Nina Mangalanayagam – BA (Hons) Photography

Swedish-born Nina Mangalanayagam graduated from BA (Hons) Photography at LCC in 2005. She won the Jerwood Photography Prize, completed a MA in Photography at the Royal College of Art and is currently studying for a PhD in Photography at Westminster University.

What does your work involve?

In my practice I analyse how our environment, family and society impact on our identity. I try to highlight difficulties in identities when our idea of ourselves does not correspond to our environment, family or to the image others have of us – and the impact this has on wider societal structures. The people in my photographs are usually from my immediate family, since I believe that many social issues we witness in society can be as evident in the closest circles.

What influenced you to become a photographer?

I actually really wanted to become a writer, but I thought photography could do the same thing and get a wider audience, since there would not be a language barrier.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

When I finished my degree I won the Jerwood Photography Award (2005), which gave me visibility and publicity and was a great experience. Shortly afterwards I was shortlisted for the DeciBel Visual Arts Award. It was an award with a very large prize fund, which was open to artists from culturally diverse backgrounds. I was up against artists who were much more established than me such as the Otolith Group, and even though it was clear that I wouldn't win it, it was a great honour to be have been short-listed.

I think the biggest achievement right now though is that I am currently studying for a PhD in Photography. It really is such a privilege.

Can you tell us about a recent project?

A piece of work was a video called Lacuna. It shows a performance by me attempting to do the Indian head nod, which members from one part of my family use and I am unable to imitate. I am interested in the failure of language, including body language, and the frustration of trying to adapt to someone else’s behaviour. Layered over the image are fragments from my own life, written in diary form, exposing meetings with family members I am not familiar with, as well as my experience growing up with a Danish mother and Tamil father in Sweden.

Which of your images/projects are your favourites and why?

I still have a very emotional relationship to the project Snötäckt about my father. It was made from emotion and intuition more than any theoretical framework. I think my most successful piece to date is my recent video.

Any tips for aspiring photographers?

Work hard and try to listen to yourself, which is hard when there are so many voices and opinions. Those are the tips I should really give myself.