LONDON

Zoë Sim | London / Brighton

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Hello Zoë, thanks for submitting your work. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Thank you for this opportunity to share my work. I am currently in my final year of studying Fine Art at Chelsea College of Arts in London, which I love. The last few years of studying have been life changing and I have been able to find my voice, after years of anxiety.

I am originally from Brighton and I am also half French. I have always been creative, which was encouraged at the Waldorf Steiner School I attended throughout my childhood. After I graduate I plan to become a practicing artist and I hope to have a creative career. 

When did you first become interested in photography as a mode of expression?
I have been working with photography for a few years, in the past to document installations and create self-portraits, but it was not a serious part of my practice until I discovered infrared photography. It has now grown into a passion to learn how to work with the medium from digital to film photography. When I first saw Richard Mosse’s images I was overcome with a need to use this infrared, and since then I have approached it from many angles. It wasn’t until then that I truly connected with photography, and it has now become my main focus. 

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You are studying fine art at the famous Chelsea College of Arts in London. What is the most important thing that you have learnt about fine art photography during your studies?
Because I am studying Fine Art it has been a liberating experience as there has been less focus on technique and more focus on ideas and inspirations for my photographs. I was supported in my slow journey to learning how to work with different cameras and the editing process involved with infrared, and I have been able to approach it in less serious manner. Because of the wide range of facilities I have been able to consider how I want my work to be displayed by building my own light boxes and printing on textiles. Therefore for me the most important part of fine art photography is the context of the work. 

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During your studies your practice has involved exploring the color pink in different mediums and themes. It seems that this had a deep influence in your work? 
Pink has been a primary theme throughout my work for many years. Originating from an exploration of feminist ideas around reclaiming the colour from its many negative stereotypes in connection to femininity and ‘girlyness’. Pink is one of the least used colours within art, and I am interested in why that is and what meanings it triggers in people. I have found people have strong opinions or reactions to pink, and I enjoy this affect.

It started as a reaction, with a need to examine the cause of why pink had such strong associations, and why I felt ashamed of liking it. Yet overtime I became obsessed with pink and I have since explored it in many ways. It has grown much bigger then its stereotypes, for me it has become a way to express myself. Pink has become part of my artistic persona ‘Mz Pink’ which I use to help me overcome my anxiety; I am able to be confident because pink makes me feel empowered.

My work has used pink conceptually and also purely as a colour, there has been no limit to how I have used it. I feel with every project I have found something new to say with it, and it has evolved overtime. 

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Let’s talk about your submitted landscape photographs. First of all congratulation for theses unique compositions! The images are kind of a pink dreamlike world. How did you come up with the idea?
Through my explorations of pink I wanted to be able to create a utopia of some sorts, a pink dreamscape. Pink for me is a calm colour and I wanted to create a space void from reality, and the harshness of life. I am pulled towards the idea of creating immersive images that can envelop the viewer, creating an alternative universe. The subconscious aesthetics of pink play an important role in these images, and I am interested in the automatic responses to the colour from the audience. 

I have become fascinated by nature, in finding a way to transition my ideas around pink to a surreal and natural space. A way to discover the abilities of pink to change a subject and separate it from its associations. Nature is an important part of infrared photography because it is the green that becomes pink. Therefore I have been documenting every walk in the countryside, in the hope of finding a vast beautiful landscape. 

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You used digital infrared photography. Do you think digital photography gives you more possibilities to express your art?
With this series I found using digital photography gave me the possibility to capture vast landscapes in panoramic shots. My converted camera is actually quite low resolution so I took about 40 images for each location and stitched them together so that I could create high quality images. The process of editing my photographs afterwards is a part I have come to enjoy because each image is a surprise like with film. Digital photography has so much potential to be manipulated; and I like to enhance the artificiality of it somehow. 

Do you have a special workflow, when you start with a project?
I tend to work in two ways, either I go out and just take pictures and I don’t think I just do, but then there is the other part where I plan an idea for a long time thinking about the way I want to do it. 

