Two years in a row have Vera Francis’s original pictures captured the imagination of the adjudicators at the Spring Art Exhibition, crowning her the winner of the newly introduced category of artistic photography.
Hers are not just artistic snapshots of unusual subjects from unusual angles: they are proper paintings crafted with light and pixels that take hours in the making, aiming at one final effect which reaches well beyond the holiday still, and raids the unchartered territory of creative experimentation.
Veronika, Vera for short, enjoys ‘industrial’ and architectural photography: she can see and bring out the beauty of metal, nuts and bolts, turning machinery as sculptural masterpieces of contemporary art.
Last year, her photos ‘Our Environment in Turquoise’ won first prize and ‘Our Environment in Royal Blue’ was highly commended: the first is a vision of the water tanks, on which the solid sea blue was colour-popped suggesting a reflection of the tranquil Med below, and the second was a maze of pipes with a vague nod to Magritte’s perspective.
She would like to document with her photography what she describes as the ‘industrial monuments’ in Gibraltar, a little explored aspect of our landmarks, since local photographers usually concentrate on past centuries’ artefacts, like demurely grey limestone fortifications and severely black cannons, underestimating the aesthetic value of steel construction, the fluid geometry of braided pipes and the solidity of beams and containers, or the tricks of light and shadow that the convoluted pipes of an oil tanker may play on the waves.
She already took pictures in the very belly of the rocky Rock, visiting the waterworks and portraying them as if they were the theatrical set for her solitary ballet of light: “I work with long exposure, about two minutes usually.” Vera explains: “I place the tripod in front of my subject and I move around quickly shining a bright torch on the surfaces I want to highlight. At the end of the shot, the whole machinery will be somehow captured in the shot, hopefully. I don’t always obtain the desired effect at my first try, so this becomes a time-consuming process, when I have to repeat the same two-minute shot over and over again, until I manage to flash the light on all the parts I want to have highlighted. Because I dress completely in black and shift around quickly, my silhouette doesn’t affect the image, even if I move in front of the camera.”
In other words, she brushes her subject matters with a makeshift light sabre in order to record on camera its movement over the selected surface. The result is not a time-lapse video, but one composite snapshot that flaunts three-dimensionality and detailed texture. This way, the image is way more accurate than one quick take with the flash, no matter how powerful, post-production digital enhancement is kept to a minimum, and the final product is as realistic and as spontaneous as a documentary.
Vera’s latest work, the winning entry in the Spring Art Exhibition, currently on display at the Fine Arts Association’s eclectic Summer Show, is a charming night-time view of the Strait and its flickering lights, with the imaginative introduction of colourful light embroidery, obtained by waving around a pixel-stick within the long-exposed frame. The butterfly-shaped addition looks as if a fleeting apparition of Sydney’s Opera House was super-imposed over Gibraltar Bay, only the fireworks are missing. But not for long, as fireworks are indeed another of Vera’s fortes, and her photo of ignited light extravaganza ringing a past new year in graced last December’s cover of this very magazine, with an explosion of pinks and purples over Casemates’ clock striking midnight.
A member of the Photographic Society since she signed up for their beginners’ course, Vera participated in their fifty-anniversary opus magnum to immortalise local personalities selected across a variety of walks of life, for a gallery of original portraits exhibited during their celebrations and published in a collector-item coffee-table book.
Vera was honoured to work with the world’s most beautiful girl, Miss World 2009 Kaiane Aldorino, and with tennis prodigy Amanda Carreras for monochrome portrait sessions. Of course, she doesn’t limit herself to the photo-shoot, but Vera doubles up as her subjects’ stylist doing their make-up, selecting or creating and decorating a background, and suggesting a pose. “I like make-up, and I have a large beauty case overflowing with it.” Vera says. “In fact, when I first took up photography as a hobby, I was undecided between that and becoming a make-up artist, but I soon realised that photography would offer me the opportunity of playing with colour not only applying it on someone’s face with brushes and pencils, but also capturing it on film and transforming it digitally.”
She admits to having taken long to learn how to master digital manipulation programs like Photoshop, but she likes to experiment with it, and acknowledges that its possibilities span wide and broad.
Born and raised in Hungary, Vera studied computer programming in university (“This helps me enjoy my hours spent at the laptop playing around with the images I collected during the day,” she says) before moving to Gibraltar and making it her home for fifteen years, during which she reconnoitred with her camera the lesser trodden path along the fortifications, especially the Northern ones. She is very interested in developing a photographic documentation project about them and the different textures created by the passage of time, like wrinkles for the stone and brickwork. Her creative photography, under the brand name ‘Positive Rayz’, was recently featured in Luis Ruiz’s GBC program ‘Wise Eyes’.