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Isa Grassi Interview


Polaroid photography is not dead, and Isa Grassi is one of its leading resurrectors. When the 23-year-old San Francisco-based artist incorporated instant photography into her personal recreation, she did so without the intentions of it evolving into what has since then become known as The Polaroid Project. While the rest of the crowd desperately tries to get that one perfect, soon-to-be-Instagrammed shot with their smart phones during the concert, Grassi gets up-close for a highly exposed, unfiltered snapshot backstage. Although her work has already caught the attention of many, and she’s interacted with musicians most could only dream of, Grassi is simply a passionate young artist who enjoys capturing other artists in a fleeting moment. Cliché talked with Grassi to find out more about her photo project, what draws her into the music scene, and of course, Peter, the alien mascot.

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Cliché: How did The Polaroid Project begin?
Isa Grassi: It’s something I’ve had in mind for quite some time, but nothing as elaborate as it turned out to be. Mostly I would say it was developed out of a need for a new creative outlet. I also paint and draw, and I focused most of my life cultivating those skills. However, that spectrum of the art world was lacking something that I was able to find in The Polaroid Project. I love music and have attended live shows since I was a kid; it’s a world I wasn’t part of and was extremely fascinated by. I use art as a way to process things and understand the world better, so I thought, why not take a glimpse at this industry that was so foreign to me and document a time and place in history, as well as in my life? Even though I don’t make music myself, it has always played a huge part in my life, so in a way, this project is my tribute to the people behind it and all the work that they put into it.
Do you go to live shows for the sole purpose of this project, or has it grown from your personal pleasure?
I grew up going to shows, and for that I have to thank my parents who have always encouraged my sisters and I to attend concerts. Of course, I wasn’t going to nearly as many shows as I am now. It’s a real commitment, both financially and physically, which I can now endure and afford compared to when I was 17. That’s why I started The Polaroid Project recently—I wanted to make sure I could give it the attention and development needed. Moving to America has also made the music scene a lot more accessible compared to when I was in Italy. We get international artists when they are at the peak of their careers, which implies big venues and a lot less shows in comparison to here especially because I’m a sucker for small venues and more intimate performances.

The green alien is pretty cool. Can you explain what it’s all about?
Since I knew it was likely of me to photograph bands I had already portrayed, I wanted the second run of polaroids to be different. The question was, what to do? I thought of doing a set of four polaroids per artists where they made different expressions, but that itself defeated the purpose of the project—artists portraying themselves as they want to be portrayed. Using a prop seemed the right way to go; the picture would have The Polaroid Project stamp on it while still giving the artist the freedom to deliver whatever they wanted. And that’s when my sister suggested Peter, and he has been the mascot ever since.


You take up-close and personal shots of band members. What’s it like meeting them? Do you get starstruck or have you gotten used to it?
It’s mesmerizing. It’s hard to say whether you get used to it or not; in a way, you do, but it’s always an adrenaline rush. Sometimes I’m nervous and others I couldn’t be more at ease with—it really depends—but it has allowed me to fully see these individuals as people, which they are. They are just people. We are so used to putting them on a pedestal, forgetting their most obvious attribute, and that’s what I try to capture with my polaroids. I want people to see them for what they are and not necessarily what their status is among my peers.

Why did you choose polaroids as your form of photography?
I wanted the portraits to be as raw as possible, and polaroids seemed to be perfect for that reason. I wanted the pictures to be what they are without the influence of outside forces or the possibility to apply changes afterwards. You can’t plan the shot ahead of time as much as you would with a DSLR for example, and I like that. It’s unpredictable—you never know how the picture turns out until it’s fully developed. At times you frame the shot in a specific way and it still comes out cropped completely different, or the exposure is wrong, and that’s okay. The accidental becomes a key element, it adds to the final product. The whole project is about artists portraying themselves however they want to, without my influence. That’s why I wanted a medium that would keep the pictures as untouched and unedited as possible. The less I do, the more the picture is pure. If I had the choice of planning the outcome of the photograph, it would lose its authenticity.

What is it about the live music scene that draws you in?
The atmosphere; it’s like being teleported into another dimension, with its own vibe and flavor, where time ceases to exist. It’s a place where you can let loose, embrace yourself, and explore the worlds within you while sharing it with others. It’s a natural high. It’s magic. The different energies that explode from each performance and create the unique reactions of the crowd are a beautiful event to be a part of, and in those moments, in a multitude of people that you don’t know, you can still feel united as a whole, connected by the invisible thread that is music.