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Is there a photographer, which has influenced your thinking and photography? 
Richard Mosse has definitely influenced me by showing me this medium, but he has also made me want to reclaim the medium from such a problematic context. His beautification of war has made me want to explore why pink has this affect on serious situations, and it has motivated me to explore this medium. 

I have also been inspired by photographers such as Juno Calypso and Signe Pierce who have made me reconsider aesthetics and the role of beauty in photography. They both incorporate feminine stereotypes into their work, and they are also unafraid to work with pink.

How do you see your photography evolving over the next years?
I feel that overtime as I gain more skills, I will move more towards film photography, hopefully large format. I want to be able to work large-scale, filling entire spaces with huge pictures. I want to work more with how my photography is presented so that they can create an entire world of their own. I also want to continue exploring the boundaries of infrared and attempt to take it somewhere new. 

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Becky Frances | London

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Hello Becky, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how did you get involved into street photography?
I've always been drawn to photographing people and I started off taking portraits of people I knew in an urban environment. After a while I began to take photographs of people on the street, not really knowing about the genre of street photography.  I joined Flickr and learnt a lot from the community there, people were really generous with their advice and they helped me to grow and develop the confidence to push myself out of my comfort zone to take better shots.

What drives you to pick up a camera and hit the streets?
I love to take photographs and I love the city I live in, so I feel privileged to be able to grab my camera whenever I feel like it and wander the streets for as long as I want. I've also had a long struggle with depression and being able to get out and about with my camera helps me to combat that.

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What are you looking for when you go out into the streets and shoot ?
When I go out to shoot I'm looking for different things depending on the weather.  If the light is good, I'm looking for scenes that show this - clever work with shadows is one of my favourite things. If the light is flat and grey, I look for interesting people or interesting situations. I look for linking colours or patterns in a scene or for humour (which to me is the most difficult kind of shot to get and something I find very rewarding).

Is there a favorite place in London where you like shooting? 
If I'm shooting on a weekday I like to head towards Central London.  I walk from Trafalgar Square, through Chinatown and up into Soho. These areas are all busy and vibrant.  If I go out at the weekend, I like to go to East London. There is a flower market it Bethnal Green on a Sunday and you can walk from there to Brick Lane which has a market on. They are both busy and there is a lot going on. Sometimes I stop in Stamford Hill on the way back home which is the centre of London's Jewish community.

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Are you more of a walk and watch or a wait and see kind of street photographer?
I'm always moving around when I take pictures. I rarely stop even to shoot. Sometimes though, I will see a scene that needs something to complete it and then I'll wait around to see if the magic happens.

How do you deal with confrontation when shooting on the street?
Confrontation is the worst thing, its never nice when people are aggressive with you. If I can move away from the situation before it gets to the point of confrontation I will but if people start shouting or demanding I delete their photos I will normally humour them.  I'm usually on my own and I wouldnt argue to the point of fighting - its not worth it.

What do you find is the hardest challenge when taking pictures?
The hardest thing for me is confidence, some days im the most confident person in the world and the next day I find it difficult to leave my house.  I push myself to keep shooting during these times but it is difficult.  When you're pointing your camera at people, you risk confrontation and that can be scary.

What's your favorite focal lengths and can you explain us why? 
I use a 27mm lens, it means that to zoom I have to use my feet and get closer to people.  As a result its easier to take photos that land you right in the middle of the action which is what Im aiming for.

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Is there a photographer or type of photography that influenced your work or inspired you?
My Dad bought me a book by Martin Parr years ago and it made me want to pick up a camera and photograph people. I love the quirky Englishness of his work although I dont think my photographs are anything like his.  If it wasn't for him I probably wouldn't be a photographer now.

If you had the chance to go on a photowalk with a famous street photographer. Who would it be? 
I would probably pick Joel Meyerowitz because I love how he photographs New York. He's constantly on the move and can see how a scene will look in a photograph in a split second.  He's very clever...

