Looking inward. Photographer Tori Ferenc on a journey of self-discovery

Looking inward. Photographer Tori Ferenc on a journey of self-discovery

For photographer Tori Ferenc becoming a mother didn't just change who she is; it shifted her creative practice in unexpected and exciting ways. She became transfixed with accidental beauty and the poetry of everyday life. In documenting these fleeting moments, she draws our attention to the small and often overlooked details that accrue into a life. She tells Capture about her influences, living in limbo and what it took to turn the camera on herself.

Growing up in Gniezno, a small town in western Poland, creative opportunities were scarce for London-based photographer Tori Ferenc. Despite this, she did everything she could to explore her creativity. "I grew up wanting to be an actress and reading Shakespeare," says Ferenc. "I could never sit still, so I constantly tried to find new ways to express myself: playing piano, singing and writing. At one point, I even joined a folk group. At school, I became the subject of intense bullying, and being creative was my coping strategy."

A few years later, Ferenc discovered photography by accident. Together with a friend, they would sneak out with her parent's digital camera and take pictures. She uncovered a new world that she could build entirely in her vision. "I loved coming up with ideas, hunting for locations, trying to find clothes in second-hand shops, figuring out how to translate the idea into the photograph," she tells Capture. "I was obsessed with Renaissance and Pre-Raphaelite paintings and always trying to recreate certain scenes in photos. My love of painting has stayed with me since then and influences how I shoot."

 "Turning the camera on myself was easier than I thought it would be. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed making self-portraits, exposing myself and turning my body into a tool.”
39 Weeks, from series In Waiting/ Tori Ferenc

As an introvert, documentary storytelling has given Ferenc the space to discover the world and understand people better. "As a person from a small town where things don't change that quickly, I was always hungry to travel and meet people whose life stories were completely different than mine," she says. It's this same curiosity that leads her to join the Capture community. "My photographic practice is very old-school, working mostly with film. I like the fact that NFTs are exploring this new digital territory. I'm also excited that this technology is more inclusive than selling physical prints through the galleries."

Ferenc's visual language is defined by its subtly holding space for quiet yet beautiful aspects of the human experience. Her work is informed by magical realism and the work of women artists like Linda Brownlee, Suzie Howell, Amy Woodward and Justine Kurland. Painting continues to shape her aesthetic, especially the ways the Dutch Golden Age and late Renaissance painters played with light and dark in their portraits. In Ferenc's images, deep shadows collide with illuminated details to give everyday life an otherworldly feel - "an emotional punch." She trades in the world of feeling, connection, and the haptic, and this tension born from the manipulation of light has become Ferenc's signature.                                                    

Smile, from series Homecoming/ Torri Ferenc

Lillies, from series Homecoming/ Tori Ferenc

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Becoming a mother in 2020 heightened her preoccupation with honouring the poetry of daily life. In Waiting is a visual diary of the first-time mother, describing the joy and anxiety born from early parenthood. Set against the claustrophobic experience of a global pandemic, Ferenc explores love, relationships, and the "horrifying and hilarious" moments parents share with their children. The work included in the National Portrait Gallery's Taylor Wessing Portrait exhibition in 2021 charts her vulnerability and exposed assimilation to motherhood - a shift in identity that still lacks dialogue in mainstream culture.

The Jab, from series In Waiting/ Tori Ferenc

"The project grew from an assignment from the Washington Post at the start of the first lockdown," explains Ferenc. "They had asked me to make work about the challenges of being together in a restricted space. Soon after the images were published, I found out I was pregnant. Since we were still in lockdown, confined and bored, I decided to document the pregnancy. When our daughter Mila was born, the project started to take shape. It was a super intense time, but very prolific photographically."

"Turning the camera on myself was easier than I thought it would be," she tells Capture. "I was surprised by how much I enjoyed making self-portraits, exposing myself and turning my body into a tool. It allowed me to process things that were happening around us - the uncertainty of the pandemic and the messiness of parenthood. It gave me something to look forward to; even if I was exhausted after looking after the baby, I couldn't wait to develop my film. It was a therapeutic experience. My husband's attitude towards being photographed is quite tidal - sometimes he allows me, sometimes he doesn't, and I respect his boundaries. When it comes to my daughter, I realise she doesn't understand the concept of consent, and as her mother, I have to be her advocate. This responsibility is always in the back of my mind whenever I take photos of her."

“My photographic practice is very old-school, working mostly with film. I like the fact that NFTs are exploring this new digital territory.”
The Lake, from series Motherland/ Tori Ferenc

In her new body of work, Motherland, Ferenc traces her family history in Poland, exploring familial relationships' hidden or untold aspects. She pairs her images of

Polish landscapes and family celebrations with those shot by her great-grandfather made 80 years prior. "The project came to life when I began revisiting old family albums. My Great Grandfather was an interesting man - a skilled printmaker and an amateur magician - but he also battled his demons from the war and struggled with alcoholism most of his life. While studying his photographs, I could see his darkness under the surface. I began to notice similarities in our work, despite being decades apart. We shared an interest in the same themes - celebration, youth and passing - and were drawn to near identical poses of our subjects." It's this dialogue between two worlds which makes Motherland so resonant. Together, their tender images speak to the ways that small, often overlooked details accrue into a life and how the concept of family shifts over time.

Over the last two years, Ferenc's photography has changed from looking outward to looking inward. In this simple yet profound shift, she doesn't just metabolise her own experiences through her lens; she holds space for the viewer to engage in vital and complex conversations.

Road Trip, from series Homecoming/ Tori Ferenc
Feeding the Fish, from series Motherland/ Tori Ferenc
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