discussing photographic art

Freya Najade


Freya Najade is a German photographer working in London. Her sensitive and poignant way of seeing beauty in the mundane transforms the everyday.

Freya’s work Strawberries in Winter and Jazorina have been nominated for the fifth and sixth cycle of Prix Pictet, respectively. Her first monograph Jazorina was published by Kehrer Verlag in May 2016 and her second book Along the Hackney Canal by Hoxton Mini Press in September 2016. Here she offers some advice from her experiences in publishing and talks about her relationship with photography in a wider sense.

Tell us a bit about how you came to photography. How did you find it and what does it mean to you?

Photography means a lot to me, it’s definitely one of the most important things in my life. Going out and taking pictures can make me profoundly happy. The photography industry as a whole can be sometimes daunting, but the process itself – the act of photographing – I truly love!

I liked photography from when I was very young, but I discovered my real passion for taking pictures in my twenties when my father gave me one of the first digital cameras – I just started shooting away. I was actually studying to become a special needs teacher at the time. After I graduated as a teacher I went to the US and lived for a year in San Francisco where I took photography classes at the City College. Their system was quite structured and I had to start with black and white classes: photographing in black and white, learning to develop my own film, studying about the history of photography… I realized then that I love colour photography and that I wanted to do photography professionally.

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How would you describe your wider practice?

I divide my time doing commercial work and working on long-term personal projects, which allow me to capture certain topics in more depths and visually intriguing ways. My personal work lies somewhere within the genre of documentary photography. The themes I work on vary and are mostly quite different from each other. They range from old age to food production; my most recent work is about the Canals in Hackney, London. My approach and visual language evolve when working on a project, it all depends very much on the topic, how I perceive it and what I would like to bring across.


What attracted you to the canal as subject matter? What resonated with you about it?

To me the beauty of this area is very different to the picturesque English gardens and parks, or the pristine, uncivilised nature of oceans, mountains and forests. The landscape along the Hackney Canal seems to be indecisive between civilisation and wilderness, trimness and grittiness, vital beauty and gloominess. I love these juxtapositions and at times overlays.

Is this series in any way metaphorical? How so?

I didn’t photograph this series with metaphorical intentions but certain images probably lead to metaphorical interpretations.

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What was it like working with the publisher? What aspects to the overall production did this relationship bring? What would you advise artists to look for when working with publishers from your experience?

My experience to work with Hoxton Mini Press has been great. The whole process to make this book has been very easy and actually a lot of fun. After the first meeting we all agreed that we would like to do this book. At that point I wanted to shoot more and over the following months we continued to meet up to look at my new images and began to shape the book. And again it went very smooth, we agreed very quickly on favourite photographs, the title, the front cover and on the sequencing of the images in the book.

Below a few points I would advise to find out before publishing a book with somebody:

  • Who is the audience of the publisher? Do you feel your book fits in their program?
  • Do you like the design and feel of the other photo books of the publisher?
  • What kind of network has the publisher in terms of distributing their books, press, showing their books in photo festivals, and size of mailing list?
  • Do you have to financially contribute to the production of your book?
  • What are you getting out of publishing with them? What has the publisher to offer to you?


What are the most rewarding, and most challenging things about being a photographer? How do you make it work?

As mentioned above the most rewarding thing is for me the process of photographing itself. I love to explore and wander around and to look closely at my surroundings. I find this in itself already truly enjoyable. If, then, I discover a view, or an object or person who or which I find special and if, then, all the rest comes together: the light, the angle, the colours, the expression, and everything just feels right, those are the moments that keep me going.

Of course it is also rewarding, when others recognize your work either by telling you or by publishing it, exhibiting it, or by commissioning you.

The most challenging thing as a photographer is probably to continue doing your own work and to make money. Since my Masters I have done various assignments, I have worked on editorial stories and portraits for magazines and have also covered different events for clients such as Burberry and Google. In recent years I have increasingly worked on architectural photography commissions. I have always loved architecture, and I also really enjoy documenting it. So eventually, together with Marcela Spadaro – who worked as an architect for or 10 years – I have founded NAARO, an architectural photography studio.

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Trish Morrissey


Fig. 0395GAS (TM) Aune Heimolainen, one of the best swimmer
girls in Mänttä Sporting Club. 1943 / 2015. Mänttä, Finland.

From the series Ten People in a Suitcase by Trish Morrissey.

Trish Morrissey is an Irish artist with international acclaim. Her work situates itself between self-portraiture and performance. She is known for considering themes of identity with an arresting humour, and yet it is a humour underpinned with poignancy and pathos. So much so that the effect is sometimes one where the viewer doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s as if she tells us a joke, but the joke is a bit too close to home, so it makes us wince as we recognise something of ourselves in the punchline.

Trish’s work has been shown in prestigious museums worldwide, recently at the National Portrait Gallery and Turner Contemporary, Margate and is held in collections such as the V&A, The National Media Museum, and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. 

Sharon Boothroyd: Tell us about your first forays into photography. What led you to it and what keeps you there?

Trish Morrissey: As a teenager growing up in Dublin I had no idea what photography could be beyond the celebration picture, the wedding, the newspaper, the magazine. A lucky set of circumstances meant that I got a job straight out of school in the photography department of the Irish Independent, one of the three national daily newspapers in Ireland. I was working in the dark room, preparing chemicals and processing black and white film and printing. I was also filing the negatives afterwards. So I was discovering the alchemy of light and chemicals in a very hands on way. I borrowed a camera from the department and started doing street photography. It was a bit like a drug. I carried the camera with me everywhere. The newspaper was situated on the north side of the city centre. Across the bridge on the quays I discovered The Gallery of Photography. A mouldy creaky basement gallery and bookshop which specialised in photography was where I discovered the work of Diane Arbus. I remember the first time I opened one of her books and saw ‘Young man in rollers’. This was the late 1980’s, I had been raised a fairly strict catholic, educated by nuns. Growing up in this period in Ireland, was more like the 1950’s in the UK. And while Dublin was a European city, it was extremely monocultural. A mixed marriage was between a catholic and a protestant. The only people of colour to be seen were the odd student from the Royal College of Surgeons. Homosexuality had yet to be legalised. The work of Diane Arbus opened my eyes. Reading what Diane said about her approach to photography really chimed with me. Her idea that photography lies somewhere between the intention (of the photographer) and affect (of the picture) was key to my first forays in to photography.

Though photography is central to my work, I have made 2 moving image and one sound piece. Though of course even these are a bit of a reaction to the limits of photography. The photographs I have made in recent years are photographs about the language of photography, and more recently they are heavily performance related. It is hard to say what ‘keeps me in photography’. Mostly the impulse to make work is a feeling of something that has to escape, like air out of a balloon.


August 8th, 1982 from the series Seven Years by Trish Morrissey

Seven years is about you revisiting your family album. How personal is this work for you?

What does the family album mean to you now?

The personal element in Seven Years is not the family album aspect, but rather working with my sister who was extremely generous in her time, and in fact she also donated some money towards the project. The pictures themselves are not related to my own personal pictures, but rather they are about generic family album photographs. They are moments when we all take pictures, i.e, the celebration, the new baby, the pet, the day out, the beach, the picnic. But they all have a dark twist.   Humour is probably the first emotion encountered by the viewer, but I think that soon fades to a slow burning psychological affect. Secrets. The project is all about secrets.


 July 22nd, 1972 from the series Seven Years by Trish Morrissey

Although the images are not direct copies they are nevertheless convincing. This meticulous approach returns in your work. What did you learn through this process?

The attention to detail is essential to my work as I am asking viewers to suspend disbelief and this only happens when all the elements come together. In early attempts, I had made mistakes in costume or pose and the illusion simply fell apart. Leaving behind just comedy. Imagining a back story and really inhabiting the characters takes time, and often, many attempts.

