Social Media

Positive Disintegration — An Interview with Tania Franco Klein

Book Store Interview Positive Disintegration Photographs by Tania Franco Klein Interview by Savannah Sakry Savannah Sakry sits down with Tania Franco Klein to discuss her first monograph, Positive Disintegration, comprised of an extended version of her acclaimed series Our Life In The Shadows. The work is influenced by the pursuit of the American Dream lifestyle in the Western world and contemporary practices such as leisure, consumption, media over-stimulation, eternal youth, and the psychological sequels they generate in our everyday private life.
Positive Disintegration. By Tania Franco Klein.
Positive Disintegration
Photographs by Tania Franco Klein

Éditions Bessard, Paris, France, 2019. Unpaged, 8½x11¼x1"

Positive Disintegration, the first monograph by Mexican artist Tania Franco Klein, comprises an extended version of her acclaimed series Our Life In The Shadows.

The work is influenced by the pursuit of the American Dream lifestyle in the Western world and contemporary practices such as leisure, consumption, media over-stimulation, eternal youth, and the psychological sequels they generate in our everyday private life. The project seeks to evoke a mood of isolation, desperation, vanishing, and anxiety, through fragmented images, that exist both in a fictional way and a real one.

Philosopher Byung-Chul Han says we live in an era of exhaustion and fatigue, caused by an incessant compulsion to perform. We have left behind the immunological era, and now experience the neuronal era characterized by neuropsychiatric diseases such as depression, attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder, burnout syndrome, and bipolar disorder. Drawing inspiration from his theories, Tania Franco Klein places this contradiction at the center of her autobiographical project.

The constant need to escape, to always look outside. Her characters find themselves almost anonymous, melting in places, vanishing into them, constantly looking for any possibility of escape. They find themselves alone, desperate and exhausted. Constantly in an odd line between trying and feeling defeated.

The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Positive Disintegration. By Tania Franco Klein.

Savannah Sakry: Upon first picking up your book, I knew it was special. Something simultaneously enchanting and perilous about it. I had to turn the page, again and again like being sucked into an episode of The Twilight Zone. The images are strong enough to stand alone but sequenced together in this beautiful, velvety object of a book you have produced right out of the gate is just remarkable. Congratulations on your nomination for the 2019 Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation First PhotoBook Award!

Let’s start with the title. The Wikipedia definition of "Positive Disintegration" is:
The theory of positive disintegration (TPD) by Kazimierz Dąbrowski is a theory of personality development. Unlike mainstream psychology, Dąbrowski's theoretical framework views psychological tension and anxiety as necessary for growth. These "disintegrative" processes are therefore seen as "positive," whereas people who fail to go through positive disintegration may remain for their entire lives in a state of "primary integration," lacking true individuality.
Please share with me at how you arrived at this fantastic title.

Tania Franco Klein: The title of the book has a very interesting story of its own. When I first started working on this project (2016) I had it under the title Our Life In The Shadows. I already had around ten very strong images when I realized that this is a project that I wanted to get completely sucked into, and right away I thought about making a book with it. The idea of making a book completely changed my way of approaching projects, especially when I realized I wanted to make a book in which each image has a life of its own, but when taken together become a living thing. This new conglomerate being so powerful to the emotional side of the spectator that they couldn't ignore it, through this interaction it would become very personal to them.

Positive Disintegration. By Tania Franco Klein.

As you can imagine after seeing my book, emotions are at the core of my whole photographic practice and are one of my main interests in life. More specifically, I am very much interested in the emotional response we have to the media-stimulated world we live in; how our ideals of success, etc. create a specific psychological response that molds our experience of life. The project began as a response to my own experience, my curiosity to understand if I was really that responsible for all these "negative emotions." A few months into the project, I decided to broaden the topic and inform the work with the book The Burnout Society by Byung-Chul Han, which very much resonated with me, as well as all the emotions and ideas I was trying to depict.

Positive Disintegration. By Tania Franco Klein.
I worked on the images for the first year and a half without actually engaging with the book form. I had no background in bookmaking and, in a naive way, I assumed the images were all I needed. Then I decided to enter a year-long process of photobook making in Mexico City at Hydra. We worked with a with a number of international editors who each brought their own perspective. To be honest, that's where it all got very interesting. Each time a guest would come we would have a completely different perspective into how other people envision your book or see your work. It was extremely nourishing and, at the same time, very confusing because there is no ONE WAY of seeing something. I would make a dummy in one workshop and the next guest would completely contradict everything the one before said, so on and so on.

