Mina Teslaru has been photographing Coney Island for the past 7 years, creating dreamy scenes that are both cheery and nostalgic. Her colorful, overexposed images filled with tiny people seem like they've captured a miniature set staged just for the photo.
Originally from Bucharest, Romania, Mina now lives and works in New York City and has graciously shared more about her process, her other creative projects and her thoughts on photography. Check out her interview below!
How do you define your photography in your mind? Is it a passion, a hobby, a calling?
My artwork whether it be photography, painting, collaging or installation is an archive of nostalgic moments, mapping my own displacement in the world. I create instinctively so it’s either all of that or none of it.
Do you remember the first photo you took of Coney Island? If so, please tell us about it.
I moved to the states when I was 24 years old.. the New World hit me really hard as something extremely different, there was no comfort in the unfamiliar places. At the time I was living in Long Island and remember hitting the beach soon after my arrival, expecting the seashore to greet me with happy smiling faces, coffee shops, side shows, rides and most importantly crowds and crowds of beach bums looking forward to chat you up or share their life story with you – needless to say that’s not what I found.
Months later I remember hearing of Coney Island and was bound to go conquer it all and see if it was “all of that” – and it was! That’s when I felt a little closer to home and knew everything will be alright.
The first ever photo of Coney Island that I loved (I have a huge archive of thousands of them that have never been published) – is Coney Island Beach and it’s a tilt shift because it describes how I feel about this place, a microcosm of happy, jolly beach goers that wouldn’t exchange the Brooklyn Riviera for anything else in the world.
There’s many ways of looking at Coney Island, some might see the grime and crowded beaches, some might see the colorful characters, some just go there for the rides and the Nathans, I love it because it is such a challenge trying to fit it in the palm of my hand... or lens for that matter.
I love thinking of the guests that stayed at Elephant Hotel, I love trying to image how wonderful it must have been to take a ride on the Parachute Jump.
Tell us about your process. What sort of tools and equipment do you use? Do you have any rituals that follow when you're out shooting?
I am a very moody person, I have a love hate relationship with my camera. But she’s my only tool and I rarely use tripods I try to make my frames look touristical with a fantastical twist.
What's next for you and your work?
I would very much like to have the time to experiment more with light installations. I tried my hand at it last year and it was very rewarding. You can see more about it on my website. Transplant, 2013
2D-wise I’d love to do a Circus series and of course continue with my Coney Island Series.
When did you know you wanted to be a photographer?
I still am not sure that’s what I want to be when I grow up... I’ve always said I wanted to be a farmer.
What other creative outlets do you have?
I make collages out of old photos and I have a rooftop garden in Brooklyn that is very rewarding, creatively.
Do you have a dream collaboration?
I would have loved to work with Basquiat and Kahlo.
Other than Coney Island, what inspires you to create?
Colorful towns and villages, crowds of people, things I can’t do.
What's the best thing about being an artist in New York?
It has to be the competition. There’s so much amazing art here, so many incredible artists – the constant envy and jealousy keeps me motivated.
In all fairness though – NY has its good parts and bad parts. Sometimes I feel like I can’t get out of my head here, like there’s no mind space for anything new. But I think that’s probably the kind of pressure an artist needs sometimes.
When do you know a photograph you've taken is a good photograph?
Oh gosh... I don’t, really, not for sure. I get a gut feeling sometimes – I love my Coney Island Beach photo but never thought the world would love it so much. It sold a few thousand times already. I don’t know what makes a good photograph, there’s absolutely no thought process at all when I shoot it’s all instinctive! As soon as I start thinking I screw up. Making art for me is like a meditation... the goal is not to have thoughts at all, just feel it.
Who are some of your favorite photographers?
What is your favorite photograph?
It changes a lot but for now it’s Mulberry Street – I think the photographer is unknown and the photo was colorized but how wonderful is that scene? It’s like everyone on that street knows they are being immortalized but they can’t really grasp the concept...