You also make video pieces. What does the moving image provide you that the still doesn’t and vice versa. What satisfaction and cross-overs do you find from working in two mediums?

I made my first moving image piece, ‘Eighteen and Forty-five’ as an extension of photography, or rather as a push against the boundaries of the photograph. I had tried to photograph my mother’s wedding dress (that I had also worn for my school leavers party in 1988), in many different ways. But they all looked clunky and silly, nostalgic and foolish. The idea of the young body and the aged body in the same dress was really hard to do photographically. It needed other elements. When you have a film, you also have the potential for movement and sound. These new ‘spaces’ really appealed to me. But I see my moving image pieces as extensions of photography, rather than narrative film. They are so far, single point of view and often a single take. Like a photograph.

‘Eighteen and Forty-five’ opened up the possibility of moving image for me. Since then, ideas tend to come very clearly to me as either a photograph or a film.


Fig. 8097GAS (TM) An apparatus for testing the absorption ability
of a nappy. 1969 / 2015. Mänttä, Finland.

From the series Ten People in a Suitcase by Trish Morrissey.

In 10 people in a suitcase you were invited to respond to an archive which included objects as well as photographs. This must have been daunting! How did you decide which idea to pursue? Often artists have many ideas but struggle to hone in on one to completion. What would you advise young artists in this regard?

I was invited by Gosta Serlachius Fine Art Foundation to Mantta, Finland as artist in residence along with 8 other artists. We were asked to make work in the town itself, to find a way of getting to the essence of the place. As an artist, I find it impossible to turn up somewhere and shoot on the hoof. Or I might do that as part of research, but the final outcome needs much consideration and reflection. But the results of the residency were to form a group exhibition in the contemporary art space of the foundation the following year. I did not see how I could make something meaningful in such a time frame. While going through their website, I saw that they had an archive of over 30,000 pictures. The photographs were mostly of the ordinary folk of the town doing mundane things. I was allowed access and it was from there that the idea to use existing photographs of the residents of the town as templates to make new work from. The Foundation also has an enormous archive of objects and product samples from the Serla paper mill. The town had grown up around the mill in the mid 19th century. I used some of the objects as props in my photographs.


 Fig. 00029KEL (TM) KMV-news office. 1972 / 2015. Mänttä, Finland.

From the series Ten People in a Suitcase by Trish Morrissey.

The question about how to identify an idea that has potential from the many ideas an artist might have is probably a personal one. For me it usually involves a lot of research around the subject and some experimenting. I work very slowly. The experimental period might not be making photographs, but trying to identify a character and how I might inhabit it. It might be finding props or costumes. If I don’t feel a connection, or if it feels clunky, it usually means that I am going in the wrong direction. A period of distance from the idea and the results of the experiments is usually helpful. Then you can look again with fresh eyes. Asking for opinions of others is key at this stage. But ultimately, you have to be brutally honest with your self. Sometimes after a lot of work and time, I realise that it is not going anywhere and move on. But even if this happens, it is all fuel to the fire, nothing is wasted as it most likely will lead to something better.


Fig. 04287KEL (TM) G. A. Serlachius Oy’s workers at Loukkusuo
peat bog. One Woman. 1943 / 2015. Mänttä, Finland.

From the series Ten People in a Suitcase by Trish Morrissey.

Can you talk about how you handle the editing process? How do you know when a project is finished? 

Each project has its own flow, parameters, and formula, so it is really difficult to answer that question succinctly. I am a ruthless editor. The final 12 photographs I selected for the series ‘Front’ is about half of the pictures I made. With that series, I did not want it to become a typology. There is an entirely different series to be had from the out takes which could have been one where it is photographs of families of four. I wanted the pictures to be of individuals, rather than types. Having trusted advisors is essential to the process, but sometimes, even the opinion of the random man on the street can give rare insight. It is a good idea for young artists to form critique groups. It is something that I completely loved while at university and it often stops for students once they leave. Keeping that momentum going by meeting up, say once a month, can be really beneficial. Also, don’t be afraid of criticism, or being asked questions you can’t answer about your work. It will encourage you to look deeper into your rationale and can only improve the work.


Hayley Coles, June 17th, 2006 from the series Front by Trish Morrissey.

Looking back over your career in many ways you have been very successful. How do you define success?

Ha! Success! That’s a thorny old question. I worked commercially before I did my MA at LCC back in 2002. I earned quite a lot of money, for a few years, but I was miserable. I did not feel very successful because it all felt meaningless, shallow and wrong. So now, I make work that I really believe in, that I hope is meaningful, though I am poor as a church mouse.

Sara Davidmann

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The Dress IV from the series Ken. To be Destroyed by Sara Davidmann, 2014

“The Ken. To be destroyed project began with an archive and a discovery. Artist/photographer Sara Davidmann and her siblings inherited letters and photographs belonging to her uncle and aunt, Ken and Hazel Houston, from their mother Audrey Davidmann. The letters tell the story of the relationship between Ken and Hazel. Hazel had been a dental secretary. Ken practiced as an optician in Scotland. It emerged soon after they were married that Ken was transgender. In the context of a British marriage in the 1950s, this inevitably profoundly affected both their own relationship and their relationships with the people around them.

The archive contains letters, photographs and papers. Hazel and Audrey wrote to each other frequently in the late 1950s and early 60s,after Hazel discovered that Ken was transgender; these letters tell Ken and Hazel’s very private story. Publicly Ken was a man, but in the privacy of the home he was a woman.

In response to the letters and family photographs, Sara Davidmann has produced a new set of photographs using analogue, alternative and digital processes. Looking at the vintage photographs she became acutely aware of their surfaces. The marks of time and damage had become part of the images. This led her to work on the surfaces of the photographs she produced using ink, chalks, magic markers and correction fluid. Later works, in which Sara Davidmann has tried to visualise how Ken might have looked as a woman, are fictional photographs made with digital negatives, hand colouring, darkroom chemicals and bleach.”

Introductory text taken from Schwules Museum website

Your practice for coming on 20 years has centred around representations of gender, often in the context of family. What first drew you to this area of research and what keeps you there?

I’ve become interested in working with ‘the family’ as I’ve got older. I don’t think I could have looked at my own family when I was younger. It would have been too intense as a subject. But now it feels like the right time.

With respect to engaging with issues of gender and sexuality in my work – this came about because of questioning my own gender and sexuality. My life and my work are intrinsically interconnected.

Within your concentrated practice you have worked in many different ways. From formal portrait sessions dissecting the gaze to alternative and digital processes how do you find the right methodology for each body of work? 
I use whatever photographic (or other) process that seems right for what I’m trying to do. Right now I’m very interested in the potential of alternative photography processes and combining digital and analogue photography in new ways.
I began as a painter, moved into making sculpture and then in 1999 I took up photography. I’ve never felt that I had to restrict the ways in which I work. Early on in my career I came across the work of the artist Lucas Samaras. His work had an enormous impact on me, and in particular the fact that Samaras moved freely from one medium to another.
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The Dress II from the series Ken. To be Destroyed by Sara Davidmann, 2014

