Cassandra Celestin

What’s your background?

I’ve always been drawn to how the past shows up in physical form and people’s relationship with the past through these things. Especially domestic things that are or were part of someone’s everyday life, the things that seem unimportant and fragile, not meant for official record. To a great extent, this interest came from growing up between New York and Greece, places with very different approaches to their pasts. While I’ve documented these things through photography and the moving image for a long time, I never went to film or art school. Instead, I chose to pursue formal studies in history / cultural studies and the ways in which history is “done,” always meaning to incorporate my visual work to attempt new ways of understanding the past and its relationship to the present.

What influences you artistically?

Walking in urban spaces, observing and being part of the dense, complex, and dynamic systems of human interactions found there. I like being in the mid-point between reading a landscape and being overwhelmed by it.

How do you start a new work?

I start new works slowly, after a period of research (this could involve reading across a range of sources, visiting museum collections and archives, walking around a specific area, speaking with people about the subject.) All of my films so far have started with a specific type of physical thing, like a small object or a kind of architectural ornament. My shoots involve a lot of walking to places where those things are found, creating a collection of images I store until I’m ready for an edit. Going to the places and seeing the things up close leads to new ideas, so I fluctuate between shooting and doing more research before going back out. In some ways, it’s a process of collecting.

What are you working on right now?

My new project starts from my family’s extensive collection of photo albums which spans about 80 years, documenting their lives in Haiti and then New York, where they immigrated. I’m focusing on the physical things that weren’t always at the center of these photos, such as the fabrics of people’s clothing, the jewelry people were wearing, table settings, gardens. A lot is inadvertently told about broader social realities in these feminized items. I’m also interested in shooting the photos and albums themselves, turning them into recorded things, and creating another physical artifact – this time, a film – to ask questions about the preservation of physical things and why it matters (or doesn’t.)