Dana Tole: Varya is My Alter-Ego (Exclusive Interview and Photos)

We stumbled across the impressive work of portrait photographer Dana Tole the other day and have been scrolling ever since. Her photos are mysterious, beautifully processed and break the ordinary portrait mold in so many outstanding ways.

Howdy, Dana! Tell us about yourself, when did you first started to shoot? How is your artistic style? What does Varya means?
Hey-hey! (smile) Well, I was almost born with a camera in my hands, hehe…my dad is a photographer and my first memory of myself with a camera is from the age of three. But seriously now, it was only during my second year of Law school, when I got to shoot something during a workshop I attended with Sorin Onisor. I guess that’s when it all started. I really felt that this should be my path but I never had the courage to follow it…until now. Why now? Well, I was working in the legal area and it didn’t fulfill me. I just realised that photography is more than just a passion to me, it’s a way of living, so this summer I decided to take chances. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but thank God I had the right dose of ‘craziness’ in me, combined with the strong desire of working only on something that feels right for me. My artistic style isn’t too defined yet because I’m a beginner and I’m experiencing as much as I can in order to find out what truly represents me. I like to take more poetic photos, portraits with raw feelings mixed with a bit of mistery or a certain intimacy. The final ingredient to my artistic style is a touch of fashion.

I like to have a model of whom I can get glimpses of their complex inner self, and not just a washed face.

Varya…well, I guess now it won’t be a secret anymore. I choose Varya because someone dear to me had a beautiful dream in which I appeared as Varya. Much later I wanted to find out if that’s a real name and I had a nice surprise when I saw the meaning behind it and the kind of person it describes. It gave me goosebumps. I guess Varya is my alter-ego.

What does photography has to offer to you? Do you see it rather as your inner world?

Photography is the place I like to call my shelter, my inner world where I can connect to my deepest feelings. It also helps me to experience life at different levels of complexity.

Do you dream about the images you make?

Touché! I don’t know how you came up with this question, but I think it’s one of my favorite. I’m really connected to my dreams, I dream a lot and yes, I get to dream certain photos that I have to take. Of course, I don’t end up taking them, it’s a bit harder, but I have a notebook where I write them down. I know I have to be patient when it comes to those ones. I noticed that even if sometimes I don’t take the photos I dreamt of, I do wake up with strong emotions that influence me a lot if I’m going to take some photos that day.

Do you usually look for the perfect character for your stories, or is a face to inspire you?

I usually look for a face to inspire me. I walk on the street trying to find a face that makes me  wanna take some photos. I see a lot of beautiful girls, but that’s just not enough for me. I need more, I wanna see a story behind those eyes, I like to have a model of whom I can get glimpses of their complex inner self, and not just a washed face.
I’m not sure, but it might be that I perceive a little change in your works through the time. Do you think you had a kind of evolution in your art?

Well, I think I changed my style  a bit because I experienced a lot of the photography’s areas-photojurnalism, street photography, self-portrait and a bit of fashion. Now I’m beginning to know myself better and I guess my latest photos are starting to represent me more. On the other hand, I like to play around and try different versions of photos so I won’t get bored. I really believe I’m improving, but I still feel like I should get out there and shoot more often.

What attracted you to portraiture? And what’s different from fashion photography?

I go to a shooting thinking “I won’t focus on portraits this time”…but I always end up taking a lot of portraits (laughing). Maybe because I really love people and when I’m taking a portrait I feel more connected to the subject. I took some fashion photos too and I like it, but I don’t like the ordinary fashion that you get to see on most magazines or the commercial ones, it’s borring and dull. I do love the fashion photography which combines fashion with art and a bit of cinema, which makes you relate to the photos, and looks creative, inspiring and have an interesting story or concept.

What camera do you use?

I use the Canon 6D.

Have you thought of creating images to combine with literally works that you love? What artist influences you?
I did, but that’s a future project. I think I’m actually gonna start with some photos inspired by some songs I’ve been listening lately and maybe later I’ll go for the literally works.
Some of the artists that I really like are Helmut Newton, Laura Makabresku, Theo Gosselin, Marta Bevacqua, Tim Walker, Ruslan Lobanov, Andrew Tarnawczyk, Kiki Xue.

Your visual focus lies mostly on women, where do you think the desire of a woman to be portrayed in a picture comes from?
I think it’s interesting as a woman to be in front of the camera, some of them feel the need of being  appreciated, some of them want to unleash and try to be different characters or they just like to discover themselves through the eyes of others.

Have there been specific people who helped you in your career? And speaking of that, I saw the connection between you and Michelle de Rose and considering the fact you’re kinda sharing models (smile), tell us how do you two get to know each other?
Everyone who encouraged me when I thought I won’t be able to do this. When it comes to photographers, I’m grateful to have Sorin Onisor, Michelle and Mike Nicolaev as my friends. With Michelle it was really special…I had a hard time last year and I decided to go to the seaside for two days. I was in my creative mood and I thought that maybe I should really meet this artist since I liked her work. The rest is history…I don’t know about her, but to me it was one of the best moments in my life.(smile) Most of the artists are a bit selfish , they don’t share stuff or help each other, but I was happy to find a photographer with whom I can share this passion selflessly.

What is something we do not know about you?

I used to play piano, sometimes I am really getting shy in front of the camera and…this is my first interview.

I have to reckon I have a quilty pleasure and this is Codruta Teslărașu. How is working with her? And what’s your quilty pleasure?
I guess Codruta Teslarasu is a guilty pleasure for everyone, whether you are the photographer or the viewer. It was amazing, Codruta is one of a kind. It’s the type of girl I was describing earlier I like to photograph. She is a natural beauty with a cinematic face and has a great personality too. She’s an artist on the inside, hehe. Besides Codruta, I think Marta Marghideanu, Alexia Giordano, Ionela Guraliuc and Nikola Selezinko are on my list of guilty pleasures. There is also this Italian girl that I really love- Martina Vodianova.  

What are you working on now? And have you ever exhibited?

I’m trying to understand better the technique and the editing area since I wanna improve my portfolio. Yes, I had some exhibitions, some of them with other photographers, but I’m thinking of organising my own next year, it depends on how I’ll feel about my work.

All photos: (c) Varya

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Still can't tell exactly my origins because of my Chinese eyes. I love romance. Cartoons and music. Cultartes. Hate fish roe. From the bottom of my heart.

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