlog
Image from the Vaccine Project
Your work has always been very analog in nature. We are going to launch various limited edition photo books with you as well. What excites you about analog books, printed artworks in mini photo books?
First of all, the way Curry has created my books is exceptional in the way that I feel you have been inside my pockets whilst I go around shooting. You have captured not just my stories but the design also reflects a lot of my personality and energy whilst shooting.
I appreciate these books more as recently I have damaged my hard drive and have been waiting for about a year to recover them. To know that in another part of the world there are traces of my work locked in a moveable photo book, being looked at by strangers who connect to me gives me goosebumps. The fact that the images are printed in a photo book makes my brains chill out—to know that the work is safe and alive.
You’ve always been a supporter of Curry. What value do you see in collaborating with cultures and audiences other than your own? How much of your artist/ personal identity and free-ness belongs to your travels?
The ecstasy of collaborating with other cultures is derived from sharing my personal information (photography) to strangers who then will not be strangers anymore. They know a part of the inner me from the moment they have looked at my vision and how I am related to the outside world. How I capture the image says a lot about me. That is the point—that even though I may be so far away, I am close to them.
What advice would you give to someone beginning their journey in media arts?
To go out to the world and search for hidden meanings. To make photos with awful compositions and no stories. But that is the story out of it, the learning point. Use different cameras, no need to buy the latest, or most expensive. Try basic ones and find your own voice.
Every artist has something to say. What does ‘Charlene Galea’ the artist care about?
‘There is no need to search for freedom, as we are not born free. Yet we need to start living life through movement, do not stop moving, your body has so much to grasp and embody along the way. There is so much a body can do, do not limit yourself.’
What’s your favourite photograph? Show us.
Nan Goldin - The Ballad of Sexual Dependency
Invite us into your world—the books you read, your neighbourhood, non-human friends you might have?
I enjoy going for long walks alone and running into whatever space I find myself in. Every few months before Covid had invaded us, I was enjoying escaping to a part of Europe I never encountered and going on an adventure, a ‘La Situationalist’ style. Waiting as well for clubs to open normally (with a dance floor), as a part of my essence needs electronic music and I love to document the crowd. Basically the camera is always following me in my free time. Recently I have started drama classes as well and I do ‘live drawing classes’ where I pose nude which helps a lot in meditation.
Charlene's camera travels with her to clubs
Your role model and why?
I have no limit to how society tries to condition me. I never thought I would ever go back to study at age of 28 and start to be interested in arts. I didn't even know what Fine Arts was, but I felt like I am once again a child and I can play. My inner child developed at an older age. I never really went to museums before, I just did clubs. Then I started slowly to develop the other side of my brain, the creative side which was buried through capitalism, and a wider perspective zoomed out 360 degrees. I started to practise ‘Body Art’ at age of 35, and that has given me a better understanding of how to live in my own skin and how my body and mind are connected to the outside world too.
Wine or whiskey?
Straight vodka with ice and lemon.
When are you visiting us in India?
In my list. For sure, it will be hard for me to leave then.
To follow more of Charlene's work, find her on Instagram @rixac.