Interview with Leanne Surfleet

edited by silvia conde  (silvia.conde@positive-magazine.com)

photos by leanne surfleet

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Leanne Surfleet is a 25-year-old English photographer with a very unique Portfolio. If you are already familiar with her work, you will probably agree with me when I say that two words describe it: self-portraits and polaroids. Well, it’s not all about Polaroids, she photographs herself with different analog cameras too.

In any case, I remember that the first time I saw her pictures a mix of melancholy, loneliness and sorrow invaded me. I asked myself how hard could it be to take such a deep look into oneself. She made me think of Sofie Calle, she’s also the artist and the same piece of art the same time. When I had the chance to interview her, I didn’t hesitate to ask her about that and other issues.

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What do you do in life?
I’m currently a student coming to the end of studying for a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Contemporary Lens Media. Other than this I laze around with my cat, take photographs in the sun and long to escape to another city.

What do you like the most about Photography?
I love that it can transport you to another world, or into the dreams of others. I also look to photography as a kind of therapy, as it helps me to be calm in times when I’m feeling anxious or lost.

When did you start photographing? When did you start taking these beautiful self-portraits?
I started photographing when I was 18, so, 8 years ago. And I started taking self-portraits around 5 years ago after deciding to drop out of university and go home, feeling very lonely and secluded and needing a way to express myself.

How would you describe your work in three words?
Honest, personal & experimental.

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Your project seem to show melancholy and loneliness, what do you exactly wanna transmit with it?
I love to portray some kind of dreaming state within certain photographs, in others I simply want to transmit grace and beauty within light and the body.

How does it feel to be the artist and the piece of art at the same time?
It can feel strange sometimes, looking at a photograph as a piece of art and not really recognising myself within the image. It’s very interesting to learn things about yourself through looking. It’s odd because when I look at my self-portraits compared to the portraits that people have taken of me, I see different people, I think I can only truly let my guard down when I’m alone with a camera.

Your work reminds me somehow to the French photographer Sofie Calle, which references do you have? What inspires you?
Thank you, that’s the first time I’ve reminded someone of Sophie Calle, that’s a great compliment. I think an obvious one that a lot of people comment on within my work is my inspiration from Francesca Woodman. I looked at a lot of Woodman’s work in the time that I was in between college and university, which was when I began taking self-portraits, I think at the time I was heavily inspired by her and still am. Except that now I don’t look at her photographs as often or even think about her when shooting, it’s just a deep-set inspiration that I think will always be with me. I’m flattered that I have reminded people of Woodman in the past but I also want to move away from that and be known for my own style. The other main things that inspire me are light, colours and the female body.

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How does it feel to explore oneself so much and so deeply?
It can be quite scary at times, looking at yourself so much and from different perspectives sometimes you see things that you don’t want to see. But at the same time it can be very therapeutic for me.

Self-portraits sometimes can denote egocentrism or narcissism, do you agree with that?
Yes actually I do agree. I think you can tell though through a body of work if the artist is using self-portraiture for narcissistic reasons, it becomes very apparent. I always remember someone blogging some of my photos with the caption ‘Pure narcissism, but still beautiful’, which kind of annoyed me a little, but hey, people will think and say what they want and that’s completely fine with me. I think sometimes people are afraid to post photos of themselves as they worry that others will think they’re being narcissistic but it’s not always the case, there’s nothing wrong with looking at the self and questioning. After all, you’re gonna be you for the rest of your life so there’s no harm in exploring yourself.

In the current social context we’re living, how easy or difficult is it to be an artist?
For me, it’s easy to be an artist, as I seem to be one without noticing, however I feel that it’s difficult to make a living as an artist and make it your career, especially within fine arts. I think it’s important to make contacts within the art industry and to put yourself out there as much as possible and to not under-sell yourself when it comes to pricing. This is something I’ve only recently realised the importance of, if you undervalue yourself you’re essentially making it harder for other photographers to make a decent living. I’ve also found that having friends who are photographers is a great help as you can advise each other and collaborate.

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Flickr Leanne Surfleet

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