Gisele the Beautiful. Gerda the Snow Queen. Gudrun the Sacred. Ottoline the Wealthy. Spending time with Nashalina Schrape’s photographs feels like opening a well-loved book of fairy tales and discovering characters you feel like you know but have never actually met. Familiar and not quite.
Here, in timeless black and white, play out tales of light and darkness. A happy ending is possible but not a given. Innocence is precious and fragile. Indecision and fear reside next to beauty. “There’s no lesson in you just being safe,” Nashalina Schrape says of her project, True Fiction. “The lesson is walking into the darkness and the uncertainty and finding your courage.”
Schrape was born in West Berlin before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Her mother was a political refugee who had left behind her own mother and the home in East Berlin where the family had lived for generations. Schrape’s grandfather was an SS soldier who died early in the war. Her grandmother, fearing violent repercussions should the Russians learn her husband had been a German soldier, burned all photographs of him as East Germany fell under Soviet rule.
This family history, rich with unspoken tragedy and loss, plays heavily into Schrape’s artistic expression. Though she didn’t pick up a camera until she was into her adulthood, capturing visual memories is something she has been practicing since she was a child.
“I remember at a very young age—because of the [Berlin] Wall and so much change and our family not verbalizing things—wanting to memorize things like the texture of my grandmother’s hair, her handbag, the material that her coat was made out of. I would spend 20 minutes trying to memorize every little aspect of something—that specific light that was on my grandmother’s bag,” she says. At the time, her grandmother was not allowed to leave East Berlin. After each visit, Schrape had no way of knowing exactly when she would see her again. These mental snapshots were a way to keep the moment close.
Coming from this fertile ground of imagination and allegory, it is no surprise that Schrape is, by profession, an art psychotherapist, working with the language of intuition and nonverbal expression to help others find themselves. She now lives in New York City and for the past four years has been focusing on photographic projects of her own.
The people in Schrape’s photographs are largely friends and acquaintances. She brings items from a trove of costumes she has collected—“I love materials, I love textures. So I do have a lot of stuff,” she confesses—or might go shopping with her subject for a particular item.
For all the otherworldly tone of these images, there are elements that bring them closer to the real world of human experience. For example, the blindfolded woman is a friend who was contemplating a divorce. The little girl in the wolf hat is wearing a Band-Aid, offsetting her ethereal beauty with a touch of childhood vulnerability. The caped figure standing on a rock is a photographer himself who doesn’t like to have his portrait taken.
She has a few ideas of what she wants to see happen, but how it plays out is ultimately a collaboration. “I really like it to be a little bit of back and forth. So we’re doing this together. And I want this to reflect the feeling of that person as well. I like to take a portrait of somebody and also be reflective of their nature and something about them.
“You know, I don’t think we’re all happy all the time, or we’re all sad, or we’re all confused, or we’re all uncomfortable. I think that we’re five different things at the same time.”