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Sarah M. Lee | London

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Sarah studied English Literature at University College London (UCL) in the late 1990s and trained herself as a photographer.

In 2000 she was offered a freelance position at the Guardian and has continued to work for the Guardian and Observer ever since. Sarah is specialized in portraiture, features and the Arts and interested in all photography that focuses on people.

In 2011-2012, she shot most of the commercial portraits to accompany Coldplay’s MX album and tour. Her work has appeared in many publications and places, including the covers of TIME magazine, Billboard, Rolling Stone, The Sunday Times, Intelligent Life and Vanity Fair. She’s also an official BAFTA Photographer and an official Ambassador for Leica Camera. 

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Hello Sarah, I admire your portrait work a lot and so it’s a huge pleasure to interview you for Women in Photography. You actually studied English Literature. What has finally brought you into photography?
I came to photography relatively late in that I was given a camera for my 18th birthday, a Pentax K1000 with a 50mm 1.6 lens. I didn’t have a specific interest in photography until this point but once I’d learned how to use the camera I became quite obsessed. Unfortunately, film and developing film was quite expensive and I was a student with an extremely limited budget. So my opportunities for learning and developing my new skill were frustrating limited. Fortunately, someone, I can’t remember who but I’m forever grateful to them let me in on the secret that if I started working for the student newspaper I’d have an unlimited supply of film and access to a dark room with printing materials. What I couldn’t have known was that the student paper in question was being picture edited by Abbie Trayler-Smith and other photographers on its roster included Ed Alcock, Dom Tyler and Christophe Tweedie so it was an unbelievable hothouse. Not just a place to learn, not just to print (which I did) but also to grow and develop as a photographer. In effect, it was a second university experience running in parallel with the literature degree I was also doing. Unquestionably I “graduated” from this experience into the career I now have in that it was the Guardian student media awards which introduced me to the Guardian’s then picture editor Eamon McCabe, who on the strength of the portrait I’d taken of the novelist Iris Murdoch, offered me a job. 

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Was it clear for you that your work would focus on portrait photography?
Yes, if it doesn’t sound horribly pompous I’ve always been interested in the long tradition of humanist photography. I’m interested in people. I like people. It would never have occurred to me to have a career that didn’t involve portraiture. That would be unthinkable to me. 

What is a good portrait photo for you?
To me a “good portrait” is one which is honest. One where there is obviously a honest connection with the sitter. Obviously composition, light use of colour [or if you’re working in black and white; texture and tone] matter enormously but all these things, in my opinion are to be used by the photographer to service the emotional connection with the subject and to capture that moment of honesty. Without that all the technical brilliance in the world is meaningless and a “portrait” just becomes an advertising image. But where those things work together you have incredible magic. Think for example of the famous Arnold Newman portrait of Stravinsky - one of my favourites that I hope illustrates what I’ve been trying, slightly clumsily, to say. But also there is something very deceptive about the simplicity of some the best portraits there seems to be so little to them, but it’s all in the incredible understanding between the photographer and the subject and the photorapher's skill in knowing exactly how to capture that. Think how powerful Wolfgang Tilmans portraits are, but how bad so many of the imitations of them are! I’m in danger of waffling, but put as simply as I can: good portraiture is entirely dependent on honest and emotional connection. Without that all else is lost.

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Let's talk about your latest project called „Tender are the Nighthawks“. Can you tell us something about it? 
“Tender are the Nighthawks” is a new series I’ve been working on mostly though not entirely exclusively in Camden and North London where I live. The title gives clues to my inspiration for this project in that it references both Keats “Ode to a Nightingale” and Edward Hopper and I’m trying I suppose to capture that strangely specific still point in the turning world between the very late night and the early morning when the city is at it’s quietest and the very very last stragglers are coming home from their night outs alongside the workers who have to get to work just before the dawn. I love the way the bus system in London is so democratic, used by everyone. All classes, all ages all socio-economic groups and races of people. It’s cheap and crisscrosses the entire city. I’m interested in tone and mood, and looking for the things that unite us, moments I suppose that emphasise our shared humanity, in a city that is hard to live in. Moments of tender melancholy are what I most hope to catch. I’m not sure I always manage that, but it’s what I’m trying to do. 

