Catch me if you can or the irresistible rise of a young British Photographer

Eleven galleryWhen Gina Soden is not driving down France to ship her pictures to Maria Saava, curator of  K35 Gallery  in Moscow, then you will find her volunteering at the Open House Weekend at Battersea Power Station in the hope of taking snapshots of the building before its slick transformation into fancy apartments for upwardly mobile yuppies. In other words, it is difficult to get your hands on Gina Soden because she is definitely on the rise and things have definitely sped up for her in the last couple years. So, when I finally get a chance to sit down with her in the laid back lounge of The Groucho Club (where in a way her artistic career started), I can’t help think that I am having a rare chance at witnessing someone on the cusp of making it big.

1Then Gina, with her bubbly personality, starts unfolding the story of her young life and you instantly feel at home. Gina’s father has always been a very inspirational figure in her life. A poet in his spare time, he encouraged his daughter to take on his other hobby: photography. Around 13 years old, Gina started taking loads of pictures and with no formal training she had no inhibition in experimenting with photography. As an adult, she decided to learn the practical and technical aspects of photography. So she took a diploma in photography and multimedia at the now defunct Thames Valley University and learnt everything about portraiture. She then did freelance jobs taking family portraits. But her curiosity and the urge to travel were too strong. So, for a while, she worked on cruise ships in order to earn a living. Every single stopover was seized as a chance to capture other worlds, other landscapes and people.

2Upon returning to the UK, she took a regular job that she hated almost immediately but that did pay the bills. A DJ, met by chance and who wanted to do some photoshoots, recommended her some places to photograph. So, Gina went on the web searching for cool spots where to take photographs and came across a photographer’s website who did self-portraiture in contaminated areas. About the same time in 2009, she read a report in the local newspaper talking about an old asylum, The West Park Hospital in Epsom, which had been given the go ahead to be turned into flats. She liked the look of it so she decided on the spur of the moment to go and take a look at it in person. The place was pitch dark as it had no electricity and it had been boarded up. The first day, she rummaged around the place for hours and the following days, she kept calling in sick at work, in order to keep going back. She took photographs of the location from every possible angle, brought some friends in and even a model. She loved the feel of the place and became addicted to it. That was an eureka moment.

3She subsequently quit her day job and went into wedding photography and family portraiture full time. But, lingering in the back of her mind was this idea that maybe, just maybe, there was more to photography than family portraits. So she kept being on the look out for locations that would give her the same thrill and excitement and slowly by slowly this aspect of her photography took over. She signed up on a forum where people reported back on abandoned places and suddenly a whole new world opened up. Gina started spending countless hours on the web using Google Maps, Google Earth, Ghost hunt and geocaching for her research. She also discovered that there was a wonderful network of people eager to share the abandoned treasures they had discovered. They would generously report and document the locations they had uncovered. Before too long, she realised that this type of photography and the voyages that it implied were what made her tick.

4Around that time, she made a decisive encounter which change forever the way she envisions her work. Mike Deere is a commercial photographer who won Professional Photographer of the Year 2013, Overall Winner. He also happens to be quite a proficient climber which is very useful for some of the photographs that he takes. Mike helped change Gina’s photographic vision and became in the process her partner. Until then, Gina’s work was shot at strange angles and was quite messy. He helped her make it more tidy, relying more on symmetrical and vertical lines. While Mike is into industrial buildings, Gina found her niche in shooting derelict buildings. And the architecture plays a big part in the attraction that those buildings exert on her. She likes Italy and its luscious villas and palaces. She associates France with baroque and finds symmetrical buildings in Post Soviet Germany very intriguing.

5Mike helped Gina find her photographic self but it took Rob and Nick Carter to help her get discovered. The Carters are a well respected duo of artists who curate all the artworks at the Groucho Club, a private members club in Soho. Over the years, they have gathered an impressive collection of British contemporary art. Kate Bryan, the then manager at The Fine Art Society Contemporary who now works at London Fair Art15, saw Gina Soden’s work thanks to a family connection and decided to keep an eye on her. After her ten days trip in Europe, freed from any exterior judgment, Gina showed her work to Kate who in turn decided to introduce her to Rob and Nick Carter.

eleven fine art galleryIn November 2012, the couple decided to put on a show of her work at the Groucho Club. They put up 10 photographs of her work up in the gallery and then hosted the Retrogression Solo Pop Up Show for a week. Even before the show opened, Gina had sold 30 copies. The Groucho Club put Gina Soden’s name on the map and from here on, her artistic career was launched. For the promotion of the Retrogression series, Gina got help from the PR person at The Fine Art Society Contemporary. Gina received huge accolades from the press and this kept her busy for a while. Decadenza followed in 2013 and then Emergence in 2014. Her artistic artworks exude a sense of time lost and never regained. Her pictures are definitely tinged with nostalgia and mysticism but there is nothing sad or dejected about them. In fact, these pictures breathe life and beauty. They are all at once majestic and mystic, derelict and beautiful, full of memories yet emptied of people and furniture. She likes the work of Rob and Nick Carter and cites Candida Höffer and Cindy Sherman as great inspirations.

Control roomAt first, she took photographs all across England and as her budget enabled it, she started roaming France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. She is about to go to Ukraine to take pictures of Tchernobyl and is planning on a big trip across Asia or America this summer. When taking photos on trips, she likes the camaraderie that comes from sharing point of views and rejoicing at the sight of beautiful, derelict buildings. So it is never more fun than when Mike Deere comes along or friends join in the adventure. Gaining access to unlicensed places is a lot harder in England than in the rest of Europe where you can roam free and carefree. In America, it is a whole other ball game as places are quite restricted and the law is enforced. Whatever the place, the trip is physically strenuous at times, often a mental and philosophical journey but most definitely exhilarating. Over the years, Gina has shot abandoned reservoirs, derelict asylums, abandoned orphanages, paper mills, old schools and vast factories. Sometimes architectural details such as a painted ceiling or a symmetrical architecture are enough of a draw for her to get in a place.

pianoAs Gina trekked up and down countries, her stylistic approach changed: from gloomy and quite morbid, black and white pictures she has turned to larger colourful formats. For her next trip in the summer in Asia she may take a completely different stand. Up until now, she has taken pictures from inside the buildings, soaking up the atmosphere and connecting with the past history of the building. Her next set of pictures having to do with temples of Asia, she is considering shooting exterior wide angles to encompass the whole building or on the opposite, do macro works rather than having a full picture of the ensemble and getting closer by taking snapshots of details while using bright colours. Whatever her final decision, I am sure that Gina will win another slew of awards. Her trophy collection already includes a 1st prize Naylor Award for Finest Photograph at the National Open Art in October 2014, The Emerging Artist of the Year at the National Open Art the year before that and she was the Winner of Weston Park Fine Art Open Competition in August 2011.

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