I had a lot of realizations during that period. The most important was that I had a very broad understanding of this project, and that it was me who needed to decide how to give life to this work. I had to make it into the experience this work meant in my personal life. After all, no matter what I did I wasn't going to please everyone. (I am getting closer to the title topic I promise). Long story short in the process of doing and redoing dummies over and over I realized the body of work I had was not enough for what I wanted to achieve. I then started creating work specifically for the book, and so, the book was actually able become its own living thing, separating itself from both my initial ideas and the body of work it's comprised of. I started implementing sequences and creating work thoughtfully, considering the experience of the pages. I also decided to implement a different layer and, for the first time, physically included the idea of the media into the universe of my characters. I wanted to have this personal world be subtly invaded by the media, almost impossible to escape. By this time I was on the right track and was sure that this book needed its own title.

Positive Disintegration. By Tania Franco Klein.

Most of my individual images have a title that describes an object in the scene, like Toaster (self-portrait) or Certain Action, small hints, but I try to keep enough room for interpretation. But there is one image in particular, when I made it I had the need to title it differently from the rest. I work a lot with the idea of dualities, transformation, and distortion, and this image had a very personal feel to my own story. By the time I made it, I already knew about the "Theory of Positive Disintegration" and it came back to me when I was choosing the name.

I felt very attracted by those two words together and the contrast they had with each other. I decided to not have any text inside the book and, rather, create an emotional experience with a non-linear narrative that could be taken into a lot of places, while maintaining the core of the project and immersing you into this universe of my own creation. For that reason, having a proper title that could sustain the feeling of the work without saying that much about the book itself became very essential. You don't need to know about Dabrowski's theory to get the sense of what the title is trying to tell you. Similarly, you don't need to read The Burnout Society to understand the concept of the work. On a deeper level, the process of making this project for me was my own Positive Disintegration.

Positive Disintegration. By Tania Franco Klein.

SS: My first thoughts about this work were “Oh, she speaks my language!!” (Color, Light, Texture, Drama, Solitude, Mystery, Story… I could go on but I won’t …)

Can you dive deeper into the ingredients you seek to make a great photograph?

TFK: Thank you!! Yes, all the elements you mentioned are ingredients into my photographs, but what I am constantly seeking is a certain emotion, somewhere in between stillness and tension. I wish I could better describe what I mean, but seeing the work is probably the easiest explanation. That being said, I think a very important element of my work is the performative side of it. Even though my "type" of work is considered staged photography, the element of surprise has become my most important ingredient. I try as much as possible to avoid my work feeling contrived. That happens a lot with staged work, and sometimes you feel as if you can even see a pre-production drawing turning into a photograph, which, for me, breaks a lot of the magic. So, I try to find some truth inside my fiction. I am always trying to get there, sometimes I am more successful than others, but it is certainly an infinite search.

My approach is based in playing, a lot. Making my images is a very ludic performance. I carry a lot of props and elements, then use one of them as a starting point and then improvise from there. Most of the time I don't have a clue what the final result will be once I start playing, and it is exciting. I get to discover the work in the moment.

Positive Disintegration. By Tania Franco Klein.

SS: The narrative in your book is wonderfully mysterious, like a circle with no beginning or end, is this your intention? I absolutely love the suspense, and how you gave us a pause of completely black pages with no images. This was a bold surprise. What inclined you do this?

TFK: The narrative was a very challenging part of sequencing and creating the whole experience of the book. It's exciting to see that you realized it is like a circle, and I couldn't have described it better myself. My work carries a very strong visual narrative, but at the same time, it carries with it an ambiguity. The logical thing with such narrative visuals is to try and make a story out of it. But there is not a linear story in my work. It is more of a Universe which exists all at the same time and repeats itself with no beginning or end. It has its own logic of existence and the context of the psychological world of my characters which in their own line of thought feels infinite.

Positive Disintegration. By Tania Franco Klein.

For that reason, I tried to work more with instinct, visual associations, and symbols throughout the book. The entrance of the book—the image of the exit sign—is symbolic, to create this sort of momentum where my characters are trapped. The same happens with the final two images; The train and then again the woman contained inside the television. The screen, and the sense of lost reality and time. For me, the whole book exists as a loop of time, but when working with design elements you enter into a certain rhythm, which little by little can lead to trying to create a story. I wanted to break the rhythm and change what your mind expects to come next, after getting used to the first pages. The black pages become a loud noise, or maybe, a deep silence. You expect to see images, and it is somehow relieving or maybe uncomfortable to not find them. After the second spread of purely black pages, you are already in a different rhythm, and allow for the sequences to happen and become a loop of its own. Maybe it's a cathartic moment inside the emotional catharsis of the rest of the book.

Positive Disintegration. By Tania Franco Klein.

SS: If you had to choose your favorite image from the book, which would it be?

TFK: I think my favorite images are Contained (self-portrait) and Toaster (self-portrait). They both have the characters completely melted into their spaces, you can only see them through their objects. In a way, they have reached the level of turning their mental invisibility into a physical one.

Positive Disintegration. By Tania Franco Klein.

SS: Can you talk about growing up in Mexico City and today’s challenges as a female artist making work there?