In Ken: To be destroyed you inherited letters and family photographs which held a family secret; your uncle’s experience of identifying as a woman but living in public as a man. Tell us more about this discovery and how you felt at the time.
My mother first told me that my uncle Ken was transgender in 2005 when I was halfway through a practice-based PhD at London College of Communication. My friendships and collaborative photography/oral histories with trans* people began in 1999. But it was only when I came across my mother’s archive that I wanted to make work about this part of my family history.
In 2011, when my mother moved into a nursing home, my brother, sister and I began to clear her house in Oxfordshire. I knew that my mother had kept diaries throughout her life, with the intention of writing them up for publication. But I had no idea of the remarkable detail in which she had documented her life and the lives of those around her. As well as the diaries, my mother wrote notes; these were pinned to clothes and placed in drawers and objects as aide – memoires.
In my mother’s garage we found a chest of drawers. One drawer was full of letters I had written to my mother over the years. In another drawer, we found two large envelopes and a brown bag. On the bag my mother had written, “Letters from Hazel re Ken” and on the envelopes “Ken’s letters to Hazel. To be destroyed” and “Ken. To be destroyed”. Inside were letters and papers which told the story of Ken and Hazel’s relationship through the prism of Ken’s transgenderism.
I began by reading the letters that Hazel wrote to my mother. They are vivid and powerful, and I found them incredibly moving. They brought to light how little was known about transgender people in the 1950s and ‘60s, and the difficulties Hazel faced trying to reconcile the fact that Ken was transgender with society’s (and her own) expectation of marriage.  As I read Hazel’s letters I realised that I had no idea they had lived through such a difficult time, that I not really known my aunt and I had known the person I had thought of as “my uncle” even less.
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K at Duddington Loch from the series Looking for K / Finding K by Sara Davidmann, 2014

The text to be destroyed was written by your mother on an envelope. Why did you decide to expose this information and not do as the envelope instructed? What did your family think? What have the consequences been of making this delicate piece? Are you glad you did it?

It took me a while to realise that, despite what my mother had written on the envelopes, she had kept the letters and papers that were in them. My mother had kept the letters her sister, Hazel, had written to her about Ken in the 1950s and 60s; there were also carbon copies of her replies to Hazel. In 2003, when Hazel died, she found a collection of letters and cards that Ken had written to Hazel. She also found Ken’s papers from the 1950s and ‘60s, when he was investigating what it meant to be transgender, and notes from the 1970s, recording the effects of taking oestrogen. My mother brought these letters and papers from Edinburgh- where Ken and Hazel had lived and run a business- and stored them with her own collection. This archive then survived two moves as my mother went from Winchmore Hill to Enfield in London and then to Oxfordshire in her old age.

Why did my mother write on the envelopes that the contents were to be destroyed but did not then destroy them?   She knew of my work as a photographer working with trans* people and might have realised that the letters and papers would be of interest to me.  She intended to write her autobiography and she may have seen the Ken/Hazel material as being useful for this. Perhaps she simply wanted this remarkable material to continue to exist.

In 2005, when my mother first told me about my uncle she asked me to keep it a secret. I talked with my mother about the political importance of speaking out and said I would not keep it a secret. To me, the idea of being silent about the fact that a member of my family was transgender felt like collusion. To destroy the archive would have been a form of agreement that secrecy was necessary. It would have been like saying that I felt that there was something wrong with a member of my family being transgender – which I don’t at all. I have known many trans* people who have gone through incredibly difficult times when they have been the target of abuse just because they looked different. For some people just leaving the house in the morning means that they are putting themselves at risk. If I had been silent about having a transgender member of my family it would have felt like a betrayal of all the remarkably brave trans* people I have come to know.
What concerns you most about the public understanding of binary gender notions and how would you like your practice to contribute?

There are some really significant changes happening right now in terms of greater awareness being generated about gender beyond the polarised female/male categories. It’s really good to see these changes happen – especially all the more positive media cover of trans* people over the past 12-18 months. But there is still a long way to go in terms of gaining equality for people who don’t fit society’s expectations of gender and sexuality. I would hope that my practice would contribute in some way by making people think and question their assumptions. With ‘Ken. To be destroyed’ I would hope that this work might draw attention to the fact that trans* people have always been there even though they may not have been visible in society.
This work is currently receiving a lot of critical attention.  The book, recently published by Schilt is available here and the exhibition is currently showing at Schwules Museum in Berlin until 30th June.

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Effie Paleologou

Effie Paleologou is a London-based visual artist, whose work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and is held in collections such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens. She talks with me here about her current body of work Microcosms, where she developed a fascination and photographically based preoccupation with chewing gum that has been spat from the mouth onto the ground.

Microcosms, 2014

From the series Microcosms, b&w print, 145x112cm

When did you first notice chewing gum on the ground? And what was it that interested you about it?

A few years ago I heard that in Singapore there is a fine imposed for spitting your chewing gum on the street or pavement. That brought in mind a comment that a dear friend once made. We were in a taxi in Thessaloniki heading to the airport for him to catch a flight to Vienna, when the taxi driver started complaining about how inconsiderate and uncivilised passengers can often be, leaving rubbish behind in his car. To that my friend replied ‘mind you though, sometimes a bit of dirt can stand for a different kind of civilisation too’. Later on, he explained to me that for all its cleanliness and grandeur, Vienna seemed to him too polished, too sterile and somehow inhospitable. I’ve never looked at debris, or the lack of it, in public places in the same way since.

When did you begin to realise its potential for artistic subject matter? Can you   explain its pull on you as an artist and how it became like an obsession?

The moment I saw my first small prints of chewing gum on my desk I felt like a child who digs in the back garden pretending to be a gold-miner and then indeed hits gold. It was the uniqueness of each piece of gum, in terms of size, shape and texture that hooked me. Soon after I started behaving as a collector of some sort. And collectors are often obsessive.

Technically, you began recording these ‘landscapes’ on your small handheld camera but for the later, more final pieces, you used a large format camera; carving out space in the public realm between you and the ground. Can you describe what the choice of technology brings to the work, how it transforms it? And also can you tell us a bit about this mental and physical space you created?

The work dictates the use of a certain technology, not the other way round. So, it was when I started perceiving each and every gum residue as a micro-world, a minute geological formation, a kind of an island in its own right, that I knew I had to allow for the most accurate description possible, hence the large format camera and the macro lens. It was the only way I could do justice to the elaborate structures I found. Additionally, and much to my surprise, this method of working offered some other advantages too. While making me very noticeable to passers-by it nevertheless rendered them unnoticeable to me, as I had to concentrate, on my knees, looking down through the lens. It was as if I was wearing an invisibility cloak that could also turn the streets of the city into a laboratory.

How did this project grow conceptually? From pieces of gum on the ground – things we put in our mouths with no nutritional value – to telescopic visions of biology (referenced in the title) or star gazing – how did this subject, in all its fullness, reveal itself to you? Can you let us into your thought processes here and the revelatory aspect of that journey?

It grew slowly. I’ve been preoccupied with this project, for several years. So I had the time to observe and recognise the qualities to be found in those insignificant, mundane, grubby blobs. Dirt, like dust, is a trail, evidence of life that we are constantly trying to get rid of. But chewing gum is stuck stubbornly on the street surface, enduring the wear and tear of time. In this way each piece can take on a fossil-like appearance. On top of this, the gum’s relation to the mouth hints at the thin line often to be found between pleasure and disgust. By the same token, if saliva is a DNA carrier, then each piece identifies an individual, offering up forensic possibilities.

You have different forms of presentation for this project –large-scale prints, circular images, even graphite rubbings (which reference the earliest photographic processes without the need for the camera – the direct print of an object onto paper). What does each aspect bring to the work as a whole?

Well, all three forms of presentation, among other things, address ambiguities of distance. Uncertainty of what is close and what is far, micro and macro, prevails.

In the large-scale images the sense of an aerial view is implied, of looking down to geological formations of sorts. The circular prints formally resemble simultaneously the shape of the Petri-dish, the view through a microscope as well as the telescopic view of the cosmos.

As for the rubbings they introduce the immediate proximity of the surface, the fact that there is only a sheet of paper between my hand and the pavement. They are the product of touching and yet they resemble distant lunar landscapes, an otherness that ironically we are familiar with only through photographs.


From the series Microcosms, rubbing 18x25cm

Ambiguity is key. How do you enable ambiguity to work well? How would you advise artists to work with ambiguity? How do you strike a balance between opening the work up and it not becoming lost?

