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 Aletheia Casey on her photography and passion for the medium.
Aletheia Casey is an award-winning photographer and her work has been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, Foto8 (London) and The Royal Shakespeare Company amongst many more. Her images of Australia uncover forgotten histories and explore identity and attachment to place.
Where did it all begin and why did you chose photography and not another medium?
I always used to draw and paint as a child and as a teenager but I was never really satisfied with the result. I was home educated so I was encouraged to develop my interests and had plenty of time to do so. I loved any form of visual art and have always been so dominantly visual that often I would find it hard to express myself through words but always felt absolutely comfortable expressing myself visually. I remember that I would often have these moments of total clarity when watching a scene or an expression on someone’s face and I would wish that I was quick enough to accurately capture that precise moment and that exact emotion. I wanted an immediate art form that captured the ‘right’ moment as I witnessed it so I started to experiment with photography. My parents bought me my first film SLR when I was 14 and then helped me to build a darkroom, which was really a very small cupboard converted into a darkroom. It was an amazingly beautiful way to learn, just me and the darkroom, quiet and peaceful. I never really stopped photographing from that moment on. I loved everything about the traditional darkroom chemical process and still do; 22 years later it’s still like magic to me.
Tell us a bit about your approach to photography.
The majority of my work these days is extremely personal. I photograph issues and topics that I feel are important in the society we live in and that matter to me personally. I base a lot of my ideas around historical narratives, the on-going effects of colonisation and what it means to belong. Portraiture is at the heart of all of my projects, as identity, place and loss are a re-occurring theme in almost all of my work.
How do you decide if something is worthy of being captured?
I use my intuition. As one of my brilliant lecturers once said, ‘Intuition is the unconscious mind at work.’ I don’t ‘set up’ my images but I will either talk to the sitter of a portrait until the moment feels right or if I’m photographing a landscape or a scene I’ll walk and then wait until the moment feels right. Intuition is a hugely important part of the creative process for me and I’ve learnt over time to listen very closely to it.
Is there a single image that defines you as a photographer?
No I don’t think so, although perhaps I have single images which are more iconic then others. I feel that the series of work I have produced since returning home to Australia four years ago, after living abroad for six years, defines me as a photographer, but not just one single image.
Can photography bring about positive social change?
Yes absolutely. That for me is an incredibly important part of why I photograph what I do, and why I want to bring certain issues into the public discourse.
Has charity photography changed since you started?
Yes I believe so. The public is much more visually literate than ever before and I feel that charities are now more aware of how imagery can work effectively to communicate to a wide audience. I also think charities these days are aware of the healing potentials of the visual arts, in particular collaborative photography projects, and are using photography to address social issues and to incite positive healing in communities through workshops and teaching.
What is your approach to the ethics of photography?
Ethics are a massively important part of the photography that I do. I believe that the fundamental core of ethical photography is trust; trust to be honest, trust to represent an issue fairly, and trust to use that image appropriately.
What is your greatest achievement as a photographer?
Finding my own voice and having confidence in my vision as a photographer has been a huge personal achievement for me. Knowing what issues I want to discuss in my photography and making a living from producing the kind of work which I want to produce have been hugely empowering for me. Previously when I did mostly client driven visual journalism work, I was always working for a client who had a distinct visual way that they wanted a particular story told or a message communicated. Although this is inevitable when working for clients I feel very fortunate that I have come to a stage in my career where I can have my own voice heard in the work that I do and create images which fulfill my own creative vision.
How important do you think equipment is?
I’m not overly interested in the latest technical equipment or in having the newest gear. Having said that however I think that my work has a distinct quality to it which is partly due to my own style but also due to the equipment that I choose to use. I use large or medium format and traditional film practices, which mean that I photograph in a slower, more contemplative way than if I were using digital cameras. Because of the precious quality of film I only shoot several rolls of film, and sometimes only two or three frames of each subject. Large format cameras are slow to set up and time consuming, and so this definitely plays a huge role in how I photograph, what I photograph and contributes massively to the visual language of the image. Above all else though, I think it’s most important to remember it’s your eye that takes the image, and your personality that makes people comfortable; this has nothing to do with the camera.
Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers?
Photography is a lifelong marathon and you just have to keep on running. If it’s what you feel most passionately about, above all else, then you should never give up on it. While you are establishing yourself always remember that it’s not shameful to do another job as a back-up. Many great photographers have spent years supporting themselves in other areas that funded their photographic works. Ultimately remember that there is no age when you should have ‘made it’ by. It’s a lifelong learning, growing process, and gives you access to incredible people and amazing experiences that you otherwise wouldn’t have had; so it’s worth every ounce of perseverance.
You can find more of Aletheia Casey’s work here
Feature image: © Alethia Casey