Which bands/celebrities would you absolutely love to capture on polaroid that you haven’t already?
The list is infinite. From upcoming bands such as Phoria, Aquilo, Years and Years, Kwabs, to more established acts like Ellie Goulding, Alt-j, Lorde, Disclosure, James Blake, and of course the old gods of music such as Peter Gabriel, David Bowie, and The Rolling Stones.

What was the best concert you’ve ever been to?
Each concert is special in its own way, so it’s tough to pick just one, but there have been a few highlights: SOHN’s set at The Independent was majestic—the performance, vocals, and visuals were on point. The light work was absolutely stunning. Also Sir Sly’s opening set for The 1975 has to be one of my favorites—definitely the best act of that night in my opinion. MO’s debut in San Francisco is another show that will be hard to forget; she has so much stage presence and energy that’s contagious. It really brought to life the entire venue, and she’s an exquisite person.

What was the best meeting experience you’ve had so far?
As it is difficult for me to choose a concert among the ones I’ve attended, it’s even more difficult to pick a meeting experience. There have been bands with whom I have clicked more, but each artist is unique and has brought something different to the table. To pick one wouldn’t be fair. All of them—artists, management and staff—have been extremely nice towards my project and me. I’m extremely grateful for the support and welcoming feeling I’ve always received from them.

The cool thing about The Polaroid Project is that it can be an ongoing thing if you want it to be. Do you plan to quit it at some point and move onto something else?
To be honest, I don’t think The Polaroid Project will ever come to an end. It’s something I can see myself doing for the rest of my life, whether full time or not, especially since I do not plan on quitting the live music scene. It could very much bloom into something else and take different directions. I thought about extending the project to videos, capture little snippets of artists, and maybe turn it into a short movie, sort of like Vivienne Dick’s “Guerillere Talks.” I’m also very interested in depicting other types of artists (writers, designers, visual artists), but I wouldn’t necessarily use polaroids. I think each field has a medium that has the ability to represent them better. Collaborations are something I value a lot. There’s a lot of talent out there, and when you combine forces, astonishing things come to life. I have a couple of ideas I’m working on, so it should be interesting to see where they will lead. I like to have variety in my art forms and I’d love to keep exploring other mediums that I am not comfortable with or that I don’t know much about.

To see more of Isa’s work, visit her website, thepolaroidproject.co and follow her Instragram @isagrassi 

All photos by Isa Grassi
Isa Grassi Interview “Polaroid Project” originally appeared in Cliché Magazine’s Aug/Sept 2014 issue.

The Forgotten Artist


Game of Thrones
Wow …. HBO’s Game of Thrones never looked so good, thanks to the photo/film retouch artists. It’s amazing how much work it takes for a magazine photo shoot. Yes, you have the photographer, fashion stylist, makeup and hair artists, but a sometimes forgotten member of the team is the retouch artist. Meet Alyssa June, an extraordinary photo retouch artist and editor, creating magic when the photo, makeup, hair or fashion aren’t quite perfect.
During a recent interview, Alyssa mentioned, “I’ve always had an interest in photography, the act, the result, the unexplained feeling you get when you capture that perfect moment. But sometimes life gets in the way of a photo shoot and gives you a present in the form of a zit! Or maybe everything was just right for the perfect shot and someone walks past in the background. There are things we can’t always be in control of and that’s where retouching comes in.”
“I think a lot of society look down on retouching and think it’s all a big hoax to make a person look like something they’re not. While some forms of post processing can be much more detailed and super natural, that’s not always the case. I do my work in a non-destructive way. Most of the time it’s natural and you wouldn’t be able to notice. Sometimes I go for a little more of a dramatic look. I work with photographers from around the world who each have their own styles and desires. Retouching is definitely not something you can sum up with one word!”
She is one of the best. Check out her work at http://www.alyssajuneretouch.blogspot.com/
sultan photography combine

95 Tips for Your Best Lifestyle Photos From A Beautiful Mess


I, along with 1.5 million+ others, am a loyal reader of the A Beautiful Mess blog, so naturally when I heard sisters Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman were publishing a book, of course I had to have it. I didn’t even care what the book was about! Sewing? (I can’t sew.) Baking? (I’m alright.) Home decorating? (I can hang a damn good frame.) Whatever it was about, I would buy it, no questions asked. However, much to my excitement, the book was (and is) about one of my newest interests: lifestyle photography.

