PHOTODUST Interview by Mauricio Rivera
“Nothing thicker than a knife’s blade separates happiness from melancholy.” – Virginia Woolf
This series of images is a meditative journey through life and loss. It is the story of my family surrounded by the beauty of the natural world and the shadows that are always present.
The story of Solitary Bird begins twelve years ago when two life-changing events happened in a short space of time. In July 2004 my husband took his own life, a few months later my youngest child Oaka was born. This continuing work is an abstract look at being in an absurd world and finding one’s happiness.
“The conditions of a solitary bird: The first, that it flies to the highest point; The second, that it does not suffer for company, not even of its own kind; The third, that it aims its beak to the skies; The fourth, that it does not have a definite color; The fifth, that it sings very softly.” – San Juan de la Cruz
Do you consider Solitary Bird a therapeutic process? Was there a lingering question (or questions) revolving around your head when you were producing the series?
I think partly what I was exploring was the idea of unity, that we as a family were okay. For quite a few years we had little to no money so it was important where we lived. Living near the ocean or amongst the trees gave my children so much freedom to be expressive. They could build a cubby in the trees, a bridge over the creek or hide in the long grass. I think what I love most about my kids is how they look after each other. My daughter being the oldest was always the leader, Taliah’s projects were always big, and if she wanted to make a fire then she would build a bonfire. I spent quite a few hours in hospital waiting rooms after she had fallen out of a tree or off the roof of our house, along with a few surfing accidents.
People often see a lot of darkness in my work, where I only see the light. I’m interested in the unseen, what exists outside of vision. If people read our story, they may look to find some kind of truth in these images, if anything my kids are just great at performing. To me, performance is much closer to our reality.
Solitary Bird is about capturing that sense of the ‘wild’ in nature and the child’s spirit.
I was though at this same time questioning my practice and process. As a photo-artist, I wasn’t feeling happy with my work for a few years before Solitary Bird, I realised I needed to revisit the work I was making 15 years ago when my work was more organic and personal.
If so, was there a moment during the production of the series when you felt that you found the answer (or answers) you were looking for?
I don’t think I ever have been interested in finding out answers or in reaching a conclusion within this work; it remains as one continuous journey. I have been photographing my children since they were little; there have been a few gaps along the way when they have been totally against having a camera in their face.
This work exists within a dream-like state, each verse I feel helps express the struggles for me as a mother and artist. From tragedy comes this need for purpose and self-examination, to be present and really live. My husband was 28 when he took his own life; history was repeating itself, my father also was 28 when he by accident did the same. For a long time, I wanted answers to how and why this happened. Beautiful words allow me to transcend these thoughts.
Looking back at the series, have you identified significant differences between your approach to this and other projects? (E.g. differences in your point of view, the kind of light you were looking for or the way you relate your subjects to the environment).
It has given me a sense of freedom to experiment more. At present I have been working on a body of analogue collage work ‘Tears of Things’ and a project with the Australian National Maritime Museum.
Regarding PhotoSpace: can you explain the origin of the project?
With PhotoSpace we run a number of different projects. We have designed programs that incorporate learning photography with introducing young women to community mentors; dealing with self-esteem issues; fostering empowerment, building community.
My background is in photography and teaching, with PhotoSpace I could bring these skills together along with the fantastic team I work with. Every new project I undertake I walk away inspired by these young people. Sometimes it might take a few weeks to start to break down the walls with an individual but once they understand that we have no other agenda besides creative sharing they really start to open up and express themselves. These projects say to young people ‘you matter and your voice is important’.
We seek to create a space so young people can explore who they are through creative channels. It also gives them some time out of what may be going on outside. I have worked in the past with girls who at the age of 13 are young carers, girls with low self-esteem and girls who have experienced many forms of abuse. Often they feel they have no future and this is where we step in and say hey look what you have just achieved!
What motivated you to work with adolescent women exploring self-identity?
About 9 years ago I was asked by the director of Hunter Women and Children’s Refuge to run a photovoice project over 12 months for survivors of domestic violence. This project had such a profound impact on me, I knew then I had something to offer.