I had the pleasure of interviewing a great friend and colleague of mine about her work and approaches. You can check it out on her website here or right below!
Film is about stories. Whether those stories are factual or imaginative is for the audience to behold, but what we observe visually in these stories is what influences us the most. If you’re Erika Arbak, a portrait photographer and budding cinematographer, you see through the lens of your father, shooting his military travels on a Mamiya camera. Erika has been capturing images in film and in other mediums since then, when she was about 8 or 9 years old, and continues to push her own boundaries by exploring directing, writing, cinematography, and more.
I sat down with Erika recently to discuss her work now that she is expanding her portfolio to include music video directing. She helped me get a sense of her background in photography with stories about her father. “My dad had an old 35mm [camera] that he shot all his military travels on. He let me use it and I was hooked ever since.” She went on to explain that, “I originally would shoot just like, anything, but as time went on I became really obsessed with portrait photography.” Having done a number of portrait paintings in high school, Erika explained, “they [portrait paintings] helped me understand light really well, and its been my thing ever since then (sic)”. Erika and I worked together last year on an experimental film, as her visual style was beginning to take shape, so I talked with her about her favorite cinematographers as she begins to shoot moving pictures. Erika is as big a fan of Emmanuel Lubezki as anyone in the field (“what cinematographer isn’t?”) but she drew my attention to a recent film, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch, photographed by David Mullen. “David shows real skill shooting in film, which is a dream of mine. Anna [Biller] also inspires me to create my own work from the ground up; costumes, concepts, sets, scripts. She’s taking control of her projects and sharing her voice which his ultimately any [artist’s] goal.”
Anyone familiar with the world of horror knows the giallo movement in Italy, and can rattle off the films of names like Dario Argento with ease. Erika Arbak knows them just as well as the next person, and recently did some work with a model for SVLLY(wood) magazine, an online film critique zine that’s made available for free. While discussing this with Arbak, I asked her about her views on the film industry from the perspective of not only someone influenced by horror and giallo but also as a woman. She responded coolly, laying down some unfortunate facts: 149 studio films are set to be released in the next two years, yet only 12 are directed by women. “It’s hard to find that hope, not only as a female director but especially as a female cinematographer. The opportunities are so limited, its almost like they don't exist. So you have to do what many women [in the film industry] before me have done – do it yourself.” Erika went on to describe how horror is one area she feels that there’s some upward motion for women creative in. “we have to take up space and create buzz and just push through, which is so much more work than a lot of men have to do, but our stories are worthy.”
As we concluded our interview, her words on sharing one’s voice really resonated with me. The artist’s voice is their most powerful tool that they have to express themselves, and that voice takes shape in the art they produce. The art we produce always undergoes the risk of being ignored or looked down upon, but I think Arbak is a considerable talent to watch. She has the passion that comes with dedication to an idea, and command over unique lighting that few photographers have at her level. Not to mention, she’s as right as it gets when it comes to persevering through the obstacles set forth by her passions. Throughout the interview she gave considerable insight on her process, revealing a strong charisma and determination for her craft that I greatly admire through the scope of my own. I’d like to end with a final word from the cinematographer herself, something she said to me while on the subject of women in film:
“In the age of self distribution, our presence is growing. And I think women, whether they make horrors, documentaries, thrillers, whatever, have to keep filling the void that has been created.”
Arbak is now filming a follow up to her debut short film, due out later this year. Connect with her at erikaarbak.com.
by Erik Nordgren