As you’ve just pointed out, ambiguity, when it works, is a balancing act between actuality and suggestion, seeing and interpretation. It is something that there are no guidelines for, nor it is always necessary. Often though it is a quality achievable at the last stages of the work, mainly as part of the editing process where almost without fail one realises that less is more. You see, paradoxically, for ambiguity to appear one needs maximum clarity of intentions.

Going back to the artistic process, I was lucky enough to see your notebooks. What part in the creation of your work do your notebooks take? I must explain that they are very simple objects of beauty in themselves. How do they help you figure it all out?

Mainly they are reminders – or proofs when in doubt – that I saw this, I noticed that, I perceived a potentiality in this one or the other. In that respect they are integral to the process. Nevertheless, just a fraction of these visual notes ‘make’ it into a project.

What did it bring to you personally and to the work as a whole to have Iain Sinclair write about it?

It’s wonderful to have Iain’s acute understanding and perception of this project, in particular, for invoking the historical and cultural contexts that, he senses, surround the work.

Previous writings refer to you as a flâneuse. What does this term mean to you (as an artist, as a woman)? How do you stop it from becoming restrictive?

Mean City, an early project I worked on for most of the nineties, is an account of my nocturnal wanderings around the cities of London, Paris and New York. It was partly informed by the figure of the flâneur, which, although central in discussions about modernity, is predominantly a male role. So the project explored the extent to which we can talk about a feminine flânerie – are there any limitations, spatial or otherwise for the contemporary flâneuse in order to experience the city?

The notion of the flâneur has increasingly become almost synonymous to that of wandering. And there is nothing restrictive about wandering – quite the opposite.

Besides, I still find endlessly fascinating and poetic some of the flâneur’s alter egos such as the rag-picker or the detective. Evidently all this is present in Microcosms as well as an echo of Walter Benjamin’s idea of ‘botanising on the asphalt’.




From the series Microcosms, b&w print, 80x60cm


Iain Sinclair’s response to Microcosms can be read here:


Noémie Goudal

Station II

 Station II, 2015 by Noémie Goudal

Noemie Goudal’s work has inspired me since I first saw it in 2010, shortly after she was propelled to prominence after her MA graduation from the Royal College of Art. Since then her practice has dealt with ideas of fantasy, myth and psychological projections in a myriad of fascinating ways. Often concerned with the restricted landscape and overspilling boundaries, her work exceeds the physical space and probes, in ontological fashion, the essence of being. In her recent work Southern Light Stations she turns from ‘landscapes’ to the sky as an extension of this research. We caught up on Skype and at Paris Photo where she is presenting some work with her French gallery Les Filles du Calvaire. Southern Light Stations is currently on display in the top floor of The Photographers’ Gallery until 10th January 2016.

What kick started your passion for photography?

I guess it started a long time ago but it didn’t have a fixed beginning. You know, every teenager has a camera, so I experimented in the dark room. It was like a hobby. Then I went to Central St. Martins and because I knew how to use it (the camera), it became a tool, but back then I didn’t know I wanted to be a photographer, I just wanted to make images. I became more interested in it during my graphic design BA (at Central St. Martins). Then I did my MA at the Royal College and that’s really when my work started in a more conceptual way.

Looking back, what did the RCA offer you that stays with you now?

So much! Pretty much everything! It was such a fantastic time.  The first works we did there were really about going back to the beginning and rediscovering photography. Then through a lot of theories, discussions and interventions from a lot of people we slowly built the works that we are still doing now. (I speak about us because I feel it is the same for my classmates.)

Station III

 Station III, 2015

What drives you conceptually, to keep you working within photography?

There is still so much to do with photography. With all the constructions that I do I still have a lot of things to explore. The reason I use photography is because I like to work with landscapes; in different places, with different materials and weather. Without photography I wouldn’t have that. What interests me about it is offering a new landscape, a new perspective on an image that already exists. So I wouldn’t know how to do it otherwise.

I have made videos as well, which you can see on my website. I also did another piece called Study in Perspective where I have taken an image and cut it into four pieces. It’s all image based of course but it’s about stretching it as much as possible in an unusual way.

Study on Perspective, 2014, from two different viewpoints.

 © Christian van der Kooy

Study on Perspective

© Jonathan Shaw

Can you describe Southern Light Stations for us? How did you arrive at this point in your work and where is it taking you?

Southern Light Stations is a work I started last year after I worked from the observatoires in previous years. I became more interested in the relationship that we cultivate with the sky. It made me want to look at the sky a bit more. All the places that I photographed exist in geographical locations but they also need the human imagination to fully view it. In my previous series I worked with caves and islands, they are also places that exist in real geography but the way I was thinking about them was more about the idea of a cave and an island than about a specific cave or an island. So the sky was the same, it was a continuation of this research. Obviously the sky really exists but it has been the place of projections for so many years. So I started to research how we look at the sky and how we interpret the sky. I thought it would be interesting to do a project that looks at how we viewed the sky before we really knew what was going on. I took the date of the invention of the telescope (the beginning of the 17th Century), the sky was a place for so many stories and myths so I was actually interested in those. If nobody had told us that the sky was infinite we would still think that it had an end. For humanity it is very difficult to acknowledge the idea of infinity. That was the starting point of the series for me…. how can I relate this perspective of the sky into my images? I offer landscapes but of course they stop at some point. It stops with a piece of paper. I kind of delineate this landscape.

Can you tell us a little about how you practically constructed the installations?

I built the spheres, which were about 2.5m high, from paper.  The one with the cloud and the sea is a mirror (image III, above) and the rest are paper. We made scaffolding to hold the sphere up. There was a team of about 4-5 people for each one. When they were hung we lit it at night. I usually tried to use very simple materials, artificial materials like paper, rope.

I like the delicacy of them.

Yes, it’s true that you can see that. If I used something really fancy or well-made then it wouldn’t have the same fragility. That is important because it shows this fragility and the core of it being ephemeral. Why are we so attracted to things, ruins for example, and things that are slowly fading? We are naturally attracted to that and I’m still searching to find out why. It’s when something is about to disappear or something that is so fragile we have this desire to grasp it before it disappears completely.

Station V

 Station V, 2015

The concepts of myths and stories and fantasies stretch far back in your work, in earlier works involving portraiture too. You are working very differently now.

It was a very different problematic,  but now I am interested in offering a broader narrative where people can fill in with their own things, with their own memories, with their own knowledge. 

You give the viewer a place to exist within the artwork.

Yes, exactly, that is very important to me. It’s interesting because this builds the work itself. Interpretation is a key factor for the building of the work.

Station V

Station IV, 2015

You experienced a high degree of success in the early stages in your career when Saatchi picked up your work at your RCA degree show. How did you deal with that and continue to develop your practice?

Obviously it was great! Sometimes you have a dream and then in real life it happens ten times greater than you could have dreamed of! It was the first time anything like that had happened to me in my life. It was really amazing. At the same time, my practice is very grounded. I’m building things with my hands. I’m taking pictures with my hands, and eye! I need to read and think. I need to stay grounded. There are moments that are fun during shoots with other people of course but a lot of moments are still quite lonely. I need to put myself into this mode of reflection.

How did you learn? Did you have advisers? It seems like you have come through it in a way which has enabled you to continue and develop your practice.

I have two galleries – Edel Assanti in London and Les Filles du Calvaires in Paris. I feel that everything is organised well now, I work with my assistant Cécile who arranges the shoots and administration and shows. So I feel like now it is a little team, everyone has their role so I can focus on making work and doing research, although I touch in a little bit on everything of course.

You are also doing some commercial work?

