Interview #394: Jessica Bishopp on her photo book “See What I See”

See What I See is a collection of personal photographic insights into African life through the eyes of 18 Gambian students. The photographs are intimate and candid, bringing a new perspective to images of Africa from the inside.

Lee Chang Ming: How did the idea for the book “See What I See” come about? What was the working process like?
Jessica Bishopp: The project came about due to amalgamation of things over a period of 5 years, the definitive starting point was due to the seizing of an opportunity. I’ve been going to The Gambia every November for 5 years on a charity expedition, donating aid. In 2012 (when the photographic workshops took place) I wanted to do something different, other than give aid, I wanted to inspire and empower the young Gambians who I met, whilst sharing the Gambian culture with a wider audience. It was important to me to learn more about the young Gambians who I had met, and share my own skills with them. Photography seemed the best medium, everyone can relate to it and potentially have easy access to it, it doesn’t discriminate or exclude easily.

The working process was full of surprises, dedication and fun, I learnt a lot through my first attempt at self-publishing. None of the people who worked on the project lived in the same country at the time of the conception and creation; the project and photographs are truly global and cross-cultural, which was a surreal but exciting prospect. I collaborated with designer and friend Silvia Weber who is based in Vienna for the book design, a lot of the initial organisation for the workshops in The Gambia was concocted through Facebook messaging between my Gambian friends and I, and the film editing and sound design were done through Skype conversations.

With the title “See What I See”, it seemed liked you wanted provide an insider’s perspective of everyday Gambian life. Do you feel photography as a medium can be empowering?
Definitely, I believe that the visual can highlight issues and share perspectives with a wider audience in cases where text/words might have failed. Photography can be empowering and potent, but there are a lot of debates surrounding participatory projects and the ethics involved. I did my research beforehand with great advice from the charity PhotoVoice, and I am lucky as I know communities in The Gambia and have good friends there and so I already knew a lot about the community I was involving in the project. I hope that these photographs can show people that The Gambia has a lot of beauty and inspirational talented people.

A lot of photography is about perspective and how we look at things, did you feel that the 18 Gambian students involved in the project each had a distinct style or insight that you otherwise would not have had?
I believe that students most definitely each have their own distinctive visual/photographic style. I gave the students an open brief and they each interpreted and documented it in a different way. There were a couple of students who I knew wanted to be graphic designers, journalists and artists, and it showed in their photographs; Lamin Manga who wanted to be a graphic designer carefully composed all of his photographs and played with the shapes/angles in the images. Abdolie Ceesay wanted to be a journalist and as a result the majority of his photographs portrayed actions, making a conscious effort to show and document his culture.

Upcoming projects or ideas?
I’m working with a local community in South London at the moment, creating a project around their memories of the area and how it has dramatically changed in the last 10 years due to gentrification. I think that spaces and communities have collective memory, and that is what I am capturing at the moment. I have been living in South London for the last 4 years and I am discovering so much rich history that I had no idea about, the Second World War obliterated so much of the area, and the changing faces and perceptions of the council estates is surprising. I am trying to create a project that shares stories between generations, encourages people to get involved with their local community and allows people to view the area in which they live in a different light.

The immediate future for See What I See involves distributing the book and sharing the photographs with as many interested people as possible, and getting as many responses to the photographs to relay back to the Gambian students who took part. The future involves organising an exhibition of the photographs in The Gambia this November, I have tried to get the British High Commission involved, but I am still looking for a suitable exhibition space in The Gambia, if anyone has any suggestions they would be greatly appreciated! I hope that See What I See will continue to interest and inspire people for years to come.

Any final thoughts?
You can show your support for the photographs and the project by visiting the website, liking the Facebook page and following the project on Twitter. If you want to get more involved then you can show your support by purchasing a copy of the photobook, See What I See. It is £20.00 (excluding postage) and all the profits raised go to Gambian charities. You can also order a copy online email: jsbishopp@gmail.com

See What I See is stocked in several London bookshops including:
Claire de Rouen
Foyles, Charing Cross
South London Gallery
The Photographers Gallery, London
Ti Pi Tin

her personal website and the The Gambia Media and Design Project.

Interview #393: Erwin Polanc

With an almost mathematical approach to photography, Austrian photographer Erwin Polanc’s images are precise, calculated and casual at the same time, bringing out the most in the subject with clear and soothing tones.

Lee Chang Ming: Give a short introduction about yourself:
Erwin Polanc: I’m a photographer working and living in Graz, Austria. Parallel to working on my own projects I´m teaching photography at the department of art & design at the Ortweinschule in Graz.

What’s been keeping you busy lately?
My search for images always keeps me busy – maybe the easiest way to answer this question is to visit my blog.

What got you started with photography?
I was always fascinated by images of all kind. An injured knee brought me to photography – I quitted sports and applied to a photography education. Retrospectively I´m really happy that I got injured.

