Q&A with… Marta Beltowska
F&A: Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.
MB: I'm a photographer, working as a audio visual technician by day to enable my work. Originally from Sweden (of a Polish family), I came to England to study photography and later came to London for work. Overall I try to focus my work on stories and people.
F&A: How did you end up working as an audio visual technician?
MB: After university I worked as an office assistant, far away from the creative jobs I applied while studying. Funny enough, once I had that job I started getting interviews in the creative industry. I had done some photo assisting in the past, so it wasn't a great stretch in my mind, working as an a/v technician, but it was still not at all something I had planned. I like the hands-on, technical side of it. It being at an arts university, it's still quite creative and I work on installations and exhibitions a lot.
F&A: Tell us about your project 'In the form of Neon', how did it come about?
MB: I had a massive creative block when I moved to London after graduation. I felt panic over losing my photography combined with high expectations left over from uni – having to tick boxes, please some sort of authority with my images. So I dropped all of that, and went for walks at night with my camera. Eventually I noticed a pattern of returning to the same spots, photographing neon signs. From then on I started researching the history of neon, and now I specifically track down signage whenever visiting a new city.
Neon always looks dramatic, no matter where you see it. It's about conveying a message, and someone has bent that glass sign by hand! There's more LED “neon” around today, but overall I think neon's become popular again because people want to connect with something hand made. For makers of neon it's a labour of love. Like analog photography.
F&A: How do you lead a creative life?
MB: I keep sketchbooks, I try to push my own projects, and I will photograph just for the joy of it, snapshots of my partner or friends, things that don't have to become a project. I try to stay in touch with what's happening, what other work is being made because other people inspire me, but more and more social media makes me stressed.
F&A: What does creativity mean to you?
MB: It's a mental outlet. It's a language that I express myself in. It means the world to me, without it I'd be a very different person.
F&A: How do you balance your work and your other creative outlets?
MB: Honestly I don't know if I do balance them? I believe they all feed into each other. My 9-to-5 provides a distance to think about my own creative work properly. Vice versa I will do things for work that I want to do for myself, like filming, maybe try out a process I've seen my colleagues do.. I'm lucky to be in a workplace where everyone has another creativity on the side. Maybe that's what you could call balance, that it can all be connected.
F&A: If you could try any other job what would it be?
MB: Anything involving animals. Occasionally I would turn the camera on them too, though.
F&A: Who inspires you the most?
MB: I can't commit to a who.. Cinema inspires me the most.
F&A: Describe your perfect day off.
MB: Chatting with people and taking their portrait on film – not because I'm a analog snob, but otherwise I would rush through and not do it properly.
F&A: Do you have a favourite piece of art?
MB: Anything by Georgia O'Keeffe and Edward Hopper.
F&A: Can you recommend a good book?
MB: Sally Mann's "Hold Still: A memoir with photographs".
F&A: What is your go to comfort food?
MB: I'll bake something myself and eat two-thirds on my own.
F&A: What are your hopes for the future?
MB: I hope to work with a neon maker in the future, and focus on the people behind the signs. Overall hoping that I can continue to create new images, having a similar work-creative balance.
Images from the series 'Neon' by Marta Beltowska