I have done a few. I did an interesting one for the fashion brand Maison Margiela. For a new collection they did a very big launch in New York. They had a nine story building and asked four artists to do a show which responded to the fashion. I was lucky that they asked me to do it, my work was part of that show. I find Maison Margiela very interesting because they have a good relationship with art and artists, which is why I agreed to do this project. I worked with dancers who I photographed wearing the clothes and then as part of the show I presented them as stereographs so you could see them in an interesting way.


Noemie Goudal for Maison Margiela


KayLynn Deveney


From the series The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings 


KayLynn Deveney is a photographer and lecturer at Belfast School of Art at the University of Ulster. Originally from New Mexico her work deals with the ways contemporary and historical photographic diaries and self-books address myths of domesticity. Her first book The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings was published by Princeton Architectural Press in August, in 2007 and has received critical acclaim and numerous awards worldwide. Her series, All You Can Lose is Your Heart has recently been published by Kehrer Verlag. She talks with me here about Bert and her working methods.

Sharon Boothroyd: Tell us a little about Bert and how you met him. When did you notice him? How did the project begin?

KayLynn Deveney: Bert and I lived in the same neighbourhood in Wales. I noticed him watering the garden from Fairy Liquid bottles that he filled and brought outside the building where he lived. In the absence of a garden hose, this was the only way to get water to the plants. That effort seemed to indicate a special person to me.


From the series The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings by KayLynn Deveney

What were your aims for the work when you set out on this collaboration?

KLD: I am interested in projects that disrupt the stereotypical documentary approach. It was important with this work that Bert be a co-author rather than a “subject”. Bert wrote his captions without interference from me, and in this way his voice was factored into the story and encountered at the same time the images were being viewed.


From the series The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings 

It is very much a collaboration. How did this work out? What do you think is the most important component(s) of making collaboration between subject and artist work for both parties?

KLD: I would say the most important thing is that the collaborators both (or all) feel some responsibility for the work and feel that their individual voices, or messages, are heard clearly. This can be difficult to achieve, and the desired amount of input in a project changes with each person and each project. Discussion, evaluation of work, and complete transparency along the way are all obviously very important.


When pairing the image and text did you leave this down to Bert? How did you work out the text for each picture?

KLD: I brought Bert a notebook with contact-sized prints taped in and he captioned the prints on his own. Each image is presented with its original caption. There are more image and caption pairs than were used in the book. I made the final book edit on my own and based it on the strength of the pairing.


From the series The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings

Can you tell us something about the editing process. For example did the editing process differ when you were making the book than when it was for exhibition? What were these differences and how did you navigate them?

KLD: The book came together very naturally. It echoes the notebooks that Bert and I kept plus some additional poems, drawings, photos, etc. that belonged to Bert. Exhibiting the work has been more difficult. Because I have wanted the balance between the words and images to stay as even and equal as possible, I have primarily exhibited the work in the relationship that exists within the book–small images and actual-size handwriting. It has been difficult not to want to show some of the stronger images as big prints, but I think to do that would undermine the philosophy of the project.


From the series The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings 

The pictures themselves are intimate and also observational. Does this resonate with you? Do you see yourself as a taking a documentary approach here?

KLD: I would say I take a documentary approach in that I do not stage images or ask people to do or repeat certain actions. However, I would say the work is not documentary because I don’t think it is objective and I don’t really believe in the possibility of an objective approach. I have a vision of Bert and he has another vision of himself and every viewer brings an additional perspective. I would say the work is best defined as a photographic collaboration. I would say my photographic practice, up to this point, could best be described as “subjective documentary”.


From the series The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings

You have a background in photojournalism. How have you evolved as an artist since then and what do you think makes a good documentary photography piece now?

KLD: I realise now that the newspaper I worked for for nine years was unlike any other. We worked on long documentary projects that we proposed. These projects were unstaged, multi-layered, close stories that were often published in special sections of the newspaper. Twice in my time working for the Albuquerque Tribune I worked on projects for a year before they were published. My own photographic practice has remained consistent with my early practice in many ways, but the major shift has been in the context in which my work is presented. I had many close friendships with people that I photographed while working for the newspaper, but these relationships were not acknowledged in the presentation of the work. Now, working in book and exhibition format, I am able to be clearer about how both the relationships and the work are formed. My project with Edith and Len Crawshaw is a very good example of this shift in context. It’s visible on my website at


From the series All You Can Lose is Your Heart 

How has The day-to-day life of Albert Hastings influenced your wider photography path? Can you tell us a little about what you are working on now?

KLD: I have a new book coming out in November! It’s titled All You Can Lose Is Your Heart. This project is different in some ways and similar in others. I had lived away from New Mexico for many years and when I returned I felt that I wanted to make a piece of work about my home. I wasn’t sure what that meant until I started photographing storybook-style ranch (or Cinderella ranch) homes, and then I wound up photographing “home” in New Mexico, Nevada, California, and Oklahoma. Storybook-style ranch houses were a blip on the American architectural radar in the late 1950s very early 1960s. They have rooflines that curve up at the ends, diamond-pane windows, and scalloped fascia boards that look like icing on a cake. They are polite houses built in the idealism following the Second World War. The interesting thing about them in the American West is that they look like little chalets sitting incongruously among big desert cities. More than 50 years after their building, some of the houses have begun to reflect the economic and social challenges that have weighed on the American experience. It is both the promise and the struggle that these houses evidence that interests me. There are no people in the majority of the photographs, but there are people behind every photograph. For me, the connections between the last two projects lie in the attention to, and documentation of, the small acts that speak to who we are and what we value. Just as I photographed the wind-broken daffodil that Bert carefully placed into a cup and secured upright with a small rubber band, I also photograph the freshly painted bright pink trim that almost made it to the top of the house, the nearly transparent fence that affords a thin veil of privacy for the inflated pool in the front yard, the peppermint lights that declare Christmas on a warm, green California lawn. Inside the homes, stories are, of course, complex, emotional, and highly individual. But from a perspective outside, slightly removed and quieter, the details evidence something of what the collective “we” hopes for and achieves. So, no overt collaboration this time, but I remain interested in all the little stories and narratives that are evidenced in the ways we amend and arrange the things around ourselves. If you are interested in this new work you can see it at, where you can also pre-order the book.


From the series All You Can Lose is Your Heart 

Purple House 001

Purple House 001

From the series All You Can Lose is Your Heart 

Sarah Pickering


Lola Court, 2004

From Public Order by Sarah Pickering

Sarah Pickering began her photographic career thinking about terror. Since then her research has meandered through this fascinating subject in various forms with digressions and contemplations poignantly encapsulated within her photographic practice.  Pickering’s work remains challenging and contemporary.  Pointing the camera at issues from police training to weapon testing she faces questions related to national security head on. Within our society of increasingly disturbing yet ever-advancing political concerns her work remains an important reflection on modern Britain.

Pickering’s work has been well received in prominent institutions all over the world, including Tate Britain and Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago. An image from Celestial Objects was recently part of the Revelations exhibition at The Media Space at The Science Museum, where we met.

Sharon Boothroyd: Let’s start with Public Order. What initially captured your imagination about this constructed town for police training? How did you find it and how did you convince them to allow you in?

Sarah Pickering: I applied to the MA course at the Royal College of Art with the first few images of Public Order. I’d started shooting and wanted to develop a larger body of work with guidance and support. I’d got in touch with all the emergency services and various departments at the Police as I wanted to photograph their training exercises. I had hoped to work with the Anti-Terror division but the only department that replied to my letter was the Public Order Training division of the Metropolitan Police (I think their official titles have been renamed since then). The Met were very conscious about having transparency and I benefitted from that agenda at that time. Had I been in touch several years later I don’t think they would have been so receptive. I originally anticipated taking photos as if I were a reportage photographer but I soon abandoned that for shots of the environments where the unruly protagonist was implied rather than present.


