Valentina Loffredo’s upcoming exhibition, Stillness, is a sequence of 11 photographs depicting two women on a beach devoid of anything except but an array of bright orange buoys. “There was a typhoon last year, so all the buoys were washed up on the beach and scattered,” says Loffredo. A rather apt happenstance for a series that explores the theme of personal trauma and its aftermath. “It’s the feeling that your world is falling apart and needing to pick up the pieces again,” she explains. “Those are defining moments in our lives; they make our lives better.”
Although Loffredo has put on a number of exhibitions since 2017, she never started taking photos with the goal of eventually becoming a full time artist. The Naples native first picked up a camera in 2013 after watching a Ted Talk titled “Try Something New For 30 Days,” which encouraged viewers to take a carefree, low-stakes approach to new experiences, from running to drawing to listening to different kinds of music.
Before this, Loffredo had no experience with or exposure to photography. Her background is in business administration; she first moved to Hong Kong with her husband in 2005 to open an Asian office for her family’s jewellery business. “Hong Kong is a very efficient city and life here is a bit easier than elsewhere, especially with kids,” she says. “So I feel that this gave me the mental freedom to be creative.” While Loffredo’s signature style is minimalistic and graphic — more about the atmosphere than specific location — Hong Kong’s buildings and beaches have served as the backdrops for many of her works.
During the challenge, Loffredo ultimately settled on photography for two simple reasons: it was creative, and it was easy. “It’s difficult for me to say that I’m a photographer because I don’t feel that it’s true,” she says. This might come as something of a surprise, considering that her fine art photographs have been shown at the Venice Biennale and auctioned at Sotheby’s. But although Leffredo is an unassuming presence, describing herself as not a naturally confident person, this assessment is less about being self-effacing and more a practical observation of her work.
For Loffredo, the act of snapping a photo is often the least important step in a long process of ruminating, researching, scouting, and sketching. Unlike street photographers who might wander the city capturing candid tableaus of its residents or locales that they find compelling, Loffredo usually begins with a vision in her mind’s eye that she aims to bring to life. She might make notes of particular areas she wants to shoot, but more because they serve to support her concepts rather than with the aim to showcase the location themselves.
“If I shoot buildings, usually I’ll use the back, without doors or decorations, to give a blank canvas to the people in the shots,” she explains. “And sometimes it’s more about a state of mind that I want to express rather than a real place.” The same can be said of her models, who are often family or friends she has requested to pose for her. “You don’t really see their faces,” she says. “The presence of people is kind of symbolic. They aren’t really important.”
Indeed, it doesn’t take much scrolling through Loffredo’s Instagram, @thatsval, which boasts over 80,000 followers, to discover the threads that tie her work together. Loffredo’s photos are minimalist, filled with lines and patterns. Nondescript human figures stand alone in swaths of bright colour. Many might look more like graphics than photographs. “I still don’t really like traditional photography,” she admits, saying that she gets most of her inspiration from elsewhere: design, architecture, fashion, illustrations, children’s books. She is a particular fan of René Magritte, David Hockney, Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis group, and Scandinavian design. While one might assume her photos are heavily edited, Loffredo explains that the post-production work she does in Photoshop is limited to cropping or adjusting brightness and colour. Her staging is all done beforehand.
Four years after her original pledge to take a photograph a day, she launched her first exhibition, As For Me, I’m Very Little, in Hong Kong, and then in Milan the following year. “I fell in love with photography quickly, but looked at it only as a passion for years,” she says, describing how she was able to develop her own unique perspective without the pressure of a practical goal. “When I was ready, though, I realised that I wanted to do more, and that making a career out of this passion would give me the tools and freedom to do bigger and better things.” Now she is a full-time artist with her first photography book scheduled to come out in 2019.
But Loffredo’s intention was never for photography to be cumulation of her artistic journey. Originally, her plan was to experiment with many different mediums. Now that her photography has taken off, this is the perfect time for her to revisit this original goal. Her next project features sculpture and mixed-media works that interrogate identity, appearance, and the Internet. “It’s about the digital era – how our privacy is exposed by cameras, facial recognition, all sorts of things,” she says. Her hope is to find a contemporary art gallery focusing on emerging artists where she’ll be able to show this new body of work by next spring.
And all this because Loffredo decided to experiment with a camera back in 2013. “My journey with photography started with a picture-a-day challenge that I quickly realised would not stop after 30 days,” she says. We can only expect the same energy to fuel her journey into the wider art world.
Stillness is on show at Soho 189 from November 22 to 25, 2018, and at Novalis Contemporary Art Gallery from November 27 to December 15, 2018. Find out more here.