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Pavena Woodhouse

1 February 2021

Covering subjects from "cringey emo" to Korean revenge movies, Toronto native Pavena Woodhouse spends some time talking to us about what has influenced her work of shooting suburbia at night.

What's your back story?

I originally grew up in Toronto and later moved to a foster home in a suburban town near the city. To put it briefly, I didn't have a very stable childhood and have endured a lot throughout my life. Photography has become a great outlet for me to express myself. I have always been surrounded by the monotony of the suburbs, which is why my subjects in my work are often suburban landscapes. I hope one day I'll be able to explore more environments to broaden the subject matter in my work.

How did you first start out?

I was always fascinated with photography as a child. I would often look through fashion and old National Geographic magazines at the photography. I first started shooting when I was about 10 when I would borrow my parent's point and shoot camera. I obviously wasn't a serious photographer at this age but this is definitely when my passion for photography began. Being a digital native has been a great advantage for me as I was able to start earlier with digital photography. I kept my interest in photography until I was about 16 where I started to explore other hobbies and interests. I picked it up again with film and digital when I was about 18.

What are your sources of inspiration?

I would say my affinity for low light photography stemmed from photographers on social media in highschool and sci-fi/neo-noir films and anime. As a cringey emo teen, I was an avid Tumblr user. I followed a Tumblr community of photographers whose photos were often taken in low-light, with colours of the cyberpunk and neon palette. I was fascinated with this genre of photography and wanted to pursue it myself. Some examples of films I draw inspiration from are Oldboy (2003), Akira (1988), Blade Runner 2049 and Redline (2009).

Can you give us some insight into why suburbia features heavily in your photos?

My photos consist of houses and buildings a lot because I love the way they glow. I have always been attracted to things that emanate light at night. The way light reflects off of wet asphalt or the way it forms a dreamy glow in the fog is fascinating to me. I would say that my reason for shooting these subjects is more of an aesthetic matter. Another reason I shoot buildings and houses often is because that's all I have to shoot. I don't travel anywhere (and can't right now) so all I am left with is what I have in my town.

Are you an impulsive or planned shooter?

I would say that I am a hybrid of both impulsive and planned. During the day, there are times where I see a location that could be an awesome place to shoot at night, so I'll plan a time to go. I also jot down ideas on my phone or paper when I have random bouts of inspiration. I have maybe followed through 5% of the ideas I have, but it's an ongoing process. Other times I go for a walk at night with my camera and let my intuition lead me in my photographic process.

How do you achieve the look in your photos? What is your editing process?

My editing process is mostly done in Photoshop and sometimes I'll bring my photos into Lightroom for tweaks. In Photoshop, I bring up the highlights and blur the parts of the image that emit the most light to emulate the halation and soft focus that you may see in film photography or with a Pro Mist filter. I often add soft vignetting and more blurring techniques as well. The colours in the image vary from photo to photo. With some photos, I might manipulate the hues to otherworldly tones and others I may decide to keep the colour integrity of the image. Many purists might frown upon my editing process, but I see photography as a very subjective medium (like anything) and it shouldn't be limited or constrained to a set of rules.

Before and after editing
Before and after editing

What advice would you have for people getting into photography?

My advice is to simply go out and shoot as often as they can without feeling burned out. Sometimes I make the mistake of forcing myself to edit and shoot as much as physically possible because of the fear of not being productive. I have found many people experience this and this approach only leads to burnout and creative blocks. I have learned that it's okay to take breaks. Incubation for the mind is crucial to spark creativity and you never know what will inspire you. A short walk or conversation with a friend may do more for you creatively than excessively absorbing tutorials and forcing yourself to shoot. Another piece of advice is to not worry about equipment. Focus on mastering the basics of photography and storytelling. There are people out there who take amazing photos with just a phone. The equipment does help with bringing more quality and atmosphere, but it doesn't make you a good photographer.

What are your thoughts on Instagram and its algorithm?

I don't love the current algorithm as it punishes you for inconsistency and lack of engagement, but I don't see a point in blaming Instagram for everything. I agree that it is a platform that is very hard to grow on in comparison to others, but we should be learning how to adapt to the modern algorithm instead of blaming it. If people don't like Instagram, there are other platforms artists can grow on like Twitter, Behance, VSCO...etc. Personally, I have had a great experience with the night photography community on Instagram and have found everyone very supportive and friendly. A complaint I do have about Instagram is some of the feature pages have a lack of variety in content they feature. I think a larger amount of content should be shared and celebrated on these pages to aid growing creatives and artists. My last thought is that people forget that social media in general is what YOU curate. If you choose to follow people you don't enjoy seeing, it's not the platform's fault.

Thank you for speaking to us Pavena. Any final words?

Thank you for featuring me and taking interest in my process. It means a lot!

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