Italian photographer Emanuela Franchini has made an art of juxtaposing her exposed body with electrical appliances and other mundane objects, attempting to see the obvious from different venturesome angles. In her “Shock and Awe” series, Franchini explores how what’s mass produced can also be suggestively homemade. She opens up to TORO about her fascinating work from her London home studio.
Q: How did you arrive at this form of expression, posing with domestic items?
A: I´ve always been fascinated by ordinary objects, they are around us everywhere every day and we don´t pay too much attention to them until we need to use them and start interacting with them. Focusing the attention on them in my shots is a way to offer an alternative take on everyday life, what we call reality. In this way the object becomes something it might not have meant to be, but if it works then why not? We expose our forms to objects daily without thinking too much about it. We interact with them and use them to our own advantage without questioning their use. I believe many people blow-dry their hair half-naked after the shower, some love to vacuum naked. And some probably fantasize about riding their vacuum cleaner and pretend it´s a wild horse, just like I did in one of my shots.
Q: Why did you call the series on Flickr “Shock and Awe?” Do you see your physicality in such terms?
A: No, I don´t see my physicality like that – some people would love to think that I am like that, probably! There´s no shock and awe in my pictures at all, but sometimes people feel slightly shocked and overwhelmed at first by my images because they see something they are not used to or never considered. When I take pictures I feel totally free and this gives me such a huge adrenaline rush. I never really know where the creative process is going to take me and this makes it even more exciting because the end result could be a total surprise to me too. But then it´s up to the people looking at my images to give their own personal interpretation based on their culture, background, dreams, fantasies. This is the fun part, actually. Some people see all sorts of things and hidden meaning, some see a situation they´ve been having fantasies about and I love this.
Q: Are you trying to express a character in these pictures, from yourself and apart from yourself?
A: All I´m doing is having a lot of fun. I like to play with my imagination and I love it when people react positively to that. Taking self-portraits is my way to get rid of stress. Some people go to the gym, I just reach and grab my camera and start thinking about weird situation I can put myself into and the fun begins. I´m not pretending to be someone I´m not, I just play freely with my mind and the end result is captured by my camera.
Q: You seem drawn to ordinary objects. What inspired the use of various appliances, the evoking of a beast with the hair dryer?
A: Teddy bear hunting with a hair dryer is great fun. I would advise anybody to try it. You can pretend you are some kind of Lara Croft in the comfort of your own apartment (or bathroom in my case). The inspiration comes from reality, which I tend to twist in my mind just to see what could happen if we alter our domestic surroundings. I love to think about the ordinary and imagine what would not fit, what would never be there in that specific situation or environment. Once I find what´s missing I just put it there and wait to see what happens. That´s when a hair dryer is a perfect gun or an iron a good face wrinkle remover.
Q: What do you find the imagery of applying an iron on your exposed skin may suggest? I ask, too, because there’s a Toronto artist, Istvan Kantor, who´s obsessed with irons and bodily shapes?
A: So far I´ve taken two iron shots and I have received mixed reactions because of the way they´ve been interpreted. Some got worried it could lead people to harm themselves which amazed me ´cause I would never consider that type of beauty treatment to produce a decent end result. So I really wonder who would iron their face to smooth wrinkles like I´m doing in "Home Made Botox." While the other iron shot, where another woman is ironing my stomach to make it properly flat, has received a lot of interest from a couple of people who seem to be turned on by women ironing. One guy wrote to me requesting more images like that and he also specified it would have been more arousing for him if I had been on a proper ironing board. I need to buy one. Istvan Kantor, yes, some other people have told me about him, but I admit I still have to check his work.
Q: How do you see your laundry imagery, where you´re suggesting the washing machine is pulling your nude body in and dragging it out?
A: Some people connect that image with the movie The Ring. I do see something in it that reminds me of that movie, but I wasn´t thinking about it when I shot it, at least not consciously. I was just bored with the domestic duties. I had laundry to do so I thought, wouldn´t it be cool to be inside the washing machine with my clothes? I wonder what it would feel like to be dragged in and then feel the warm water all around your body and then the spin – quite a trip.
Q: You have a piece curiously called “Conceptual Fall.” I´ve been thinking of processes of falling and whether falls are always accidental. How do you see your fallen, lying form?
A: Falling can also mean surrender, let your mind and body go and just enjoy the moment without thinking about the consequences – a bit like sex. Just live the moment, it´s a short one but it can give you so much pleasure, and it´s worth letting yourself go and don’t worry about hurting yourself.
Q: You have a photo entitled “Cheap 70s Porn.” Are you conscious of any pornographic materials in relation to your concepts?
A: ”Cheap 70s Porn” is one of my favourite shots. It had been the front page of The Strokes website for a while last year. It was so much fun to make. I really wanted to recreate the ’70s porn feeling, the cheap scenarios, low budget, even the cheesy music. But that´s what makes ’70s porn so fascinating. Until the early ’80s, porn was regularly shown on Italian TV late at night. Teenagers were gathering at some friend’s place whenever parents were away so that they could watch a porn movie. But it was more the actual getting together and being with friends, I guess – drinking beer, being naughty and laughing at those movies that you heard so much of.
