I was browsing some self-published folios and zines at the recent Melbourne Art Book Fair and one folio really caught my eye – it was called ‘In the Way Things are Seen’ by Melbourne photographer Sarah Walker. I commented to the assistant looking after the booth that I really liked it, to which she replied “That’s my work”. An exchange of Instagram details later and here we are…
Tell us a little bit about yourself; what first inspired you to pick up the camera?
I was always a creative child and constantly needing outlets for this. When my parents started building a new house in the early 2000s, I designed and helped install our garden at age seven or eight. I helped my parents pick the colours of our walls and didn’t put a roller down until the walls were all bright blue and yellow (yuck). I would start projects with my dad, designing frames for mirrors in our new house, cutting the wood and painting it, begging my parents to let me decorate the large terracotta pots outside because I felt they were dull. I first picked up a camera when I was 16; I think I had a hard time figuring out what creative outlet suited me, but I was so desperate for one as an adolescent. I fell into a group of really creatively talented people and I wanted to play my part within that community so I began taking photographs. It resonated with me immediately and I haven’t stopped since.
I don’t give the viewer the identity of the subjects because it’s irrelevant, and really all of my subjects end up being a reflection of myself.
I think your work has elements of documentary, abstraction and a little surrealism too; how would you classify your style and where do you draw your inspiration from?
Yes, I think my work definitely shows these elements! I love taking different genres and visual elements to combine and create my own language. Most of my inspiration comes from documentary photographers. I’m also so inspired by sculpture and, I think, if I look at the origins of my photography, it’s wandering around Melbourne documenting things that are sculptural in a peculiar but subtle way. I’ve always photographed objects first and foremost, so this work is perhaps a departure from that. With my images, I would ask how this object came to be this way, wanting the audiences to see something that maybe they would usually pass without concern. So, I feel like this work was birthed from these new ideas of sculpture and the character of objects. This work in particular concerns the idea of passing identity, how we can absorb and appropriate the mannerisms or personality traits of others, even if only for a fleeting moment. I don’t give the viewer the identity of the subjects because it’s irrelevant, and really all of my subjects end up being a reflection of myself. I guess this is why abstraction became a huge part of my series and, in turn, the combination of these alien-like people and sculptures using abstraction automatically creates an alternative world in order for them to exist and the photograph to become truthful.
You are currently studying photography; what made you choose formal study over, say, assisting or being self-taught?
I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to approach a career in photography – although, for me, I’ve always been driven by concepts and the need to understand visual language more fluently. I think I had the ability to look at images and appreciate them, but the study of fine art and photography has given me the skills to read images and understand meaning. Being able to do this allows you to develop your own work, ideas and visual language.
I think I had the ability to look at images and appreciate them, but the study of fine art and photography has given me the skills to read images and understand meaning.
How do you keep challenging yourself creatively?
I challenge myself creatively by trying things photographically that I usually wouldn’t. For instance, approaching strangers that I find particularly interesting or relative to my narrative is something I am attempting to overcome this year. I am terrified of this!
What has been the best piece of advice given to you about your photography?
I would say that the best advice has been to push through creative blocks, that the more I produce the better my work will become, and that, if my concepts are driven by personal attachment, the passion to create will be much stronger than an idea that is distant from my experience.
What is next for you? Are you working on any big projects that you can tell us about?
I am currently working on a long-term project that is a self-reflective photographic series exploring different notions of, and my own relationship to, the sacred. I observe its manifestation in religious, spiritual and ritual sites and practices, and allude to its presence using re-contextualised found imagery. Through the process of returning to specific places and searching for this intangible subject to reveal itself, this work seeks to negotiate my own and contemporary understandings of what is sacred.
See more of Sarah’s work at:
All images copyright Sarah Walker.