Some info which will give you an insight into the mind of me. These are various interviews and web articles in which I’ve been asked to participate over the years. There are more but you’d probably get bored 🙂
Dark Artist & Photographer Roberto Segate
2000 Photography BA degree
2003 Photography MA Degree
I’ve been image making images in one form or another for years and began with traditional black and white photography when I was a kid but when I found that I was unable to create the visions in my mind using darkroom techniques I needed to think of something else. Luckily for me digital photography was breaking through and that opened up possibilities which, ultimately, allowed me to reach a point where I can create pretty much anything. And although the years of formal photography education have not contributed monetarily (my job is far removed from art!), they did help change my way of thinking and steer me toward deeper, less obvious conclusions.
I mainly create dark art. Some say creepy and disturbing. One thing’s for sure, the majority of my work is not exactly what you’d call pretty! Someone once said that I take beautiful models and make them look like crap! That’s not strictly true. It is true that I’ve worked with many beautiful models, and that I have ‘changed their appearances’ to help create the type of image I’m looking for. They don’t look like crap by any means! In fact my images convey a thought provoking sombre beauty.
My work is usually dark and somewhat depressing. I create otherworldly images enhanced by troubled and lost figures, in hopeless environments. I’ll usually spend a lot of time creating the final image and make extensive use of found materials & textures etc.
I tend to focus on ‘projects’ and immerse myself totally; to the point of obsession. One of the last project’s was based on the panopticon, a type of prison employing very ‘efficient’ surveillance; using a single guard to surveil all inmates within each cell. This in turn would instill within the prisoners a sense of paranoia and vulnerability – dehumanising and demoralising. The work describes situations and focuses on certain inmates/patients. My obsession with this project has spawned several books which catalogue the prisoners and, one book, describes the scandalous discoveries with the walls of this fictional panopticon – Northbarrow Institute for the Criminally Insane. So, you see, I don’t often create happy images!!
The work is rarely pristine. I prefer to ‘rough up the image’, including dirty, messy elements and textures. By doing so the images become more ambiguous in terms of time & date. Adding mystery. Grunge makes perfect imperfection. ‘ True perfection has to be imperfect’ – Oasis (Little by Little). Even the Gallaghers get it! I was called a ‘Serial Pixel Abuser’ a while back!
Some say the work is depressing, even my missus says so – she doesn’t even want the stuff on the walls!! But, the point is that I’m interested in any image which conveys a particular feeling and raises questions. If someone asks me a question about the image I know it’s worked. Indifference is useless.
You have not always been an artist? Tell us about the moment when you decided to become one.
Well I’m not sure there was a moment where I decided to become an artist. I think it was more that my parents influenced my interests. My mother was a creative writer and watercolour painter. My father too was a hobbyist painter and he also tried his hand at photography. I remember well the day that he brought down from the attic his darkroom equipment; his enlarger, negatives and chemicals. He showed me how to make a photographic print in the red light of our blacked out bathroom. Seeing that photograph emerge in the tray of chemicals, cocooned by the red light and smell of chemicals was like magic to me as 14 year old boy. I think this was the moment you’re talking about.
How do you create your images?
Ideas excite me and the prospects of creating a visual representation of what’s in my head, you know the challenge of translating thoughts into the tangible and the technical obstacles I need to overcome to achieve what I want. Sounds like torture I know but I relish that!
What are you looking for during the session and how do you work with your models?
It’s really important that the images convey some sort of emotion; be it melancholia, terror, anger, emptiness or whatever. Every model is unique in personality and ability and some may be better at acting and expressions, while others me be better at posing. It’s about trying to match up an image in my mind’s eye to a particular model. This is fine providing I’ve working with them before; I’ll have a good idea of they’re abilities. Sometimes, particularly with a new model I will need to adapt my ideas to some degree. The model’s abilities will also determine how much direction to give. The more experienced the model the less direction. There are no rules and I’ll just see how it goes and adapt and direct as required. I prefer fluidity; I’m not a pose-hold it-click photographer, I prefer to shoot lots of images while the model is moving. I find this works for me and I’ll capture the model’s natural expression and pose. I allow the models to create a character and situation in their own mind while I sit back and press the button
Some people say you take beautiful models and make them look like crap. What’s your opinion about that?