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The pictures of „Tender are the Nighthawks“ are very powerful and intimate. Each picture tells their own story. It must have been very difficult to shoot in a bus or from the outside without being recognized. Can you reveal us some insights how you did that?   
For a photographer, buses can be a bit of a gift in that they tend to be lit on the inside in a way that to my eye can make them seem like moving Hoppereque diner windows, each one with a vignette or framed tableaux of city-dwellers absorbed living their lives. And thank god in Britain we have entirely opaque bus windows unlike in many other countries where the glass is darkened to combat the effects of the bright sun - not a problem we face that often! Though I’ve discovered the 88 Bus is hopeless for this project, the lighting just doesn’t work, the shadows it creates are all wrong, my heart sinks when I see it approach... In terms of working candidly, that does create its own issues. I’ve shot all this work on a Leica M Rangefinder with a 50mm lens usually open at f1.4 or f2 in very low light. This means I have to be pretty accurate with my focusing. There can be no ‘shooting from the hip’ secret guesstimating with my framing or focusing. This can be challenging when you are trying to be discrete at 3 am at a bus stop…. So far I’ve got away with it. I very much subscribe to the asking for forgiveness rather than permission school of candid documentary photography. I do often explain what I’m up to after the fact if I’m spotted and someone says something. There is no point being confrontational as a woman alone on the street in the middle of the night [carrying an expensive camera]. Often sympathetic eye contact and apologetic smiles help me get away with it... Also at that hour my subjects have been drinking and aren’t that sharp or aware of their surroundings/ sneaky photographers which can help me too... Technically I find focussing on something very near the subject when they aren’t looking gives me a head start for speed so that I can be quick on the rangefinder when I do want to focus, so I will often blatantly focus on their shoes and then when I feel ready to reframe more boldly…  

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Was there a certain „trigger“ to start „Tender are the Nighthawks“?
One of the first photography books I ever bought was Tom Wood’s phenomenal “Bus Odyssey” and it certainly sparked an interest in photographing on Buses. I also love Bob Mazzar and Nick Turpin’s recent work though I very much hope this doesn’t feel derivative. Personally I feel the buses are big enough for all of us and there are much more people out there being inspired by them all the time... It has always felt like a series I’d like to do to be honest since I started living in London, it was just a matter of when rather than “if”.. I can’t quite remember what started me off, but I call it “prowling” now and I’m very much in the middle of this series now, I definitely haven’t got it out of my system yet.

Besides your personal projects, you work as a photographer for the Guardian. What advice would you give young female photographers who want to start a career as a photojournalist or in the publishing business?  
Oh god, the hardest question of all! The industry has changed so much [and not really for the better] since I started 18 years ago. Pictures seem to have been devalued. Clients pay less for photography. There is the dreadful culture of “exposure” etc. What I would definitely advise for women starting out is an extension of what I’d advise anyone, and that is to always try and remember the value of your work. Do never work for free, or for exposure. If someone wants you to work for them then they want YOU and your work, they will also, as a rule, be willing to pay [even though they may try to claim otherwise]. I’m not for a moment suggesting money matters more than art. But knowing your work has a value is very psychologically important and it is also extremely important if like me, and like many other photographers, you don’t have a private income. Because if you don’t earn from your work you quickly stop being able to work as a photographer. And following on from this I would say for women don’t be afraid at calling out sexism where you see it, or the sort of everyday discrepancies that shouldn’t be there but are. It can be hard at the start of a career to do this, but if you do it when you see it and feel it I think it sets a tone about who you are and how you yourself would like to be treated. Also, and this applies to all photographers, use whatever works for you TO WORK for you. I’m always amazed when I see other photographers work because I just couldn’t do what they do. I can only really do what I do. But that’s ok, I’m me and I’m trying to learn and improve all the time as me. But it took me the best part of 15 years to be ok with this. I spent FAR too long being hung up that I wasn’t all the other people I admire or am in awe of. That way madness, and, worse, lack of authenticity lies. 