Filled with tips and ideas on how to photograph your everyday life (and yourself) with your professional camera or smartphone (hello Instagram!), the book is like a condensed version of the popular A Beautiful Mess blog and is very reminiscent of Elsie and Emma’s friendly and engaging writing style. It is loaded with the photographs fans all know and love–from photos of theirs dogs to their homes to their family and friends–plus the stories behind how they were all captured. There are even several chapters dedicated to DIY projects on how to display these new beautiful pictures of yours!

“It’s surprising how much photography has contributed to the growth of our blog,” the sisters told Urban Outfitters recently. “We’ve always taken all our own photos of every feature we create for the blog.” And after blogging for A Beautiful Mess since 2007 (Emma joined in 2010), we can learn a lot from these two!

A Beautiful Mess: Photo Idea Book is currently available on Amazon and other retailers for $13.98.


Featured image courtesy of A Beautiful Mess

Nadi Hammouda: Life in Focus


In 2009, Nadi Hammouda discovered photography; or, better yet, photography found him. He worked from the ground up, learning the basics and is now working as a full-time photographer. Nadi continually finds beauty in the bevy of models he encounters and captures through his own creative lens. Nadi’s natural talents will catapult him from his homeland in Finland to the national stage in no time. Here Nadi discusses his beginnings, his process and what the future holds.
CLICHÉ: When did you first get into photography?
Nadi Hammouda: Photography was given to me back in 2009. I didn’t ask for it. By luck and chance, we found each other. I purchased an old Nikon film camera from a co-worker in 2008. I worked construction back then and was up to my neck in the music business– for over 20 years in fact. I thought music and singing was my thing. It nearly destroyed me in the end; I started having panic attacks and fell into a deep depression in 2007. The film camera eased my pain a bit. [It] made me look at life and the world through the lens, but it was difficult and expensive to practice with it. By 2009 I was at the end of my rope– almost literally. But I chose different. I chose life. For that I’m glad. I bought a cheap digital camera and started shooting, practicing,– and slowly I got into it more and more. I had my first model test shoot in November 2009. Thats when I realized who I was, who I’ve always been: a photographer. I’ll never forget it.
Are there any photographers that inspire you or influence your work?
NH: The world is full of inspiration. I follow certain photographers, and I love to discover new ones. I have studied the great ones a lot. I have studied history of photography too. Mostly my influences lie in fashion photography, from its early origins to this day. It would be boring to list names. Just look around with an open mind, feed your eyes with images from blogs and magazines and then go and find your own voice.
How would you describe your photography?
NH: My photography has changed a lot in these three years through working and practicing hard. I’m quite versatile and creative. Intensity, strength– thats what I’d like to think. I do not want to create anything that is safe. I love the shadows. Shadows make the image. I just recently realized that ’90s music videos play a big role in my style of shooting. I watched a lot of of MTV when I was a kid, when they still played music videos. Also, there is the commercial side to things. Thats a whole different ball game, but I’m talking now about my personal work. I have also done some twenty music videos, myself, but now I’m gradually switching to fashion film. I do have my own look and feel to my photos that is recognisable. Sometimes I just hate my style. Looking through the magazines and blogs, I’m like,”I wanna do that,” but I can’t. I can only shoot the way I do, but that’s the thing. Be honest to yourself and to your work. Maybe someday someone will pick it up. If not, at least you’re doing something you enjoy.
There seems to be some division within the photography community, more specifically between film and digital, but also the advancement in post-processing (i.e. photoshop). Where do you stand?
NH: I use photoshop. It doesn’t matter what the format.
Do you typically use film or have you gone digital? What are your thoughts on one versus the other?
NH: If the photo speaks to you, gives you something, nobody cares about the equipment used. Sure there’s a certain effect with shooting film, but that can be achieved also in post production with digital. I think for the film, it’s the whole process that’s interesting if you would also develop the film yourself. I have few film cameras now. Given the chance, I would love to shoot on film more. The feel of an old film camera is a thing in itself, but for work, digital.
To read the rest of the interview, check out Pg. 46 in the latest issue!