Yes some have said that! I don’t think the women in my image look crap at all. It’s about creating images which stop the viewer in their tracks and make them think about what they’re looking at. We see so much and as a result we take little of it in an any meaningful way. So, creating contradictions is a large part of the work: beautiful women covered in dirt, mud or fake blood, creating dark sombre environments within which these characters are placed. I’ve nothing at all against polished images of beautiful women, but they don’t speak to me beyond its ‘top layer’, my work tries to create a narrative, a narrative of uneasy contradictions. There’s an intense melancholic beauty in these images. Obviously this type of image is not to everyone’s liking and I have carried around with me that strap line for many years now. If everyone liked and disliked the same images wouldn’t it be a boring world!
How can you describe what you do?
I’ve been called a serial pixel abuser. And that pretty much describes what I do. I abuse these poor pixels in such a way that it helps convey a feelings of time and decay, of another world. Sometimes it’s very difficult to consciously create ‘an image which looks old’, or another ‘which looks sad’. Sometimes things happen, a mistake in my editing or moving the wrong layer, can create an immediate WOW moment when suddenly things are just right. I take clean perfect pixels and wreck them.
What inspires you?
I get inspiration from all around. Creepy modern movies like Silent Hill, or the Grudge to older movies like the 1920’s Cabinet of Dr Caligari, The night porter from the 70’s and stop motion films from the wray brothers, particularly the materpiece that is the street of crocodiles. But it could equally be found object like worn and decayed paper which could be used as a texture for my images and if these pieces of paper have printed text elements then that’s even better. Text in itself forms beautiful shapes and patterns and excites me and I’m always trying to include some form of text in the image if I can. It doesn’t need to be legible text, in fact if it is totally illegible it can help promote mystery and intrigue and annoyance for the reader! It was typographer David Carson who first made me think of text as an image in its own right, as a device to reinforce the message of the image but also as an important design element.
Can you describe the dark eroticism that emerges from your work?
That’s an interesting question and one that’s difficult to answer in a way that does not sound pretentious. If we look beyond the obvious; that the images contain beautiful women, then it’s the sinister and melancholic nature of these bleak otherworlds in direct contradiction with the characters. It is this tension and taciturn narrative which creates a perverse eroticism. The dark melancholia and ambiguous narrative is what’s exciting about these images, images which create more questions than answers. That did sound quite pretentious didn’t it
We can see a lot of things in your photos such as suffering, death, and fetish influences. Is that right? Tell us more about it.
Yes, that about sums it up! In particular the Celtic Fetish series was an attempt to think about restraint in a different way, using natural materials such as wood and hessian to create gags and other restraints. I think this work was partly inspired by the Maquis De Sade and his cruel ways. Looking back at this work with was created way back in 2000 it looks quite naive and merely scratches the surface. Very recent work based on the Panopticon again focuses on hardships, torture and death! There’ no-one laughing and having fun in my images
So the panopticon describes the incarceration and experiments by the prisons psychiatric doctor. It pictures women, and a couple of men, in situations of squalor and deprivation. There are transcripts between the Dr and some patients which are truly dark and twisted.
When it comes to style and aesthetic, what is your goal?
Not time specific, otherworldly. Erotic and ambiguous.
Has your technique evolved over time? How?
Yes, that’s inevitable. I think as well as my own technical abilities it is my mental thought processes which have to some degree ‘matured’; recent work is more considered, less superficial and has greater breadth.
Does technology allows you to reproduce your imagination more accurately? How?
Absolutely! 1999 was a pivotal year for me. Until this time I was a die-hard darkroom enthusiast using film, chemicals & photographic papers. I’d spend days in the darkroom trying to create the image that I had in my head. Layering negatives with other photographic transparencies of, say, text elements or other negatives got close but I’d waste sheets and sheets of paper and ultimately fail! I didn’t have the control that I wanted. Digital couldn’t have come at a better time for me and using digital cameras and Photoshop gives me ultimate control. Control to blend together various elements of the image, to hide or reveal pat of the image and to control tone and colour. Imagination is now the only restriction.
These scenes and this darker side of your imagination come from where precisely?
Honestly, I really don’t know. I’ve always been drawn to dark imagery, music and movies. I’m particularly moved by melencholy, hardships, human struggle, deprivation. There’s a sadness within me it seems, there’s also a macabre curiosity of human depravity, perhaps it’s because of a strong empathy I have with situations like this. The type of empathy some have for the people while watching documentaries about war, or natural disasters. I think I’m one of those people who like to feel sad, it’s like sometime we listen to sad music to make us sad. My images can make me feel sad, help me feel empathy for the individuals within them.