Q: You appear to be reading at turns in your imagery – you´re opening the fridge, titled “Naked Lunch,” you´re having a bath. Are all your images consciously composed for the camera, or do they also echo readily experienced processes in your space?
A: I draw inspiration from anything, it could be a book or just a sentence. Sometimes I just stare into the void and wait for images to appear in front of me, I let my imagination free. Or I just see a space and think it would be a wonderful location. Actually a dear friend of mine is always making fun of me ’cause I get so excited when I see a location I would love to use for a shoot and I start describing what the picture should be like and what I would do. She then always adds "and you would be half-naked of course, right?" But I´m sure many people check their fridge in their underwear. “Naked Lunch” was an appropriate title: it´s a great book, and I´m not really naked but those looking at the picture get an extra kick matching the image with a title evoking a controversial book. And it contains the word naked which seems to please a lot of people.
Q: Are you interested in senses of domestic bodily adventure in your works like “The Domestic Life of a Killer?” The suggestion of posed danger in your image “Faster Pussy Cat, Kill Kill.” Are you influenced by certain films?
A: I saw Faster, Pussycat! Kill Kill! when I was about 16, I think, and I remember being intrigued by it a lot. Who can forget Tura Satana? And at 16 I probably wanted to be like her or one of the other dominant girls. As a grown-up I can at least be one of those girls in my pictures. The nice thing about taking self-portraits is that you can be anything you want and even what you would never want to be.
Q: While you seem to have worked mostly from home, how do you think your external images relate to your interiors? Do you feel erotic qualities in public spaces?
A: So far I haven´t taken any self-portraits outside, but I often see a location that would be perfect. I´d love to test myself and see how I would respond transferring my ideas to an external environment. It would be fairly challenging though, especially here in the U.K. But I´m more intrigued by what goes on behind closed doors ´cause that´s where the naughtiness happens most of the times. I love to fantasize about people I see in the street, on the tube and wonder what is going on with their lives, what they might dream of or desire. We all do our best to appear decent and presentable but then who knows what really happens at home when nobody is looking or where we get our kicks from. Here in the U.K., it´s quite hard to read people´s minds, they all seem to avoid looking into your eyes – while being Italian, I tend to make eye contact with people. The response is quite bizarre sometimes. Some think you fancy them just because you looked at them, some just feel uncomfortable and they probably think I´m looking at them because there´s something wrong so they immediately look away.
Q: What do you think of working from home, the pros, cons. What is it like being surrounded by the various set pieces in your work, when they´re returned to their functional uses?
A: Working from home is great, there´s so much freedom in terms of how you manage your own time and you don´t have to worry about the dress code. My home is my playground and, on a creative level, it´s more inspiring for me to be home as it gives me more chances to experiment with all the objects that are around me and give them a different life. Then when the photo shoot is over all goes back to the so-called normal.
Q: Do you find your images relate to the genre of web-based sexualized sites that offer peeks at girlish, intimate home processes?
A: I don´t but I bet some people get a kick out of my images and that´s because sexuality has so many forms of expression. Like I said before, some are turned on by women ironing and I wonder if there´s much on the web about this that can be labelled as pornography. I don´t mind what people get out of my shots ’cause that´s the plan, get whatever you want as long as you get something you like from it.
Q: While you´re often alone in these images, there are some involving your female friends. How do you see these images with feminine others? Are you interested in expressing sensual sororities of sorts?
A: My female friends are a great inspiration. I take a lot of ideas from them and sometimes I include them in my pictures. The interaction among the female species is quite fascinating. We bond as much as men do but it all probably happens on a different level of intimacy. I´m also very fascinated by duality and that´s why I made some clones where two images or more of myself are merged together. We all have various sides and we only show one side at the time so I´m fascinated by the idea of a possible encounter with my other sides. Would they hate each other or would they have a crazy time together?
Q: What has been the response to your work? Have you heard any stories?
A: I´ve found few other photographers interested in the domestic life and the interaction with ordinary objects – they are from Germany/Holland mainly. There are few people experimenting with this and that´s why the response is quite high. There´s probably a lot going on in people´s minds about interaction with the household, but there´s not much around about this, at least not in photography.
Q: Do you feel any variety of attraction for any actual object?
A: I like to think I´m the master, they follow my orders, I give life to them, otherwise they would just be relegated to the function they were created for. And I like to keep the relationship on this level – they love it too.
Q: Are you curious about others, their lived interiors?
A: I am, but then most of the time when you manage to find out about their lives you prefer to go back to what you had been imagining about them.
Q: Are you intent on keeping this process going in your space?
A: I have some ideas I´d like to try on external location but it would be very different. For the moment I´m more fascinated by interiors. That´s where we can let our imagination run free and do whatever we want. And we can even invite friends over to play with us.
View more of her work at http://emanuela.carbonmade.com
Louise Bak is a poet, with books including Tulpa and Gingko Kitchen. She co-hosts Sex City, Toronto’s only radio show focused on relations between sexuality and culture (CIUT 89.5 FM). Her performance work has appeared in numerous spaces and in video collaborations such as Partial Selves and Crimes of the Heart.