BACKSTORY: A self-taught photographer painting a conceptual picture of a concept-free world
FROM: Los Angeles, California
YOU MIGHT KNOW HER FROM: Instagram, under the handle @casualtimetravel
NOW: Releasing a book of her series called On the Periphery via Aint-Bad
Not much in the history of photography has been internalized by the American psyche—there’s no Gutenberg, or Edison, or Lumière being spoonfed into school curriculums and quiz shows. This is peculiar considering how ubiquitous the medium is: Instagram is now the second most popular social network (behind Facebook), and, notably, the fastest growing network for advertisers due to its engagement. It’s the first thing many people look at when they wake up in the morning, and that level of use has created an unprecedented culture of support and interest in the fine art world—and also an unprecedented number of selfies, too.
Sinziana Velicescu isn’t in the selfie-posting business. In fact, in her recent rise to prominence—which has been particularly meteoric online—she hasn’t even tended to post pictures of people at all. “I just personally don’t have any interest in photographing human faces for some reason,” she says, meeting over coffee in the face-heavy Los Feliz neighborhood of her native Los Angeles. “I just don’t have this connection.”
Working under the moniker @casualtimetravel, Velicescu is less interested in people and more interested in the objects that people create (and often neglect): buildings, cars, signs, lampposts. These objects are frequently framed in a way that’s intensely blunt and slightly askew, pastel layers toppling amongst each other, held stable by impossibly pure skylines and alien pavements.
“I like to isolate certain things and abstract them,” she says, acknowledging that, while photographers like Lewis Baltz and Joel Sternfeld serve as inspiration, her style is more informed by abstract expressionist painters than by modern photographers. She remembers a childhood filled with LACMA visits, during which she would plop herself down in the modern arts section (“Here’s a black square and here’s a white square—I loved that”), taking in Color Field artists like Mark Rothko and Frank Stella. “As a kid, you gravitate toward that because it’s colorful and it’s bright and it’s punchy and it’s not boring like classical paintings of angels and shit,” she laughs. “I feel like that’s partially why I’m still drawn to that kind of stuff. You don’t have to think about it; you’re just drawn to it and you don’t really know why.”
While she talks, Velicescu’s eyes don’t wander to the world going by—she’s not constantly looking for her next shot. “I don’t really do that street photography thing,” she says. Just in case, she keeps a couple of cameras in her car (her go-to is a Mamiya 6, for the gearheads out there), but for the most part, her photos come from blocks of time set aside for the task of exploring a specific spot, mostly within the greater Los Angeles area, which provides the work with a placid, sunbleached quality.
“I literally take a day each weekend—or two days—and I go out for like four hours by myself,” she explains. “I’ll set a destination—‘I’m going to start here and I’ll end up here’—and then walk back, or take a Lyft back if I get too far. It’s mostly a lonely thing; I don’t want to do it around other people. It’s very meditative… Like, I’ll go with my boyfriend and he’ll be like, ‘Why’re we in this weird parking lot?’”
And to be sure, parking lots are central to the @casualtimetravel experience—as are alleys, garages, motels, and any other place where your first instinct might be to immediately leave and not look back. Places that people are responsible for, but for which they feel no responsibility anymore. “I feel like the act of [photography] is sort of like a detective thing,” she says. “Discovering little details about a place, trying to piece a history of something together based on what’s there now and what could’ve been there before.” Hence the name “Casual Time Travel.” Walking around a dilapidated Lancaster mall isn’t exactly transporting to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. But it is toeing into a history that’s just as real. FL