You’ve worked with clients such as Red Bull and Nike. Any tips for aspiring photographers?
It is hard to give universal tips. If a photographer is motivated and interested in the medium it will be no problem to work for clients. A good hint could be to work on own ideas.

Is there a difference in your approach between your personal and professional work?
Of course, every time you get a briefing you´re influenced. In the best case you can come up with a concept to work on.

Photography equipment?
Hasselblad H, Mamiya 7, Canon.

Any artists or photographers that inspire you right now?
I´m interested in brutalist architecture at the time.

Any new music to recommend?
Radian.

his tumblr and website.

Interview #392: Jillian Freyer

Currently based in Boston, USA.

Lee Chang Ming: Give a short introduction about yourself:
Jillian Freyer: Currently finishing up my BFA at MassArt in Boston, Ma, but that only defines my schedule really! I’m from southeast Connecticut originally, and aside from making photographs, dreaming is my second favorite thing to do.

What’s been keeping you busy lately?
I’ve been making lots of photographs for my ongoing project, “For You to Sleep on the Tree Tops”, in addition to reading and writing…It’s a never ending cycle of feeding ourselves enthusiasm. My work involves being an active participant in everything I photograph, so I go on at least one adventure every week and strive to learn something new as well, something that I learn through experiencing, something I can’t learn through simply googling, or reading a book…

Photography equipment?
I use my 4x5 Shen Hao primarily but for certain excursions, or traveling somewhere for the first time I’ll keep my 6x7 with me to take glorified notes. They both offer a different way of seeing and moving within the environment, its usually a last minute decision as to which one will better purpose the event at hand.

Any artist or photographers that inspire you right now?
I look most to literature and cinema for my influences. However, I must admit that I recently had discovered Gregory Halpburn’s work and I love the sensibility it had within it. I am currently reading Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, and I am in love with her poetic state of mind that she creates while portraying a web of relationships. She builds them up slowly, growing and disintegrating in parallel to one another. In addition, I have recently been looking to dutch paintings, for their sensibility of light, and attention to specific gestures has been a large influence lately.

What’s your favorite season?
Summer used to be my answer, but the past few years have made me appreciate the accumulation to the warm weather, the relief that spring brings to a New England winter is somewhat majestic. There’s a point between March and April where everything begins it’s transformation, it becomes lighter longer…but first, even before this happens, we notice it through the difference in the way the birds sound, after that it can only get better. The snow melts and our feet sink into the ground wherever we walk, smelling of mud, and embracing us in it’s warmth.

Upcoming projects or ideas?
I’m working on an ongoing project of mine, one that I began this past summer, “For You to Sleep on the Tree Tops”. In addition to that I’m always photographing, you never know when you’ll be able to use a photograph and for what. I also just met a cell biologist and pathologist, whom offered the use of their lab..so I’m trying to find a good excuse to make images with some amazing microscopes, and adventure I could have used this winter while it was so frigid!

Any new music to recommend?
I recently just visited the William Kentridge exhibition at the ICA Boston, where his piece, The Refusal of Time is on exhibit. The music and soundscape by Philip Miller is amazing. I was entranced by the sound, of course in collaboration with Kentridge, it was really wonderful, i’ve been hooked and have been infusing my days with Miller’s work since.

her website.

Interview #391: Daniel Ali

Clear and honest portraiture by photographer Daniel Ali.

Lee Chang Ming: Give a short introduction about yourself:
Daniel Ali: I was born in London, raised in the South East of England. I completed my MA in 2010, moved to live in Australia for a little while, did a bit of traveling around South East Asia and then returned to London to concentrate on photography. I currently have a few different occupations, such as film and digital projectionist for The Ritzy cinema in Brixton, freelance photographer and video camera operator and I even had a stint as a tour manager for an up and coming artist. I have a very mixed cultural background within my family which has encouraged me to travel and investigate people and places that you don’t just come across day to day. My photography is simply a visual representation of the people and the places I discover whilst trying to appease my own curiosities and interests.

What does photography mean to you?
Photography in my opinion is a means in which to share a visual experience that hopefully either forms a narrative or discussion around those images. Whether my photographs end up on my blog acting as a diary or in a gallery where the viewer is expected to gaze upon the work interpreting their own conclusions, photography is undoubtedly a subjective medium. I believe a photograph can mean anything to anyone at any given moment. My beliefs are that a photograph encapsulates a brief moment in time that lacks a beginning and an ending which in itself empowers the photograph to be used as a tool that leaves the creators hands with meaning and intent, but relies on the viewer to bring about a new life with their own readings and interpretation.