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How do you prepare yourself when you are on an assignment, for example, a portrait shoot? How important is the atmosphere between yourself and your subject? Do you give your subject any direction? 
I approach every shoot differently. I prefer a loose approach and to try and respond to each situation organically and be open to each shoot as it unfolds rather than come with an idea of how it will be. And yes, the atmosphere between myself and the subject is HUGELY important!! I try everything I can to make that work. It doesn’t always happen, but as a rule I find I enjoy meeting and being with pretty much all types of people and find that aspect of this job an enormous privilege. Hopefully, that comes across and makes that atmosphere a bit smoother to start with. Though as I said there has been the odd personality clash and then it’s made the resulting shoot nothing but painful! 

Is there any photographer who has influenced you as a person or your work?
God, too many to name. I hesitate to say anyone’s influences my work because I wouldn’t dream of saying the names of the people I admire alongside my own work. I bloody wish my work showed their influence. But in no particular order, and no doubt missing several important names off this list, here are some of the photographers who are always top of my list:  William Eggleston,  Saul Letter,  Cartier-Breson, Vivian Maier, Stephen Shore, Polly Borland, Jillian Edlestein,  Jane Bown, Helmut Newton, Tim Walker, David Hurn, Martin Parr, Sean Smith, Abbie Trayler-Smith, Laura Pannack… Actually, the list goes on. This is an impossible question. Thank the gods. 

Final question! When you need to choose one of your favourite pictures you took. Which would it be and can you explain to us why?
I’m not sure I’ve taken it yet. But of what I’ve done so far. It may be my first proper published portrait. The one I took of Iris Murdoch back when I was both a student and a student photographer. She is still my favourite novelist, and one of the people I’m most delighted to have met. But, it is also a portrait that literally changed the course of my life. I may well have stayed an amateur photographer and had my life go in an entirely different direction had Eamon McCabe not seen it and made an impulsive on the spot decision to offer me a job. From that my entire adult and creative life has unfolded. Something for which I shall always be entirely, endlessly, grateful. 

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Natalia Jaeger | London

Hello Natalia, can you tell us a little bit about you and how you got into photography?
I was born in Caracas, Venezuela. When I was 19 I moved to Arizona where I studied fine arts at Arizona State University. The work I did while in art school was multidisciplinary and, in most cases, it included video as well as performance art. My interest in photography developed soon after I moved to London.

How did you get involved with street photography?
Two circumstances led me to get involved in street photography. In 2011 I moved to London; a place I had never been before and where I knew very few people. It was also around this time when I received a gift from my mother: an Olympus OM-1 camera that had belonged to her since 1976. So, without having planned it, I had acquired all the necessaries for this type of art practice: solitude, a camera and a new city to explore.

Most of your work are street portraits… What do you like about photographing people?
I truly enjoy observing people’s engagement with the details of their everyday routine. A person’s expressions and habitual gestures are, to me, a gateway to that something hidden underneath our character and personality.

Your street portraits are characterized by their very minimal composition and intimate moments. How did you come up with it?
There is an intriguing and haunting trait that seems to emerge when someone is in a state of waiting (i.e. at a bus stop, waiting for someone/something to arrive or, just simply, gazing into the distance). These brief reveries are, perhaps, one of the few instances when a person’s essence is unveiled. I continue to be fascinated by observing these moments and, by photographing them, I wish to exalt the inner life of people.

