Each month in 2014 I will feature a female entrepreneur from Northern Ireland. I find these smart and creative women inspiring and I hope you do to. Last month I featured artist Eimear Maguire of Dollybirds Art, and this month it’s Belfast-born Freelance Photographer Sarah Kane.
When did you realise you wanted to be a photographer?
I grew up in a very creative household and had decided on a future in the arts when I was very young.
Initially I wanted to be an illustrator and I’d dabbled in all forms of art from graphic design to drama and everything in between. When I was 16 I got my first part-time job working in Jessops (the photographic retail chain) where I learned a lot about the technical side of photography, so when I added that to my being creative, the spark was lit. When I was 18, after school, I went to the University of Ulster to do my foundation year in Art and Design, that’s when I got into all kinds of photography – 35mm, medium and large format, digital. So I applied to the University of the Arts London to take a degree in Photography and from then on in I knew photography was my future.
What or who do you most enjoy taking photos of?
I’ve always found it hard to define or pick a personal favourite subject. Initially I was mostly interested in photographing the basics – landscapes or portraits. As my experience has increased and my interest in the critical and conceptual side of photography has expanded, I’ve formed a niche for photographing documentary style photographs for a fine art setting through staging. It sounds a bit complex, or pretentious, but it’s something I’ve been trying to achieve for years now.
I definitely have a love for taking photographs of scenes that have a hint of horror, a cinematic approach, which I think is a reflection of my other biggest love in life – movies (especially horror films).
Recently though I have become more drawn to portraiture as I like the idea of recording the personalities of people. Given that as time passes, landscapes change but remain in place for other photographers, people don’t.
You travel around a lot. Does this keep you feeling inspired on a professional level?
Well, I must admit, although I have been fortunate to travel a lot – the majority of my travels are between the UK/Ireland and the USA. I think each place I’ve had the good fortune to spend time in brings out a different side of my creativity.
For example, if I’m in London, my love of history and architecture gets me inspired. If I’m in New York, my teenage punk roots are in full bloom or the fun and free side comes out if I’m in Texas. With Belfast I certainly have that raw inspiration of connecting with my heritage and my own past. I think the place that brings out my creativity the most has to be the Tampa Bay area of South-West Florida. I’ve been lucky to spend a good chunk of my twenties here and it encapsulates a lot of what I love visually – palm trees, flamingos, the sea and Americana.
What has been one of the most fulfilling photography projects you’ve worked on and why?
In 2008 I had a small book independently published which ran along the theme of Americana and my dreams, growing up in Belfast, of Americana.
In the commercial sense it was fulfilling that I was selling copies internationally and that my photography was reaching a wide audience. On a personal level that entire project was fulfilling as I was really getting to express myself through photographs that I felt encapsulated a visual collective that I had been working on and dreaming up for quite some time.
Who do you admire in the field of photography?
The list is long. Very long.
Gregory Crewdson would probably be my biggest inspiration. His work was the biggest game changer for me and to this day his ‘Beneath the Roses’ series in my all time favourite. I also love Martin Parr for his raw honesty and humour. Andreas Gursky for his ambition. Dorothea Lange, because I did a lot of critical study into the FSA Photographers in 1930’s USA and her dedication blew me away. Nan Goldin was the first photographer I really loved back when I was in high school and my art teacher gave me a book on her work.
I was really lucky to study under the incredible Tom Hunter when I was at University. He was my personal mentor on and off for two years and to this day his work remains a big influence on me.
Do you have a motto that you live by, and if so what is it?
It isn’t so much a motto but I like the idea of making sure I share my ideas, inspiration and art/photography in general as much as I can because I’ll only ever get one chance at doing it. It’s less about making an impression as it is about sharing who I am and what I want to express.
What’s been your proudest professional moment?
Probably my very first solo show. It was very rough around the edges, hardly the most professional, but it was incredibly rewarding. I was just finishing up my degree and putting on my graduate show in London when I got the offer to have a solo show in The Black Box in Belfast. I was commuting back and forth, getting both of these exhibits together, but it was a great way to end my degree and begin my future in photography.
Who or what drives you to be successful?
I’ve always had a great support network of family and friends around me – near and far – so that is a real drive for me, they are my cheerleaders. However, I strongly believe, like many artists, it’s all about fulfilling some kind of personal ambition, not a professional one, that keeps us going.
Do you have a favourite camera to use?
It really depends on the situation. I use a range of cameras and each one is specific to the job. If you’re shooting something commercial, or even for fine art, really just anything you want printed big, it’s probably best to stick to medium (or even large format). Hassleblad and Mamiya are the best, Rolleflex is great. I am a huge advocate for digital though. For example, I have a range of Nikon DSLRs that I love, but a couple of years ago I bought a Fuji X100 (which is lovely because it looks like a Leica) – it looks like a compact camera but the quality of images is phenomenal.
I’m a strong believer in the lens being more important than the camera and the photographer being more important than either of those.
What would be your top three tips for amateur photographers?
1. The line between professional and amateur is thin – in fact, it’s just a couple of labels and labels mean nothing. Some of the best amateurs trump the professionals by a mile. Don’t get bogged down about your status in the world of producing photographs. If it’s a good photo, then you have talent. Labels are for snobs.
2. Submit your work as much as you can. It doesn’t matter how many rejections you get. It will all be worth that one email or letter letting you know that someone has appreciated your work.
3. Read. Read all you can about photography. Not just the technical side, but the history of it. When I began studying the roots of photography right until current day contemporary photography, I saw it as such an advanced and different art form than I had previously.
What do you like do get up to in your spare time?
Another question I could answer with a long list!
As I said before, art, art, art – all it’s all about art for me. Put it this way, I consider The Oscars to be my Olympic Games. Movies are a huge part of my life – David Fincher is my hero. Old, new, colour, black and white – I’m a movie nerd. Apart from cinema, I like tattoo art (traditional mostly), the 1990’s (big Grunge and Riot Grrrl fan), illustration, drama/acting, design of all sorts, going to gigs, 1970’s music (again, thanks Dad), fashion, travel and prosthetic make-up design. Like I said, the arts have a big hold on my life.
Visit Sarah Kane’s website.