PhotoVoice is interviewing established photographers to gain a wider insight into the power of photography and the different approaches to ethical issues. This month, we interviewed Michelle Sank on her photography and passion for the medium.
Michelle is an award winning photographer whose images explore issues around social and cultural diversity. At London Art Fair, she joined the PhotoVoice discussion panel “Images of Youth: who calls the shots?” and shared her approaches to photographing young people.
Where did it all begin and why did you chose photography and not another medium?
It began when I undertook a Fine Art Degree in South Africa. I was studying painting when a photography course was introduced in my last year which I attended. It was almost instantaneous that I found this connection with the camera and the world around me – and so this became and has stayed my voice for personal expression.
Tell us a bit about your approach to photography.
My upbringing during apartheid South Africa and being from a Latvian immigrant community has, I believe, defined my subject matter in terms of looking at sub-cultures within society. Also my sense of light, colour and space is reminiscent of my connection to Africa and my Russian heritage.
How do you decide if something is worthy of being captured?
I work very intuitively. Whether I am doing street work or working in a more constructed situation in relation to residencies or commissions – it is a sense of a person or place that resonates with me. It is like an electrical current when I see this and I can only explain that it connects with my heritage and what is ‘known’ to me. It is also very much a celebration for me about the magic of difference and how this presents itself both through people and the landscape.
Is there a single image that defines you as a photographer?
I don’t think so. It is more the way I connect with my subjects or landscape that perhaps defines my style.
Can photography bring about positive social change?
Yes most definitely. I think that being able to reveal to others situations they would not normally be exposed to is immensely powerful.
Has charity photography changed since you started?
I think the intention has always been the same and that the change has evolved in line with societal and political developments and media expansion and exposure.
What is your approach to the ethics of photography?
To make sure that those you are photographing are treated with dignity. I think it is also really important for photographers to control how their imagery is used and to make sure that in the current media accessibility this cannot be abused and that it is used within the context it was intended.
What is your greatest achievement as a photographer?
I have always said that the human connection I have with my subjects has been as important to me as the actual imagery. I hope that I have been able to empower some of the people I have worked with.
In leaving South Africa I had a huge gap in my career so for me to have come back and had a second chance is very meaningful to me.
How important do you think equipment is?
I work very simply and master what I need to know about my camera and lighting. I prefer not to have a complicated system to work with so that I am free to focus on what I have seen and can move fluidly within these situations.
Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers?
Always be true to yourself. Photograph what you as an individual feel really strongly about and don’t necessarily follow trend.
To find out more about Michelle Sank’s work please click here
Feature image: © Michelle Sank “Brother and Sister, Aberystwyth”
Like this blog? Check out more interviews in our Ten Questions series here