Dickens, High Street, 2003

It’s interesting to see this work around 10 years later in the context of the 2015 Staging Disorder exhibition and book that Christopher Stewart & Esther Teichmann organised. The idea of making photographs of training environments was simultaneously picked up on by a group of photographers in the early to mid 2000’s (eg Broomberg & Chanarin, Claudio Hils, An-My Le). I think artists were reacting to a preoccupation with terror in the wake of the World Trade Centre attacks, a response to institutional and cultural anxiety, planning for terror and imagining the unexpected. In terms of photographic fine art practice that preceded this I was thinking about the constructed worlds of Thomas Demand, Gursky, Cindy Sherman and Gregory Crewdson. My proposition was that there are very strange places that institutions make in the world so artists didn’t necessarily need to make spaces to be photographed. I’m anti-hierarchical and I felt the division between artists working with photography and artists working with other media to be subject to particular rules. Why should an artist have to have a hand in front of the camera in order for their work to be endorsed by the art world? Things have changed significantly since then fortunately and artists/photographers continue to reject and challenge the limits of photography in very exciting ways.


Pub, 2002

Have you found negotiating to be an important element to developing your practice? Do you have any tips for younger artists on how to do this best?

I think I have had to negotiate my way through all aspects of my practice, from getting access, requesting further access, dealing with galleries and curators, printers, framers, publishers, asking for fees… it’s a very transferrable skill. Do it as nicely as you can, although don’t presume people will be nice back to you! The art world is shockingly unregulated and there is a general expectation that you will work for the love of it rather than for money and it’s not going to change if you accept that. If left unchallenged it also means that internships will be the preserve of the rich kids and doesn’t encourage diversity. Unfortunately the amount of times I have received an exhibition or publication fee after not being offered one is minimal, but I will always ask.



Victoria Road, 2002



Guards/Violent Man, 2002

Looking back, how did Public Order set you off as an artist? How did it pave the way for further enquiry and is it still an important piece for you?

Public Order opened doors for me in very practical ways as I found a pyrotechnic casing at the training centre and that led me directly into researching and making the Explosion work. I was awarded the Jerwood Award for Photography for the Public Order series and that was also a great endorsement as it was published and circulated the year I completed my MA. The police contacts I made making this work were brilliant in terms of suggesting other venues to photograph, and this in turn led to me making Fire Scene and Incident. Yes, it’s an important piece, but as I mentioned earlier it’s very much of its time.


White Goods, 2008


Locker Room, 2008


Stairway, 2008

The harrowing black and white imagery in Incident is quite affecting. What was it like being in these places? What was going through your mind?

I found it very disquieting and uncomfortable – it’s good that comes through in the work. I made Incident around the time I made Fire Scene and it was a kind of counterpoint. The large scale black and white matt fibre based prints are incredibly seductive when you seen them in person. There is a real sense of tension between the materiality of the surface of the beautiful hand print (from a large format negative) and the subjects they represent. The spaces are designed for training Fire Fighters using breathing apparatus to locate the source of a fire in very dark smoky and disorientating architecture. All props are schematic as the spaces have to withstand repeated exercises and intense heat. When photographing I was often alone and the strong smell of soot and dampness was unnerving, the spaces with the dummy figures particularly so. The exposures were often several minutes and in that time, just standing with the timer I thought of the real fires that the fire fighters would go on to extinguish and anxiously imagined them setting a fire on another floor, trapping me in the building!


MFG0835, from the Celestial Objects Series, 2013

Looking at Celestial Objects and Art and Antiquities one can see a clear trajectory of your research interests, ie alternate realities, public and private space, ownership and authenticity. Do you think it is important as an artist to have a defined area of research, or is this just how it has worked out for you?

I think an artists’ practice is deeply entrenched in their world view so my thinking inevitably oscillates around the same lines of inquiry. As the work builds I think that others start to see themes connecting, but I remember when I made Art & Antiquities it was seen as a big departure by some. I don’t want to flip out the same sort of works that I have been known for previously in terms of their look, style and subject matter. I’ve remained resistant to those pressures and I’m restless and enjoy challenging myself.

What continues to fascinate you about constructed realities?

I think the idea is fundamental to image making related to photography, whether it’s straight documentary or digital manipulation. As you mentioned the connection between a constructed reality and the narrative (for example in Art & Antiquities the story surrounding an artwork) are as interesting to me as the spaces or objects that are built by us to stand in for something else.


Muzzle Flash, from the Celestial Objects Series, 2013

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a body of work connecting the machine, the body, the camera and the gun, looking back to World War 1. I’m also resolving various unseen works and trying to get my website up to date. I am working on a couple of ideas for self-published books. I am planning to make a book of Art & Antiquities and it’s a huge challenge as the work builds many complex narratives and is so expansive. I’m also making plans to shoot a short 16mm film that explores the relationship between digital, analogue, fantasy and immateriality.


Cubist Still Life with Popova (version 2)

As a successful artist, with continuous exhibitions and a relevant practice, what advice would you give other artists who seek a future in photography?

This is a really difficult question as there isn’t a formula to working as an artist in photography, and I’ve seen the opportunities for funding and showing diminish over the years since I completed my MA in 2005, while at the same time more and more photographers are graduating with very strong work so the competition is fierce. Earning a living doing something else is a good way to take the pressure off trying to make money from artwork, especially as the cost of making (conventional) exhibition standard work has increased too, but I know that’s also a struggle. Applying for competitions (without extortionate entry fees), using real and social networking, publishing online and making books can all get your work circulated. Organising exhibitions or events with a group of like-minded people can be a good thing to focus on as putting energy into making and critical engagement should be a goal in itself.

(If you missed it in London Revelations will go on show at the National Media Museum, Bradford from 20 November 2015 – 7 February 2016.)

Boris Eldagsen


Boris Eldagsen is a German born photographer and video artist using lens based art to access subconscious reality. I find the combination of a medium that is best known for its connection to the real an intriguing way of going about this. Instead of presenting us with a chronological, rational or even narrative structure Boris seeks to send us a tidal wave of emotion and psychological grip. The work, which he describes as poetry, operates as such. I would describe it as a guttural expression of the inner workings of his subconscious mind. He may or may not explain it. The point is that he doesn’t need to – that’s what the work is for.

What initially interested you in photography?

First, its entanglement with reality. Initially people use photography to show ‘reality’, the ‘truth’. But what is reality, what is ‘the’ truth? From a philosophical perspective, there are over a dozen theories on this, each one based on an unvalidated assumption. If there is no absolute truth, how can a machine such as the camera fix it? It can’t. But it deceives us on this fact.

The second reason is that photography works with light. And that light has always been a misleading symbol of the divine.

The third reason is a paradoxical task that I have given to myself: Can I show an internal psychological structure by using material that is in front of the camera?

What sustains your interest and keeps you making work?

The artist’s journey is a journey of consciousness, of going deeper, of becoming aware of the vast sea of the unconscious. I will never be able to reach the depths. And I am too curious to stop.



Tell us a little about your technical choices.

I photograph at night to explore the limits of depiction. Rather than exploring stories, a place or a person, I hijack and transform the external reality, to paint a reality beyond time and space: that of the unconscious. I create pictures that are inaccessible to the rational mind, and compel the viewer to turn to their own memories and feelings. Thus I call my photographs POEMS.

Without excessive materials or digital effects, I combine the techniques of street and staged photography to create images that sit between painting, film and theatre.

My influences come from art historical movements that have dealt with the unconscious (eg. Romanticism, Symbolism and Surrealism).

Why poems? What is special about poetry that fits with photography more so than short fiction or other writing in your opinion?

A poem uses words in creative ways to evoke feelings and memories. It is much more open than a story. You need to finish it with your mind, heart & soul. Most photo artists and photographers think in series and stories. I left that behind, too.


What do you hope to gain through making images and the artistic process?

Intrinsic reward. Satisfaction. Feeling the Flow. Call it what you like.