In your series “The Modernity of Witchcraft”, you went to Uganda to shoot portraits of the witch doctors. What were they like?
Well firstly all of the individuals I worked with have little to no knowledge or understanding of the English language, so I relied on my main contact and his associates to interpret the conversation, my intentions and directions I may have given. All of the subjects were generally friendly, welcoming and very cooperative and in fact that took me by surprise. Before meeting with any of the doctors I wasn’t sure whether to expect elaborate tribal body painting, garments or masks. In actual fact, they looked and behaved like everyone else around and in the slums of Uganda. This is one of the reasons the project is called what it is; these people and their patients have entirely embraced modern life having left the tribes from Eastern Uganda, whilst still holding on to these ancient beliefs and practices.

Alternative medicine such as Aryurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine are gaining more scientific credibility. I’m curious about the healing methods practiced by the witch doctors, what was it like and how effective did you think it was?
With each of the doctors there were very clear ways of connecting with the spirits, this would either be through fire, smoke and/or by smoking a pipe which would either contain dried raw tobacco leaf or other herbs and plants. Whatever the issue was with the patient the spirits must be contacted and engaged with in order to seek the correct treatment. In Uganda it’s not as simple as calling these people witch doctors, yes their beliefs all resonate from similar spiritual beliefs but each one has their own practice and means of making money. One of my subjects, Lukaata Edward, I would refer to as more of a herbalist. He had a shop front where different plants, herbs and paraphernalia could be bought. In contrast, Mr Mukose and Mr Tenwa operated from offices, or if you like surgeries, in slums that were more central in Kampala and then return to the slums on the outskirts of the city where they live. These doctors were purely practitioners who informed me that they treat vasts amount of people for a range of issues and these were dealt with by contacting the spirits and treated with potions and/or actions with an example being animal sacrifice.

In Uganda the government medical offices are collaborating with some of these individuals but more so with the herbalists as there are statistics that show herbal medicine in a lot of cases does in fact help towards a persons well-being, whether they are suffering from a physical or mental issue. In my opinion, the government recognises the fact that even in the city of Kampala tribal beliefs and social order are still very much in line with tribal practices, therefore people have far more faith in the local herbalists and witch doctors within their community compared to Western medical treatments. By working with these traditional healers, modern medicine can be introduced and encouraged with out so much skepticism. However this gap of knowledge is still strikingly vast and the people of Kampala struggle to realise the benefits of modern medicine when they still fully believe in the spirits. This whole re-education is increasingly muddled by tribal witch doctors now entering and practising black magic in local churches. In order to keep their position as a local healer they have learnt and are learning to align themselves with beliefs brought in since colonial times, missionaries and Christian based NGOs.

Apparently they can cure homosexuality too? How does that reflect on their local community and it’s views?
They can also apparently cure aids, sterility, depression and psychosis. All these beliefs in witch craft and spirits being able to cure diseases and illness’, and to suggest that something such as homosexuality can be cured rather then it being understood as a natural way of life clearly reflects a community that needs educating. Not only is it their roots in tribal lands but also the influence of certain denominations of Christianity that spread ridiculous thinking and not to mention years of living under a corrupt government. It is a sign that these people are misguided and although it seems wrong to force any country and state into modernisation, there must be responsibility taken to modernise peoples beliefs and ideals towards others. I truly believe Ugandans are kept in the dark politically, after all knowledge is power. A government would much rather the people were busy fighting among themselves whilst enforcing misguided laws rather then challenging and questioning the people in charge and the way they conduct the country’s business.

Photography equipment?
This project was shot using my 5x4 field camera, a Plaubel Makina W67 rangefinder along with a studio flash and various modifiers.

Any artist or photographers that inspire you right now?
Spencer Murphy, a photographer who won The Taylor Wessing Award 2013, is a favourite of mine at the moment. I love the style, tone and expression he conveys through his photography. Otherwise a longtime inspiration has to be Thomas Struth, again he has a great distinctive style but the main thing I love about his works are his later pieces which photograph large scenes with people in them. The subjects are actually staged even though they look incredibly natural, I’m very much interested in blurring the lines between reality/documenting and staging.

his website.

Interview #390: Lauren Field

19 year old photographer from Portland, USA. Currently based in New York City. Takes stunning portraits.

Lee Chang Ming: What’s been keeping you busy lately?
Lauren Field: I divide my time between school, writing, friends, frisbee, and of course photography. I’m looking forward to shooting at Sasquatch Music Festival in May. I am also planning a photo road trip this spring with friends, that we are hoping to get sponsored by a clothing company.

What do you like (or not like) about photography?
With Instagram and Flickr, I find myself saturated in images, many of which look the same. I’m conflicted — I love the inspiration social media provides, but I can feel it zapping my creativity at times.

Photography equipment?
I shoot exclusively film. 35mm color & b/w as well as impossible film polaroids.

What’s your favorite number?
12 is my favorite number.

Any artist or photographers that inspire you right now?
I am currently inspired by photographer Ryan McGinley, and all songs by The National.

Any new music to recommend?
Give Waxahatchee’s album Cerulean Salt a listen…I’m obsessed. It will be unlike anything you’ve ever heard.

her flickr and website.