By PHILO COHEN Illustration SENDRA UEBELE
What do you do?
I’m an artist from Sydney Australia, I originally studied painting but now I work with photography and book making.
Have you always known what you wanted to do?
I always knew I wanted to be an artist, I was very lucky as my parents were very supportive and didn’t pressure me to study for a more lucrative job or to become a homemaker. I went to Art school to study painting in the 90’s after art school I designed and ran a cafe in Sydney’s Surry Hills. It was all consuming and I needed a way to interrupt the way I see the world so I started making photographs. I didn’t start making photos until 2011
Do you make a living off of your own work? If so, how?
Most things I do are connected somehow. I published a book ‘Tokyo is Yours’ in 2017 so when I travel I take a few books for sale with me. I also raise money for trips by making limited edition handmade postcard sets. When I’m not printing my own work I assist fine art printer Sandra Barnard to print other artists work. Sandy is the best darkroom printer in the Southern Hemisphere and a real inspiration I am always inspired by working with her. I also exhibit and sell prints through my galleries in Australia and France. I don’t make a lot of money and living in Sydney is expensive but I’m happy and I get by. The most important asset to me is time.
You photographed different parts of the world, from Tokyo to New York, to Sydney. How do you choose the places you go and how do those affect your lens?
I started my Japan project in 2015, I thought to myself what fascinates me right now, what can I really focus on for a couple of years and Japan came to mind. I wanted to know what it felt like to be in Tokyo when the meltdown happened at Fukushima and Tokyo was at risk of evacuation which would have been near impossible given it’s density. I travelled to Japan nine times to complete the series. Recently I have made some work in New York and New Orleans, just short trips so far which I call postcards. New York was during the Printed Matter book fair there and New Orleans was on an artist residency. I would like to travel more in the states and add to this body of work. America fascinates me right now, Trump, the state of social welfare, poverty and wealth side by side. Its like a hyper version of where Australia is headed.
You work in Black and White, and edit your photographs to be in high contrast. Can you speak a bit about your process and the materials you choose as well as how you chose such specific aesthetic for your work?
I love texture, and the drama of black and white. I started off shooting black and white film and when I moved to digital I incorporated a lot of the same techniques as I would through to the darkroom, I use high iso for noise and burn and dodge for texture, I also work a lot with a flash. I am very inspired by film noir which is often in black and white and also manga which is very graphic.
You give an annual workshop. How much are art and education connected for you?
I love teaching my annual workshop, I really like to give others the time and inspiration to concentrate on their work and I push them to focus and work hard. I want them to make the best work they can in our time together, I also want to help them access parts of Japanese culture and areas of Tokyo that they would normally find it hard to access in a short timeframe. I am totally inspired by what the participants produce in a week. Making photos in the street with permission of the subject is a collaborative process it helps you to grow as a person and explore the ways you relate to people, it is the school of life.
Moreover, a workshop is also at the image of your desire to create community and showcase different communities from different parts of the world. How has photography allowed you to be- long to different communities?
When I am working in a foreign country I try and blend in as much as possible and meet as many people as I can in order to break down my pre conceived assumptions but I never will be the same as a local that would take years of living there. In countries like Japan you are always a foreigner, even if I was born in Japan I would not be considered Japanese. There is also a language barrier which allows me to focus on visual symbols and signs. I like my photography to be about the things that bind us rather than those that makes us different. We all have basic desires and needs. We all feel love and fear.
In terms of building communities I introduce the participants on my Tokyo workshop to some of the Japanese photographic community and it’s great to see when they stay in touch online afterwards and go back to visit again
How do you cope with stress and uncertainty?
I generally go out with friends and have a few drinks. I know it is probably more healthy to do yoga but It’s good to catch up and know that you’re not alone, everybody has stress in this day and age. I quite like uncertainty, there are possibilities when things are not yet fully formed and clear. I like to have my best outcome in mind then go with the flow. It’s important to be open to change as things always change and better paths may present themselves. It’s like a dance. It’s important to embrace change or else you will be stressed.
Who inspires you?
I have a lot of strong women in my life and I am lucky for that. Amy Shapiro of design firm the MP shift in New York is amazing she can do anything she puts her mind to. Sandra Barnard whom I print with is so passionate even though she works really long days.. Sandy Edwards is an Australian curator who is so genuine and supportive and to top it off at over 70 years old still a yoga teacher. I like people who are genuine, passionate and age well. The guys at Booklyn Inc. in New York inspire me, Marshall Webber is very passionate about artist books and politics. When I was growing up it I wanted to be Chrissie Amphlett from the Divinyls she was strong and sexy and a little bit punk.
What is the best advice you have ever received, and which advice would like to give to somebody beginning in the arts?
When I was first starting to work in series I would struggle to imagine how all of my images would work together so somebody suggested that I imagine a basement in my studio with all of my best images in it and then to go out and make more images to add to the collection. That really helped and I started to see the threads and themes that I was drawn to running through the collection. My first photography teacher also told me the best camera is the one you have on you at the time and I stick by that mantra. Focus on the work not on the tools.
How has your identity as a woman played a role in your photography and the making of the artist you are today?
I am fairly gender non specific, I have never accepted that women are in any way lesser to men and behave in a gender neutral manner. I like to challenge norms and I may also seem like a bit of a tomboy. I am although in greater procession of the female hormone than most of my male associates but definitely not all. My female hormones I think make me more emphatic, less aggressive. Strangers tend to trust me which is probably in part because I am a woman and perceived to be non threatening. If I was working in countries where gender is more of an issue as a whole I would probably be very frustrated. I don’t like to be told how to behave.