You have done a lot of collaborative work. What do you enjoy about this way of working? What does it bring to the final outcome?

I have learned from each collaboration. Collaborating with others opens up new ways of thinking and working. The challenge is to identify the strengths and not the weaknesses of the involved artists. If you manage to create an artistic dance with the strengths, you can create an outcome that you will never be able to produce alone.

What do you hope your viewer will gain from looking at your work?

A new perspective on themselves.

What is your most successful piece of work so far and how do you define success?

When an image works both on conscious and unconscious levels and deeply with psychological archetypes, I call it a success. POEM #90. #98, #91 or #76 would be such examples.



What is the most difficult thing about being an artist?

Being forced to have a 2nd and a 3rd job during the first 15 years.

What have you learnt most about yourself through making work?

That I am a stubborn bastard.

Your installations are creative and impacting. Can you explain to us how you approach installation? How do you design a show in each new venue? What are you intending to achieve in your installations?

I need a map of the space and photographs. Ideally a short smartphone video. That’s it. I started to work this way, because I got sick of hanging 10 images of the same size in a line. It bored me to death and I wasn’t happy with the result. I like immersive spaces, the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk. My installations now feature photographs in 5 different sizes on large scale wallpaper. The images are hung like a cluster, like groups of connected emotions and memories. The constant size change forces the viewer to change roles and distances: from being the giant, looking at a tiny picture to being a midget, walking through huge wallpaper.

What is the best thing that has happened in your career so far?

To make friends through my work.

What would be the best thing that could happen to your career in the future?

My career started when I stopped being worried about the future. I live in the now.

how to disappear completely / POEM #102

Current and Upcoming Shows:

A huge 11x3m photo installation at the oldest dutch festival:

AUG 22 – OCT 11: Pulse, Noorderlicht Photofestival, Groningen / Netherlands

Photo Bienale, Brasil – 1- 10 Oct: FIF

OCT 15: Turn Around Bright Eyes, Berghain, Berlin / Germany (video work)













Jonas Cuénin

Jonas Cuénin is the editor-in-chief of Camera Magazine, a bilingual (French and English) publication first founded in 1922. Born in France he currently works in New York. Here he talks to us about his writing style, the importance of feeling and touch in art, his influences and the difference between the New York and European photography scenes. He is also a photographer and you can see his work (editorial and personal) here.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 10.17.57

Can you tell us about how and why you became a writer?

Originally, my first writings appeared on a blog when I went traveling in Asia about 10 years ago. My parents said my writing was good and I decided to start studies in journalism. As for writing about photography, it began 5 years ago when I started to contribute to the specialized website L’Oeil de la Photographie (The Eye of Photography), founded by the great editor and journalist Jean-Jacques Naudet. He’s one of the last people to have met and been friends with lots of masters of the 60ies to the 90ies, such as Robert Doisneau, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Helmut Newton and more. In the photography circle, especially the New York one, he’s a highly respected person for his generous methods and humour. He’s the one that gave me a career by offering me the chance to fully express myself through writing.

Why photography?

I don’t really know. I think a bug hit me at some point. I was born in an artistic environment and when I arrived in New York 6 years ago it naturally became the art form to embrace. I first became a photographer, which I still am, and later a writer of photography. Though I remember one decisive moment: MoMA was having a Cartier-Bresson retrospective and I wrote an article about it. I interviewed Peter Galassi, former head of the photo department at MoMA and photographer Elliott Erwitt. These were my first interviews in the photography world. When I came back to the office of the magazine I was working for at that time, it just came to me that I wanted exactly to do this: write about photographers and their work, be close to them, help them, give them exposure.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 10.54.15

Your writing, while informative, feels fictional and poetic. How did you develop this style and what does it mean to you? Who are your influences?

As you point out, I try to mix facts, a bit of fiction and humble poetry. Why? Because I believe touch is the most important thing in art. If you don’t touch the audience with art, you’re useless. And if the intended audience is small, you’re just a bit less useless. Photography has become a language spoken by almost the entire planet, if you don’t make yourself understandable by everyone, in a simple way, even if your ideas are complex, then you’re useless. I mostly believe in authenticity, empathy, rawness, political engagement, intimacy, accessibility and memory. So when I write about a photographer or his work, my obsessions are both to make the reader discover the artist’s personality and make him feel the work without seeing it. It demands to develop a strong proximity with both the photographer and the photographs. There’s a wonderful writer called Thomas Burgel, that writes about music in the French magazine Les Inrocks. I remember one of his articles about an album by Animal Collective where I could feel my body want to dance on the electro minimalist music he was describing. You could imagine him dancing himself and writing at the same time. I try to do the same when I describe photographs and I like to write while listening to music, it develops my sensitivity. It depends on the work I’m writing about, usually the type of music goes with it: new wave on a Nan Goldin article, jazz on a Jill Freedman one, classical on a Dirk Braeckman one. Fiction? I also have a passion for the fantastic, science fiction and the invisible. My absolute reference in fantastic photography is Chris Marker’s photo novel La Jetée. It’s unusual to put fiction in a journalistic article but if it makes the reader imagine, I’ll take this liberty. As for other influences in photo writing: Hervé Guibert, a photo critic for Le Monde who use to write only with feeling and atmosphere, Brigitte Ollier from Libération, Vince Aletti from the New Yorker. And other writers such as Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Boris Vian, Baudelaire, Salinger etc. To finish with touch, I’d like to quote this sentence told by photographer Duane Michals to Hervé Guibert in a 1978 article entitled The necessity of contact: “We must touch each other to stay human. Touch is the only thing that can save us. Usually the most important sentences have only two words or less: I want, I love, excuse me, touch me, I need, thank you.”

Jonas 2

What kind of photography do you personally enjoy? Does this determine the work you feature in Camera magazine?

I like pretty much every type of photography. Diversity is a leitmotiv and it directs the editorial line of Camera. Historically, the magazine had this identity since its foundation in 1922 and I try to keep it. We build issues around specific themes such as intimacy in photography, documentary and new technologies, the influence of surrealism in photography etc. Camera can present traditional humanistic work in one issue and complex contemporary artists in the next.

One specification of the new version of Camera is that we dedicate about 30 to 40 pages to only one photographer, with a long article and a small retrospective. So I try to pick up one established photographer that has an exhibition or a book, or a photographer I found who is not recognized enough, and then this type of photography directs the rest of the issue.

How do you write about the old photographers that a lot of people already know about? (Walker Evans, Diane Arbus etc) What are the aims and ambitions of Camera?

We don’t usually write about the established masters (especially dead ones) unless there’s a big event, like with Nan Goldin. In that situation, I would feature the new pictures and try, in the article, to go beyond all that has already been said. I’ll try to discover anecdotes or describe their daily life, their tastes, their habits, their home, their emotions, for example. Camera’s main ambition is to discover the photographers “better”, make the reader enter deeply into their world.

Jonas 1

Can you describe the current photography / art scene in New York for us?

I think the photography scene in New York is, in the structure, similar to the European one: exhibiting both vintage and new things. But it’s certain that there is, due to the artistic emulation of the city and the number of photographers living here, a bit more of freshness. There are certain things I don’t see that much in Europe, such as humour, fun or eccentricity. In New York, it’s omnipresent. There’s this obsession to be more and more creative, to push the boundaries of the medium. But the main difference is the debate of ideas: in Europe, debates tend to be more and more intellectualized and they can become boring. Though I always find the conferences at Le Bal, in Paris, very useful: talking about contemporary work but in a simple way, with historical points, descriptions and poetry, thanks to its wonderful director Diane Dufour. In New York, debates are now about things that touch every photographer, amateur or professional, and there’s this awareness of the image world we’re living in. The New York photo world knows that something needs to be done. People talk about new technologies, new forms of expressions, museum curators sit at the same table as Instagram or Snapchat developers, social media sociologists, other image specialist or entrepreneurs. Everyone tries to find compromises, learn from each other, to be productive. The Tech Photo world is already hitting the art world and I have the feeling that the Europeans need to wake up and talk to these people. Millions of images, some as good as ones made by pros or established artists, are being sent every day and it’s a data to understand and take care of.

