How would you describe your photographic and artistic singularity?
I find this question quite difficult to answer. It’s not really for me to say. I can say that ultimately I’m interested in intimacy and relationships. Love is a trigger. I don’t like to control or set up photographs, I prefer to discover. I like to look for things not necessarily on the surface, I’m interested in what’s beneath the surface, what’s in the corners… a photograph for me is something I feel rather than see. I see it with my eyes but I see it with my other senses too. I’m told that I have an unusual eye, playful and quirky. My use of colour is something else I receive comments about.
You have been working as an album sleeve artist and editorial portrait and features photographer – what did you learn most from those experiences and what challenged you the most?
I learned so much from this period. As a self-taught photographer I did a lot of learning on-the-job. Aside from the technical education I think, looking back, that I learned alot about working with creative teams, responding to a brief, thinking on the fly and being adaptable to circumstances whether a record cover when the artist asks enigmatically for “something cloudy and pinkish with part of girls face coming through the haze…” or a magazine shoot, visiting a rock stars home who loves to perform and play up to the camera and I’m told “no props or silly stuff, we want the real him, intimate, natural and at home”… I learned how important making a real connection with my subjects is, my passion for music always helped. I learned the power of being authentic.
The biggest challenges for me apart from the weather; the dull flat light and the rain… revolve around the inauthentic attitude of many in the music and fashion industries. Egos. Working with people (towards the end) more interested in the cult of celebrity than making creative, stimulating work. It became more and more about ‘product’ with a lack of concern about developing an artist over time.
My Bloody Valentine – Tremolo EP
Jamiroquai (Jay Kay) – Esquire Magazine
Looking back at your early works, what do you think about them now?
I love my early work! It was all very experimental and exciting. I’d turned my bedroom into a darkroom and I lived in that cave for a few years! There was freedom and naivety that fed into a creatively fertile environment. I was fortunate to work with very good, highly experienced creatives that encouraged me all the way. I think I produced strong work. I’m still very proud of my first few record covers.
Are there motifs and topics you find hard to capture with photography?
It’s important to me that I’m passionate about what I photograph. I need to have a strong connection with my subject matter, I need to care and be invested in order to make work with depth and meaning. It can be complicated though… back in 2002 one of my last assignments while living and working in London was to photograph endangered tribes in the Amazon. I was very excited about this opportunity. It was something I cared about a lot and lets face it, it’s the sort of gig we dream of… However when I arrived on location and realised my romantic notion of noble Indians with painted faces, beads and feathers was nonsense and that these poor people were suffering terribly, it shocked me and forced me to question what I was doing there and how my photographs would make a difference to their plight. I felt confused and upset. Was this more about more portfolio and career? It seemed that these tribes where damned if we helped and damned if we didn’t. Although at the time it wasn’t difficult for me to make photographs, the more I thought about it all afterwards the harder it became to think about continuing in that direction. Actually it’s what led me to photographing my family. The Amazon experience and the decline of the music industry led me to feel my family was the only truth I could relate too honestly.
Arawete Tribe – Amazon 2002
Arawete Tribe – Amazon 2002
You say “I tend to follow my heart with my camera, curiosity leads me down the rabbit hole…” – what are you currently working on and which topics would you like to investigate on with photography?
Currently I’m working on a project I call ‘Neighbours’ (working title) it’s about my friends and community in this small remote town where we live in Western Australia. It’s a very special and interesting community of artists, musicians and perma-culture inspired farmers and alternative lifestylers. I’m interested in relationships, intimacy, communities, friendship, interesting lifestyles… that sort of thing… so anything that connects to those themes has the potential to inspire me.
How was the work of a photographer different in the 1990s from today?
Very much so! Firstly we worked with film, so you had to know what you were doing, it took skill, craftsmanship and experience that is no longer a requirement with digital. Today everyone is a photographer, with a phone in his or her pocket. That’s great! The more people that becomes visually aware or literate and engage with photography the better. It is ‘THE’ international language of communication. However there are many downsides too. Earning a living has become increasingly difficult, there’s a never-ending cue of photographers out there desperate for a break and willing to work for nothing or very little… I think, in many (but not all) areas it has devalued photography. Also it’s easy to steal images on-line and difficult to police. So the internet is in some ways a double edged sword.
Sam Harris’ profile on Singulart:https://www.singulart.com/en/artist/sam-harris-260