I I met Anne at a bar in El Raval, Barcelona in 2003. I came from Naples and arrived in the city after a decade of living in London. I had that power when you were in the new place. When I saw Anna, I was forced to take a picture of her.
El Raval was called Barrio Chino of the Chinese Quarter. It’s a little fun part of the city, with people from all over the world and 24 hours of city life. You can buy your milk in the corner store at midnight. El Raval is always alive.
When I’m out and someone draws my attention, it’s not hard for me to ask if I can take a portrait of them. Luckily, Anna works in the theater and people ask her to pose. “You’re lucky,” he said. “I don’t always say yes.” Little did I know then that her incredible appearance was partly because she has albinism. Once someone comes in front of my camera they are simply and surprisingly just a person, regardless of their status, caste or cultural background.
We set a date for the shooting and she came to my apartment. It was a cloudy day. I set up a flash on my porch and decided to use a fan to move through her hair. With age and maturity I began to incorporate more context into the portraits I painted. At the time, however, any element of the background or context I included was a way for the sitter to emphasize the awakened feeling within me. I thought of Piero della Francesca, Bellini and Vermeer, the painters who would put their subjects at the forefront so that they would fill the frame.
I work intuitively. I want to give my subjects the freedom to be mere. I don’t really style these without requesting a fairly neutral outfit and Anna has a great look anyway. She came up with quite a few different tops to wear and always wore after that lipstick shade.
I want my sitters to loosen and forget the camera, so it helps to shoot with a Hasselblad – a huge medium format camera – because they often don’t recognize the equipment. “Are you actually shooting?” They will ask. The weather, the excitement in that sky was shameless. I didn’t have a clear picture of what I wanted, but I knew I wanted to capture what I felt when I first saw Anna. He defines a different kind of beauty, a certain isolation, this feeling of being external. It reflects the way I felt at the time.
As a result of meeting Anna, I went to do the whole series on albinism. The difference fascinates me. Of course people in Spain and the rest of Europe are not discriminated against in the way they are treated in other parts of the world, where they may face horrific treatment.
I wanted to focus on the portrait, not on the problems that people with albinism may face, but on their beauty. I think of it as a passionate beauty, because it comes from pain, suffering and acceptance. Anna feels comfortable with herself. This is very nice to me.
As I learned about albinism, I changed my photography. I stopped using a flash, because it can be really annoying for the eyes of conditioned people. And I removed all the drama in my paintings, because it seemed disrespectful. Anna and I occasionally meet on the street, but we haven’t worked together since. Like all my paintings, this portrait was like a thief’s embrace, like a fleeting moment.
CV of Paula de Granite
Birth: Milan, seventy-one.
Trained: Graphic Design at Camberwell College of Arts, London.
Impact: From Leonardo da Vinci and Vermeer to Basquiet, Picasso and Frida Kahlo – Nadav Kander, Diane Arbos, Helen Van Manny, Sally Mann, and painters.
High points: “I can do very little and find the limitation stimulus.”
Lower point: “I am not a good salesman. I am struggling to achieve a sufficiently sensitive distance from my work to target the right clients. “
Top tip: “Trust your instincts. “