How would you advise artists to write about their work?

I usually like to read essays that are very personal. I need to feel something deep in the words attached to photographs. More formality is fine but words can be used to make the photographs stronger, so you better use them entirely to add something. Poems or short stories are good additions. But it has to be good of course, it’s a risk.

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Images by Jonas Cuénin

Mary Frey

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Untitled from the series Family, Friends and Strangers by Mary Frey

Mary Frey is a prominent photographer and Professor of Photography at Hartford Art School, Connecticut, USA. I first came across her work in the catalogue of Pleasures and Terrors of Domestic Comfort, the influential MoMA exhibition of 1991, so I was particularly excited when she agreed to be interviewed here. Her work demonstrates a sharpness of eye and meticulous technique and her concepts, although seemingly banal, renew my faith in everyday wonder and photography’s ability to take those moments and immortalise them. For me, it was a pleasure to discover her continued devotion to photography and her considered approach. I’ll let you enjoy it for yourself.

Can you tell us about when you first discovered photography? 

As a child, I loved to paint and draw and excelled in my art classes. In addition I grew up close to NYC, so occasionally visited museums to see original works of art. I always owned a point and shoot camera which I used to record special events, but never really thought about photography as a serious art practice until I was in college. I still remember that “aha” moment. It occurred during my third year of study as an art student. I came across Henri Cartier-Bresson’s book, The Decisive Moment, and I was hooked- I needed to make photographs. That was in 1969, and I never looked back.

Did you know early on that it was going to be a life pursuit?

Upon graduation I had a brief stint studying photography in graduate school but dropped out because I felt my work lacked direction and I was not ready to make a serious commitment to the practice. For the next seven years I held a variety of jobs (editorial, sales, teaching, commercial) all connected to photography, while continuing to make and exhibit my personal work. At the time I was doing street photography, strongly influenced by the work of Robert Frank, Gary Winogrand and Diane Arbus. I found teaching to be a good fit with these artistic activities so returned to graduate school in 1977 with a new commitment to photography as a lifetime vocation.

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Man Fastening Pearls

Some of your early practice (Domestic Rituals and Real Life Dramas) is concerned with exploring photography’s role in depicting the everyday. What began your interest in these themes and what did you find? 

During my second year of graduate study I visited my parents and dug out our family albums. At the time I was struck by how many of my childhood memories were formed by the snapshots taken during these events. Although not an original insight, it acted as a catalyst to explore this idea. I began by recreating either the scenes I remembered or the spirit of these events, using family and friends as actors. I also drew inspiration from sixties television, the illustrations in the popular magazines like Life and Look that I grew up with, and the writing of novelists like John Cheever, Raymond Carver and Jayne Ann Phillips. As the project evolved, I made a “laundry list” of everyday moments to photograph. I sought out people in the street whom I found visually interesting and managed to get into their homes to document these activities.   All these folks (family members and strangers) became my cast of characters for both the Domestic Rituals and Real Life Dramas series, which I worked on for the next eight years.

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Boy with Volcano Project

How was it received at the time? What else was going on in photography then that stands out to you?

Domestic Rituals was generally well received. I had several solo shows around the US, and received a Guggenheim Fellowship for the work in 1984. Real Life Dramas was featured in “New Photography 2” at the Museum of Modern Art (NY) in 1986. During this time there was a lot of street photography going on. Also artists were using large format cameras in many non-traditional situations- and I was looking at the early work of my contemporaries like Nick Nixon, Emmet Gowin, Sally Mann and Joel Meyerowitz, and artists who explored American vernacular themes in their work such as William Eggleston and Stephen Shore. In addition, having studied in the MFA program at Yale, the influence of Walker Evans was profound.

The prosaic nature of many of your scenes interests me. I particularly enjoy the attention to the aesthetic of the image that your work demonstrates in a constructed way, yet still retaining a sense of documentary.

Can you talk us through your creative process? How do you find pictures? Or do you create them? 

The tools I employed- a large format camera, B&W film, flashbulb lighting- had a significant affect on how my images looked, and in turn, how my aesthetic evolved. Working slowly with the view camera forced me to construct, rather than capture moments. My diffuse lighting techniques created a soft, revealing and democratic light, where everything was described with precision and all things in a scene had equal visual weight. When I approached potential subjects I simply stated I wanted to photograph everyday people doing everyday things. My working process was fluid. Often I had specific ideas about what I wanted for the photograph, but occasionally I would see a gesture in passing that intrigued me, and asked my subject to re-create it for the camera. The successful images hovered somewhere between the documentary and directorial modes, evoking the look of film stills or tableaux-vivants.

Perhaps photography works best in these scenarios; making something rather mundane into a universally resonant moment. I think it is a talent to resist the sensational in photography to concentrate on the ‘unseen’. Could you talk about your experience of / thoughts on this a little?

A photograph shows us what we know, yet contains its own fiction. That’s what excited me about Bresson’s work many years ago and the work of others whom I admire. I’ve always found it a challenge to photograph the familiar and to move beyond the image of what it is – to what it could be about.

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What techniques do you use and how do you decide for each project what suits it?

I truly believe that work begets work and materials hold meaning. I often start with a simple idea and allow the photographs to inform the process to move the project along. For example, I spent over a year photographing taxidermy under studio lights with a digital camera for the Imagining Fauna series. Although lush and beautiful, these images lacked an integrity I couldn’t pin down. Then I happened upon an ambrotype and I realized this is what they needed to be. I converted the digital files into B&W transparencies and, with the wet-plate process, printed them onto black glass. Not only were these images of 19th century specimens created with an antique photo process, but the plates themselves had a physicality that acted as metaphor for the subjects and, in turn, our precarious relationship with nature.

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In Real Life Dramas you introduce text as a major component of the ‘image’. What were your reasons for this and how do you see image and text working together here? Where did the texts come from?

When I began Real Life Dramas I merely wanted to see what my pictures could mean in color. I approached my subjects in a similar way to the earlier B&W work, but switched to a medium format camera. This allowed me to shoot off-tripod changing the look and feel of the images. While working in people’s homes during the day, I noticed that their television sets were always on, often tuned to soap operas. Thinking about how popular culture permeates (mediates) our lives, I began to wonder how words could affect the meaning of my images. I read mass-market paperback novels, and appropriated the feel of their language creating phrases I would pair with the photographs. Often overblown and pretentious, these words would shift and/or change the reading of the photographs, injecting humor into sober moments. The text looks like a caption, but operates against the description of the scene depicted, opening up possibilities for new interpretations and bringing into question the “truth” of the photographic image.

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You are now working on Imagining Fauna. What brought you to this seemingly new subject territory?

I read an article entitled “Dying a Second Death” about how 19th Century taxidermy was deteriorating due in part to the chemicals used to preserve them, as well as the expense required to restore and house them in museums worldwide. This struck a nerve with me and my instincts took over. As I mentioned above, I spent a year photographing these creatures without a clear notion of why. It wasn’t until I discovered the wet-plate collodion process that it all made sense.

What have you learnt about yourself as a result of pursuing photography for the bulk of your career?

I’ve learned to trust my instincts. I’m unafraid of hard work, and willing to accept failure.

What keeps you going as a practitioner?

I’ve made a commitment to my practice and I feel a responsibility to my work. It has been recognized and supported these many years and I appreciate and respect that.

What advice would you give early career photographers?

Be patient, work hard, follow your passions, take chances and don’t be afraid to fail.

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Niagra Falls

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