Graphic design is important for you, why?
Yes, following the work of David Carson in particular and his use of type to create image. Where the letterforms themselves form dynamic shapes. He wasn’t concerned about legibility and at times printed his text with virtually no leading causing lines of text to ride up into each other, or varying the type size in a paragraph and even printing the text backwards and running it off the page. Perhaps a little pretentious but where the type creates the image is legibility a requirement? Or is it the case that if type is used then is must be legible? I don’t know.
And dada posters of the early 1900’s which use both text and image to convey anti war messages and manifestoes, to my eyes at least, create something of aesthetic beauty. The juxtaposition and balance of typographical and pictorial elements on the page can be equally exciting as any image.
What is the message or the emotion you want to express through your work?
I try to create images which convey something of melencholy and deprivation, particularly in the latest works like Panopticon which is situated within a mental institute. I want to feel empathy with these characters, I want to be drawn into the image and spend time thinking about why these people are here, what are they feeling, what have they done? Where are we? I suppose I just want people to react to my images, now this could be in a positive or negative way. I want to avoid indifference – this is of no use to anyone.
Would you describe in one sentence each of your series? You can point out what set them apart or what link them together.
Celtic: Dark Fetish, the first true grungy project.
Psychopathia Sexualis: Dark Decay, otherworldy.
Pre Mortem: Lost figures pegatory, not my favourite project.
De Femme Gothique: Experiments with typography. Superficial concept.
Clamor and Smoke: Oherworldly experiments using landcape generators to build backgrounds
Words and Bitches: Lighthearted look at so-called Girl Power of the 1990’s
Panopticon: Dark, sinister look at a remote mental institute and it’s sadistic Dr.
With the series Words and Bitches you were interested in men and women relationship and especially to the place of women in our society. Why? What do you wanted to show?
Well W&B was a lighthearted look at the ‘Girl Power’ of the 1990’s. It was intended to convey the confidence and pride of women together with their indifference to men. It ridicules men to some degree through the use of stereotypical phrases and jocular statements.
What eroticism means for you?
The juxtaposition of grunge and mess with beauty. The contradiction of a bleak environment with beauty.
DSLR Pixels are perfect; they are free from blemish; from scratches, smudges and almost always from dust. That is not what I want. I want grunge and dirt, rips, scratches, mess and distortion. I’ll use scanned and photographed grunge elements and build several layers over the various parts of the clean image to create something which is highly textured. This is where the imperfection begins. The texture could be paint, floors, books, tv screens, text. Anything to help destroy the perfect pixel. I want the organic to control my pixels; where some control is given over to the random. Happy accidents sometimes occur which can transform the work from mundane to magnificent where chance has its say and time makes its mark.
My work is dark and moody, some would say depressing. It’s important that it conveys something and creates some sort of emotion in the viewer. This could be anything from delight to sadness to disgust. Apathy is something to be avoided and I work hard to create meaningful images. The work is usually inspired by dark stuff like from movies, music or writing. My recent project ‘Panoption: Tower of Fools’ was loosely based on so-called mental asylums from the 1800’s and on an experimental jail system called the Panopticon which makes use of a central tower from which all the inmates can be surveilled. The work is an imaginary window into the lives of these lost and tortured individuals.
Most of the work is 20% in camera and 80% post work. The studio which is actually my large kitchen uses various plain white and grey backgrounds with 1 or 2 flash heads, perhaps a softbox and a honeycomb with or w/o flags attached. The idea is to get a basic idea of highlights & shadows on the model and/or background. I like to keep it fairly flat if possible to allow for flexibility later on. Set up like that I can concentrate on the model and I’ll shoot lots of images to cover everything. This then is the baseline image on which I’ll build the final.
In post I’ll use Photoshop with scanned/photographed texture elements and found stuff like windows/doors/text etc. to carefully composite with the base image. I’ll use various blending, masks & distortions and blend together using custom brushes to help make the subject and environment look realistic. Then it’s about the lighting where I balance highlights & shadows to create the mood that I want. Finally I’ll decide whether it needs any border and/or other elements. I tend not to use filters or any ‘quick results’ actions because they just don’t work out for me. I prefer to control everything manually.
Finally, and the most important part or the process, for me, is to leave it alone and don’t look at it for a couple of weeks or so. You’ll be amazed how this helps me decide whether it’s right or not and whether it needs any adjustment. This, I think, is a critical part of the process. It’s where the image gets binned or pinned!