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Clarissa Bonet: The Visual Artist behind the Camera

At 26 and not even a full year after graduating from Columbia College Chicago’s photography graduate program, Clarissa Bonet’s photographic series City Space has been praised. An award winning photographer,…

At 26 and not even a full year after graduating from Columbia College Chicago’s photography graduate program, Clarissa Bonet’s photographic series City Space has been praised. An award winning photographer, her work has been exhibited in Chicago, Florida, Paris, China, Israel, and published by the award winning photography magazine PDN (Photo District News), the Swiss Magazine Das Magazin, Booooooom, and Feature Shoot…to name a few. Clarissa possesses the ability to create work that is captivating and full of emotion. I had the pleasure of learning more about the visual artist behind the camera.



Sophia Nahli: When did you know you wanted to be a photographer?

Clarissa Bonet: I started photography when I was in middle school. We had a little dark room in my school, so I started experimenting there, but I really got into photography when I was in high school. I knew my sophomore year of high school that photography was going to be my medium to work in.

SN: Why is photography important to you?

CB: That’s kind of a difficult question. I feel like I’ve always been drawn to art in general, ever since I was little, all different types of art forms. But I think photography, for me, is a way to use the camera to transform my ideas. I kind of put all this performance for the camera and then photograph that. I’ve tried a lot of mediums when I was younger and I always had a difficult time putting on paper what I had in my mind. So the camera was a tool for me to do that.

SN: Looking at your photographs, it’s obvious that you are a very visual person. As an artist, how do you view your surroundings? What captures your attention and inspires you?

CB: I am very visual, and I’m really attracted and drawn to light. I’m constantly looking and thinking about the things that are around me. I’m always looking at people, I find them very interesting, especially in the city being surrounded by these unknown strangers all the time. I’m constantly thinking about them.  I’m not really interested in knowing specifically about them but there’s a mystery behind them that I’m really attracted to. At the same time I’m very visually drawn to light, shadow, shape, line. Especially when I started to make City Space I became more conscious of light and now I see it everywhere.

I’m inspired by painters and photographers. The people I really look to are Ray Metzker and Saul Leiter, but Ray Metzker is probably my favorite photographer. Painters like George Tooker and Edward Hopper, but I also like Todd Hido’s work because I feel like there’s this emotional landscape that he makes. I’ve always been inspired by Philip-Lorca Dicorcia, for many different reasons, but he also explored this idea of the street as a stage. I explored that idea too.

SN: Let’s talk about City Space. It is currently my favorite series at the moment. What inspired this series?

CB: I’ve always created work that’s based on personal experience, even my last series Transitions, was based on personal experience. I use the camera as a way to translate and investigate these experiences. I came to Chicago from Florida and I was taken aback by this environment. I felt like this was a completely foreign environment, and I became this pedestrian. I started investigating that and the work came about as a reaction to this space. Not only the physical space of the city that I found intriguing but also this psychological space that I feel like the city dweller is in compared to a suburbanite.

SN: What was the process for City Space?

CB: I started investigating the city and I went through very different visual ways of representing this. I remember when I first got to Chicago I felt invisible because there were so many people, I’d never lived around so many people before. I started making these images where people blended into their environment; their clothing matched the settings that I put them in. Then I started making pictures where I would set up my tripod and make composites of people, I would photograph people walking back and forth and then in the computer I would digitally composite them together forcing this relationship that never really happened. After that I started researching street photographers, looking into their work, looking at how they placed the camera and how they themselves are this pedestrian walking in this space. I tried to dissect the street photographers that I really love like Saul Leiter, Ray Metzker, and think about the way they use light and shadow. Especially Ray Metzker, I felt like there was this psychological space that he was creating with light and shadow. I felt like my photographs were the same kind of subjects, people in the street, but they were in this boring light. I was trying to make photographs of something that didn’t really exist and make photographs of this emotion, and what it felt like to be in the city. Once I really dissected what Metzker did, I started to think about how I could use light, shadow, color, and atmosphere to create an emotion within a photograph. Once I started making those I was able to visualize how I felt and how the city looked to me. The photographs began to visually align with my conceptual idea.

SN: You’ve been working on City Space for some time and are still working with it. When do you feel it will be complete?

CB: Right now I have 18 images and I’d like to have 25 before I think it’s finished, but I really don’t have an end date.

SN: Along with the work you are creating, you just started teaching. You’re a professor. That’s so exciting. Is that weird for you to say, “I’m a photography professor!”

CB: (Laughs). Yes it is a little weird.

SN: How is that experience for you being the artist to now teaching aspiring artists?

CB: It’s really exciting for me. I enjoy teaching and enjoy sharing other peoples work. I encourage my students to write names down and look at more photographs. I tell them “to be a good artist you need to be a good consumer of images. You need to keep looking.”

SN: What do you want some of your future success to be?

CB: I would love to have a book published. I made a book this summer and was pretty excited about that. I just want to be in more shows and get the work out there for people to see.


Clarissa Bonet will have work featured in Chicago’s 2012 Filter Photo Festival Light Exhibition at David Weinberg Photography on Wednesday, October 17, 5:00-8:00pm.

To view more of Clarissa Bonet’s work, visit her website,

All images in this article are part of  City Space and courtesy of Clarissa Bonet.

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