Photographer based in Brookline, MA
Chance of Rain, Dye sublimation aluminum print with mounted acrylic print and painted wood frame, 16.75" x 16.75", Diana Cheren Nygren, 2023.
Tell us about yourself, what's your background?
I've been interested in art for a long time. When I was young I was serious about music, drawing, architecture, and photography. But ultimately in school I started studying art history and decided to follow a path of talking about other people's art rather than making my own. It took a fairly long road to give myself permission to pursue my own work.
A New Pool, 2023, dye sublimation aluminum print, acrylic print, and painted wood frame, 17" x 17"
"I am currently starting to think through the next stage of the project Mother Earth. It is the further development of earlier work, but the current driver is the experience of traveling throughout the Southwest."
What are you currently working on and where did the inspiration for it come from?
I am currently starting to think through the next stage of the project Mother Earth. It is the further development of earlier work, but the current driver is the experience of traveling throughout the Southwest. I am primarily a city girl. Spending extensive time in the expansive landscapes of the Southwest was entirely new to me and was really profoundly transformative. It is impossible within that landscape not to be aware of the smallness of humanity. The natural world feels vast and ancient. This shifted my perspective on climate change to thinking not of how we are destroying the planet, but how strong the planet is, how much it can withstand, and the fact that what we are destroying it its habitability for us. My most recent work and the new phase of the Mother Earth project stem from this awareness.
Solar Flares, Dye sublimation aluminum print with mounted acrylic print and painted wood frame, 16.75" x 16.75"
Innovation does not only happen in the field of technology — it occurs everyday in a creative practice. What do you do for inspiration?
It is a particularly exciting time for photography. As the world becomes more and more flooded with photographic images, photographers are constantly looking for new ways to distinguish their work and their practice. I find that inspiration comes from continually exposing myself to and learning new things, whether it's reading, going to see exhibitions, or looking at as much work as possible. In addition, I don't think there will ever be a time when I stop taking classes. They push you out of your comfort zone in ways I find continually exciting.
Setting Sail, 2023, dye sublimation aluminum print, acrylic print, and painted wood frame, 17" x 17"
Describe your practice and process. Where do ideas start for you? In the studio or being in the world?
When I take photographs, I tend to take a lot of photographs. Absolutely anything that catches my eye is fair game. I take the majority of pictures when I travel, at times a see a place that I find interesting and decide to return there specifically to take photos, and I often pull out my camera to photograph the clouds or weather out my window. It is simply my way of processing the world around me. I have developed an artistic practice which happens largely when I am back at my computer and have downloaded all of the images. I look at them and edit them again and again until they become a catalog in my head. I then start experiment with materials, and ways of combining and manipulating photos, until I get a solid sense of what I want to say and then refine how to say it. It is really only then that I can go back and select the exact pictures that I want to use to tell my story.
Magnetic wall serves as an editing working board
How do you make your work, does it start with a sketch?
For the most part, I have two basic approaches to constructing a project. The first is to think of a what I want to say and use photographs as fodder for constructing that story, most often by compositing things together. So when I'm out shooting I often think of whether people I see and what they're doing would be interesting a characters in a story, and the other is to see locations as potential stage sets.
(left) How to say what I want experiment 5 (right)Mock-up of exhibition space for exhibition planning
The other approach is to work with a combination of miniatures and photographs to stage scenarios that I have not particularly ever seen in person, often that represent ideas. At this point my camera is set to a square ratio and almost of my final projects are presented in that ratio. I feel like something about that square abstracts the content of the image a bit, and draws the viewers attention to the construction of the space, line, and color. It's important to me that my images be successful on that level as much as that they're narratively successful.
How to say what I want experiment 1-2
Do you have your own studio ritual? What does that look like for you?
I definitely do not have a ritual. I can work any time, seven days a week. If the work is flowing, I may not get up from the computer for hours, even to eat.
Who are your biggest influences?
My influences are constantly changing. When I was young, I was obsessed with Cindy Sherman and Diane Arbus, and I think they both continue to influence how I see. More recently I've been looking a lot at Alex Prager, Julia Fullerton-Batten, and Ole Marius Jorgenson. But honestly, I am equally influenced by talented peers each of whom has an incredibly unique approach.
Gen Z Doesn't Want to Drive Cars, 2023, dye sublimation aluminum print, acrylic print, and painted wood frame, 17" x 17"
Are there books or films that are an important source of inspiration?
I don't think my visual style is particularly shaped by books or films at all, but they can definitely inform what I'm thinking about. Right now I'm reading "The Treeline" by Ben Rawlence. It is fascinating, and every page I seem to get a new idea about what my work could explore. I am also currently obsessed with the Washington Post's climate blog, or more specifically, it's Instagram feed - @postclimate. I think I save every single post and return to them again and again.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
I don't know that there's one single piece of advice. But it's the same advice as I think I'd give to other artists. Go to shows and know the market, take a lot of pictures. Go to portfolio reviews. Have a thick skin. Put yourself out there again, and again, and again.