In this episode, we meet Australian photographers Julia Coddington and Rebecca Wiltshire while they are visiting Varanasi, India. They explore ghats and alleys, and discuss different street techniques. Video by Gerry Orkin.
Please tell us a little about yourself, and how you found photography.
Travel is my destiny.
Travel has been shaping my life since I was born 50 years ago in Italy. I grew up in Rome and travelled a lot around my country, as my extended family was spread out from north to south.
Since there was no course in International Relations in the University of Rome, I had to move to Florence, where, eventually, I graduated in Political Science with a research thesis about the “Armenian Question.” History and International Law have always been among my main interests, together with movies especially the ones of the Italian Neorealism, the French Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) and the Classical Hollywood.
Somehow, I married in Bologna, and since then I’ve spent years on trains, as my job was in Rome. I worked for several international NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations) dealing with different tasks on development projects for disadvantaged communities, in particular women and children and on international adoptions. Very hard work sometimes. And often it involved travel, again. From Ethiopia to Vietnam, from Pakistan to Cambodia and so on, many journeys took me away from home into very different cultures, and that was hard to deal with. But all of these experiences have shaped the person I am today — very open and open-minded, with a lot of curiosity and enthusiasm for life.
But, this is the past.
Five years ago, I started my adventure with photography, after I quit my job due to the economic crisis that devastated my country. We all went through a rough patch. Photography gave me a new life, and a new perspective on life! Books, exhibitions, workshops. I experimented with different genres — from landscape, to still life, to portraits, and macro, letting myself being amazed by the magic of light and colors. Yet, something important was lacking. So, street photography and social documentary were the natural conclusion of the search, and as of three years ago these are my primary interests. And it cannot be otherwise. I love people and their stories, I have dealt with them for so many years, and now today, with my camera, I feel very much connected to them, and so comfortable in a way I never had before.
Do you feel it is a difference mind set or approach when you are photographing at home in Italy vs. while you are visiting other places?
My mindset is pretty much the same, both in my country and abroad. I am very open, eager. A hunter ready to react and interact with what draws my attention and interest. And I usually do not know what it is until I see it, as serendipity plays a big role in my work. Very rarely do I go out with any concept in mind — my instinct drives me. Rome is an open book to me, I know all the corners of this city, but even when I go back to the same places, I let it surprise me.
Though my mindset is the same, my approach at home, on the other hand, is different. As Grazia Neri (the founder of the most important Italian photo agency, now closed) said once, the privacy law is killing the daily life genre. Unfortunately it is true. This concern is mirrored in my many photographs with shadows, silhouettes and people’s backs. Often not an aesthetic choice but a necessity. I am developing a sixth sense of when it is wiser to step back or even not to click.
In Italy laws are never clear enough, and this is an issue I take into account when I walk the streets in my country. Without generalizing, things are a bit different abroad, where I feel less suspiciousness, and more photography friendliness. Paris, for example, was a surprise to me, people seem very accustomed to being photographed, as it is in several countries outside Europe that I have visited recently. Or maybe, in some places, there is less consciousness of this fluid concept of privacy.
Anyway, in both situations I look for a close contact, even for eye contact, that to me it is a sort of a mutual and mute deal between two strangers that meet for a split second. I am not only an observer, an outsider freezing fleeting moments of strangers. I feel part of the stage, and close to the people I document. Of course, I have many pictures where people are totally unaware of being photographed, but the ones I like most, that I feel closest to me, are those where I am there too, with them and their look, successfully frozen in time with my camera.
To what extent does being a woman play into this approach?
The access of women to some subjects, like children for example, is certainly unrivaled when compared to men. But, being a woman does not make things easier, and it is not always true that people on the streets are more compliant with us. In London, once I was asked to stop making pictures of children playing in a square. I was astonished as the place was full of photographers, and I was acting openly and not in a sneaky way. I stopped and moved on. And this was not the only time. I think that it does not really matter being a woman or a man, it depends on the culture we deal with, and on our attitude and approach, that must be always respectful.
Andrea Torrei | Instagram |
Please tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from, where do you live now? Your background with photography, how and when you were drawn to the street genre.
I’m Olesia aka “Lesya” Kim, from Tyumen city in Siberia, but I was born and used to live in sunny Central Asian Tajikistan. This is probably the main reason why I can have a different perspective on ordinary Russian life now. I’m behaving like a foreigner with a camera up to now, even in my current hometown.
However, I started shooting while vacationing abroad, and at first this was travel photography. Everything changed a couple of years ago, when I realized that I was traveling for my photography — street photography. Before, all my trips were about long distance, and a rush in purpose to see as much as possible. Now I know exactly how I can take a perfect shot through the window in a cafe while drinking my morning cappuccino.
How do you define “street photography” for yourself?
As for me, street photography is a kind of visual sociology in a global mind, and a personal game for each photographer at the same time.
Does your local situation affect your work?
I have to say that shooting in Russia isn’t light work for street photographers at all. People here are extremely suspicious, especially about their children. It’s a “disaster” for male photographers to take photos of children at play. Russians are also shy, even compared to “ex-USSR Republics” people. Despite this fact, they can be absolutely hospitable, if you are really interested in their lifestyle.
In what ways do you think being a woman has affected your work?
Sometimes I believe that people on the street don’t take me as seriously. Moreover, I do my best to become invisible. I must admit that I have a special set of clothes for shooting — less attractive and more comfortable than usual. Nevertheless, I’m always ready with a charming smile and that always works.
Color or black and white, digital or film?
I’m crazy about color photography. Personally, I think that color is about our natural vision, and it’s also more challenging to shoot in color than in black and white.
I’m a digital photographer now but who knows…
What photographers can you name who are the most inspirational to you?
I try to track new names through the social networks. As a participant of the popular street photography contests and festivals, I also follow the winners of these. I have to say that Asian street photographers are my inspiration. Perhaps it’s a call of my blood, due to my Korean background.
Is there a special project you are working on? Or recurring themes you are often drawn to?
I have been shooting Tobolsk city as a long term street project. Tobolsk was founded in 1587, as the first town in Siberia. It used to be the capital of Siberia, until the Trans-Siberian railroad left the town aside. After that, the economic impact of Tobolsk was dramatically fallen.
Nowadays, Tobolsk is known as a centre of tourism in Siberia, and an important industrial centre of gas and oil chemistry in Russia. So, 2017 is the 430 year anniversary, and this project is my own gift to this historical city.
Olesia Kim | Instagram |