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Interview with photographer Edie Sunday

Thursday 26 January 2017
Words Spindle

Edie Sunday shoots analogue film, creating stunning and sometimes surreal photographs, documenting her life and capturing insightful portraits and intense emotions. Her photos are often dreamy or dark, with innovative composition and gorgeous, saturated colours. Edie also takes many double exposures, leading to fascinating combinations, seeing city lights dance over a close-up portrait, or silhouettes take on new patterns. Her work feels raw, yet completely beautiful and absorbing, and her portraits are deeply intimate. We asked Edie to reveal more about her photographs, what they mean to her, and her passion for film photography.

How would you describe your work and style as photographer?

A lot of people assume photography is my career. In reality, it is far from that. I do not rely on photography for income and I have no aspirations of being a “professional” photographer. My work as a photographer is rooted in my passion for the medium and for self-expression. I also enjoy documenting my life and my experiences, and it gives me great joy to know that I have been recording my life on film for the better part of ten years. My style is rooted in my intentions: it is fluid, intuitive, and not at all conceptual or planned. I shoot exclusively analogue film, and that plays a large part in my style. I don’t shoot film for the nostalgia of it; I shoot film because that is how I learned photography and I could never imagine using a digital camera. It feels like a different medium to me altogether. Other stylistic elements include muddy, vibrant colours and that I tend to take photos of people as they are.

What compels you to take photographs?

I carry a camera and I press the shutter when I feel inspired or confused or sad or blissful or like I just need to understand how something will look or feel after some time passes. I’m just making sense of my world. Travelling compels me to take photographs quite a bit, though. And I travel often. Novel surroundings… seeing things for the first time and figuring out how I can insert my own form into the landscape and relate to it compels me the most.

What does photography mean to you?

I think I already mentioned self-expression, but that is a prominent meaning for me. It means release, comfort, challenge, connection—so many things. And the meanings change over time. Once, photography was more of a way for me to connect to other human beings. That element persists but now photography means more of a connection to myself and to capturing some fleeting truth in my experience of being alive. It also means working through my own darkness sometimes. I take photos when I am sad, and then I scan them and I feel even sadder. I wait weeks, sometimes months, before I can look at those photos and find something beautiful in them. I work through a lot of my own psychological roadblocks with photography.

“I want to explore human intimacy, internal conflict and peace, my relationship to the external world, and my understanding of my own psyche”.

What do you like about shooting film?

Everything! I like it because I know it. I don’t mean just that I am familiar with it. Film feels like an old friend to me – the smell, the process, the grain. It is the best way I know how to show anyone what is inside of me. I love that film is tactile and real and not a bunch of code in a computer that produces an image that you can never really touch, never really hold. It’s chemistry; it’s fucking magic. I get the same excitement every time I develop a roll, scan a roll, or print in the darkroom. It’s archival: a negative will last forever if taken proper care of. And there are so many things you can do with film, from printing to Photoshop. It does not end at the negative. There is an incredible amount of room for art after the initial photo is recorded on the negative.

Many of your photos have a dream-like quality to them. Tell us about this.

I don’t really know why that is. Maybe it’s the colours that I see in my mind, maybe it’s the imagery. Maybe it’s because I get a lot of my ideas while I’m falling asleep or waking up in the morning. It’s not intentional, and I don’t recreate photo series based on dreams. But I have always latched onto art and literature with an otherworldly feeling. I used to feel like I didn’t belong on this planet and spent a lot of time daydreaming. Maybe some of those guesses are accurate, maybe not a single one is. In sum: I have no real idea why my photos have this quality to them.

Your portraiture has a very intimate feel to it. How do you approach taking portraits?

I rarely take portraits of people I don’t know or haven’t spend a good amount of hours talking to and getting to know before I dare press the shutter. I also tend to take portraits of my very best friends and lover. The portraits aren’t of the subject in isolation. They are the result of the interplay between our energies. A collaboration would be the simpler term. In short, I don’t photograph people. I interact with people and somewhere in the middle of that interaction I take a photograph (or a hundred).

The composition of your work is also very interesting, often unconventional, and very innovative. Tell us about this.

That’s probably because I have zero formal training in photography and everything is an experiment. I’m sure some of my compositions are deplorable to photographers who have a traditional art education. I just interpret the environment around me. I keep the viewfinder glued (not literally) to my eye and I scan the scene. I press the shutter when I feel that spark go off inside of me.

What do you want to explore and convey in your photographs?

I want to explore human intimacy, internal conflict and peace, my relationship to the external world, and my understanding of my own psyche. I don’t know what I want to convey – primarily authenticity of experience. I have no agenda and I’m not trying to say anything in particular. I am a woman with a camera and an obsession with exploring the human experience. Sometimes it’s dark and sometimes it’s light. But maybe that does bring me to one thing I would like to convey: that darkness and lightness are part of all of us. There is no shame in anything you are experiencing, even the deepest pain. These experiences are temporary, recurring, and universal. They make us real.

What are you working on at the moment?

My scanner has been broken for over a month and I have over twenty rolls of film to scan from South America and all of December and January from the various parts of the US I was in. My new scanner should arrive this week and then I will be scanning away!

What’s your dream project?

To make a visual memoir filled with prose from my diaries and photos from my life.

View more of Edie Sunday’s work at www.ediesunday.com.