TFK: Mexico City is an extremely surrealist amazing place to grow up. I love Mexican culture and the chaotic-eclectic mix that somehow permeates the city. I think as a photographer, especially a female photographer, it very much depends on your personality, the type of work you can or cannot do in Mexico City and the country itself. I grew up with a lot of fear of violence and have developed certain routines that unconsciously permeate my everyday life when there. To be honest, that is probably why I feel so comfortable working in interior spaces. There is definitely a challenge, not only a psychological one, but a realistic one while creating work there. I truly admire the female photographers, but really, any photographer who puts their life on the line and creates work in places where violence permeates, or in which just having your camera outside could be an invitation for getting robbed.

It is very hard for me to create work in environments where I don't feel safe and can't let myself flow into the moment. For that reason, the few works I have done outdoors are outside Mexico. I don't feel confident of stopping in the middle of nowhere, getting down in the road and placing my tripod to take semi-naked photos of myself. I don't think I need to test my luck in those cases to be able to produce work. So I very much adapt to my circumstances.

SS: You credited both of your grandfathers and their contributions to photography and architecture, in what ways did their work inspire yours?

Work of Alex Klein, courtesy of Tania Franco Klein
TFK: Both my grandparents are incredible examples to me. One of them has unfortunately already passed away, but he was an incredible photographer. As a Hungarian orphan refugee in Argentina, he joined a creative group of photographers named La Carpeta de Los Diez. Then he moved to Mexico and was a pioneer working with color rayographs and transparencies very early on. He was also an interdisciplinary inventor and would turn any object into a piece of design-art. My other grandfather created along with two other Mexican architects the project of UNAM (the University of Mexico) when he was in his early 20s, he also made incredible mid-century furniture design which was just discovered and exhibited in Clasicos Mexicanos. He is 97 today and still teaches classes at the university and creates urban proposals to improve life in some neighborhoods in Mexico City. What inspires me most about them is their infinite curiosity and passion for life.

Work of Armando Franco, courtesy of Tania Franco Klein

SS: Who are your biggest influences in art today?

TFK: There are, of course, a lot of amazing photographers who have served as a big inspiration for my work like Larry Sultan, William Eggleston, Jimmy De Sana, Stephen Shore, Nan Goldin, Jo Ann Callis, etc. I also have a strong connection to multimedia—video artists whose work deeply inspired me, like Tony Oursler, Bill Viola, and Pipilotti Rist.

Positive Disintegration. By Tania Franco Klein.
SS: In a beautiful credit page at the end of your book, you thank your loved ones for their support and encouragement to “make my life a work of art.” What a beautiful path and life to live. 

Do you have any closing notes or advice to other emerging artists? How can we all better make our lives a work of art?

TFK: I have had the most amazing and nurturing upbringing and my family is truly an example to me of what making your life a work of art really means. With this, I mean that their passion for life and love is bigger than anything and they have really given me the tools to do the same. I feel that human relationships and interaction have become secondary in terms of priority to other things like careers, success, etc. Nowadays is easy to put a lot of things above being a sensitive, humanitarian, loving person. I think keeping those things at the core of my everyday life has become a priority for me and living like that is a true work of art: in progress. Each time I do a project I feel that it becomes a very transformative process to my person too. Otherwise, it would make no sense to do it.

My advice to emerging artists is to not compromise your interests and your style to fit into whatever is trendy in the industry at the moment. Concentrate on whatever is important for you and be persistent and truthful to yourself. Passion is contagious.

Order your copy

Positive Disintegration. By Tania Franco Klein.

Savannah Sakry is the Book Division Manager at photo-eye. She holds a BFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts. She was previously the Sales Director of form & concept and Zane Bennett Contemporary Art and former Gallery Associate of photo-eye Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Tania Franco Klein (b. 1990) started her photography praxis while gaining her BA Architecture in Mexico City, which took her to pursue her Masters in Photography at the University of the Arts London. Franco Klein's work has been reviewed and featured by international publications, including Aperture Foundation, The British Journal of Photography, I-D Magazine (UK), The Guardian, The Paris Review, Der Greif, Fisheye Magazine, and has been commissioned by clients like The New Yorker, New York Magazine, and Dior.

Her work has been exhibited across Europe, the USA, and Mexico, including international fairs such as Photo Basel, Photo London, Photofairs SF, Getxo Photo, the Los Angeles Month of Photography, the Thessaloniki Museom of Photography, amongst others. She was recently selected by W Mag as one of the 9 photographers to follow, and has obtained the Sony World Photography Awards in two consecutive years, The Lensculture Exposure Awards, Lensculture Storytelling Awards, The Felix Schoeller Photo Award Nominee, FOAM Paul Huf Award nominee, and recently received the Photo London Artproof Schliemann Award as the best emerging artist during Photo London 2018.

Tania Franco Klein currently has a solo show, Proceed to the Route, at the Rose Gallery in Los Angeles, on view though January 18th, 2020.