When you are out shooting, how much is instinctual versus planned?
At the moment my work is guided by instinct and chance. The only planning I do involves choosing a location (a street or a neighborhood) and the time of day. This approach has been, for an over-thinker like me, quite a freeing and enjoyable experience. By not setting a particular goal, and without the need to achieve any type of objective, I have been able to focus on observation—something I feel has helped me create a visual language of my own.

Most street photographers shoot in B&W - you shoot in color - can you explain us why?
This has been choice based purely on instinct. I enjoy seeing the play of colours created by the juxtaposition of reflections and don’t think B&W is capable of producing the same effect.

If you had the chance to go on a photowalk with a famous photographer, who would it be and why?
Saul Leiter. He was a remarkable photographer with an interesting and wholehearted personality.

What and who inspires you?
I am, for the most part, inspired by films. The works of Maya Deren, Stanley Kubrick and Béla Tarr (to name a few) have helped me understand the importance of seeing and framing an image with a meticulous and attentive eye.

What are your next plans?
I am currently in the process of finding opportunities to train as a cinematographer. The combination of my work as a photographer, my love of cinema, and the urge to learn a new skill has prompted this new creative search.

Sara Nicomedi | London

Sara, tell us a little bit of yourself and how you got into photography?
I started my studies at the National Academy of Dance in Rome to become a professional dancer until I realized that rigid rules and smelly dance halls were not for me.

After many years of strictness I needed to feel free again. I started studying Art and Photography and found myself on the streets with my camera. Five years ago I moved to London where I got in touch with street photography.

You shoot mainly in color, digital and film. What is your opinion on film vs digital?
I use my digital camera a lot for the obvious reason we all know, but I also like to shoot on film. I always carry with me a disposable camera or a compact Yashica. I dedicate a different energy and emphasis to a picture that I take with film because I know it’s precious. 

Film is a material with substance, even if the picture is not “perfect, it has something to tell you, to evoke you. With digital we need to be more careful to don’t over-produce soulless images.

You have a very strong body of work from your trip to India last year. Tell us a little bit about it.
Travelling is necessary for me. My trip to India was the first outside Europe where I travelled alone. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do that, despite my initial fears. I have never felt so much joy and satisfaction. One of the best and most important decisions I ever made in my life.

Did you feel a special inspiration while shooting in India? 
Street photography is a challenge we do with ourself, there is no communication with the subject, in some way it reflects perfectly our individualistic society and our culture. India opened my eyes to a different way to photograph.

It gave me the opportunity to talk a lot with people. I opened my heart and mind, my curiosity and my need to communicate increased. I enjoyed the human side of shooting in India.

Is there a photographer or type of photography that influenced your work or inspired you?
One of the first books I bought years ago were „William Eggleston’s Guide“, „The Last resort“ of Martin Parr and Photie Man of Tom Wood. I think they were my first inspirations. I also like to look at film photographs from the 70’ and the 90’ and love the current projects of Alessandra Sanguinetti, Caroline Drake and Alec Soth.

What would be the best compliment you can get from the viewers of your pictures?
I like to see the body language of the viewer when they see my pictures. This can be a smile, a frown or a whiff - these are all good signs. It means that I am communicating something. Pure reactions from the inside are much more honest than words.

What are your next plans?
I’ m organizing a trip to South America where I would like to do something similar I’ve done in India. I also would like to continue a project I started about Italy. My country is in ruins and we are not doing anything to change things. We are just waiting for something to happen, I would like to document this immobility.

What is your favorite picture of your India Portfolio and why? Can you write a little bit about the story behind that shot? 
My favorite photo is the one where a man cleans the path. It was taken in Varanasi, which is the holiest city in India. Day by day Hindus follow their rituals along the steps or in the Ganges, where they also cremate bodies of their deceased loved ones. 

When I took that shot, it was early in the morning, foggy and the atmosphere was very mystic. The man was sweeping the dust which might have been the ashes of the deaths. I could strongly breathe death, religion and devotion. I got very emotional while watching the man. This image will always remember me of the essence of India.

Website: www.saranicomediphotography.com