Coincident or not, we're glad Sandra Singh took up photography. Her portraits are wonderful reminders of how beautiful honesty is. We got in touch with her recently and now she shares with us her story behind the lens.
Hello, Sandra. Welcome to the Lomography Magazine. Please tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Sandra Singh and I’m a 27-year-old photographer currently based in Munich, Germany.
How would you define photography? What made you decide to take it up as a career?
Photography to me is visual storytelling. I never planned to become a photographer, I wanted to be an illustrator. While I was always fascinated by photographs, photography itself was a bit out of reach for me. I didn’t have a camera as a child or teenager. Drawing was more affordable, so this is what I did all the way through art school. Only later, while studying design and having more resources at hand did I realize how much more I liked taking pictures. Now photography has replaced drawing and painting completely, and I have accidentally become a photographer.
What's your favorite thing about making images?
Probably the whole process of it, including working on film. As a photographer, you meet people from all walks of life and the camera can be a great door opener to experience different countries and cultures on a totally different level. You also get to meet and work with a lot of creative people, travel to great places. That’s the social side of it – but I also love the solitary part, the hours spent in the darkroom or in front of the scanner.
How does photography fit into your personal life?
Photography sneaked up on me, so I never had to make room for it. Although I’m not someone who always carries a camera around it’s definitely seeped into every part of life now.
Let's talk a bit about your work -- how would you describe your photographic style/approach?
I mainly focus on projects about identity, intersecting portrait-, documentary- and fine art to create calm, submerging images and sometimes photo collages. I try to engage the viewer into a story, thus enabling them to create their own narrative.
Who or what would you say was the biggest influence on your work?
I’m probably still influenced by my illustrator years and still like flipping through old art catalogs and magazines. I’m also a big fan of photo books and exhibitions as a presentation form for work and love book fairs and art/photo festivals. Also, the creative environment of studying something art-related surely had a great effect on me and my work.
How do you stay creative? Do you follow a certain process when it comes to shoots?
I do have some routines – I like writing ideas down, and I always carry a little notebook with me. Still, creativity is an up-and-down process for me. I do have phases where I constantly work on a lot of projects at the same time and there are literally not enough hours in the day for all the ideas and things I want to shoot. And then there are days where I simply can’t muster the energy to work on anything. I’ve come to realize that these down-phases are also a very important part of my creative process. I have to recharge in order to not burn out.
Your portraits and even your documentary shots are honest as they are poetic. How did you come up with that style?
This one is really hard to answer, because it developed naturally over time and I couldn’t shoot any differently, even if I wanted to. I suppose it’s a mixture of who I am, what I want to tell and how I work. I like taking my time while photographing, especially when portraying someone. It’s important to me that the person on the other side of the lens feels comfortable and secure. Working on film is a big part of it as well. We both take our time and value every shot.
What do you like to get across with your work?
While I do feel that I have a theme in my work, there is no message or statement that I’d like to get across. With my personal projects, I prefer my photos to be without a description or explanation. This way there is more room for the viewer to use their own imagination. Ideally, people come up with their own stories and ideas on what they are seeing. This is different for documentary work of course, but I try to avoid over-explanatory shots in favor of a short introduction text. After that, you are on your own to discover the story.
How do you prepare for your shoots?
I like writing down my concepts. For more complicated shoots I sometimes sketch compositions or have a list of things that I definitely want to do, maybe pack a bag with some props or things that might be inspiring to have on set. However, I still improvise 90% of the time, especially on outdoor shootings. A lot of my favorite photos were done on a whim, while connecting with the subject and environment in front of me.
In your opinion, what makes a good photograph?
A good photograph to me captivates with honesty and authenticity and less with a huge set or amazing costumes.
What is your favorite subject? Favorite area of photography?
Portraits always have fascinated me – it’s what I used to draw most and what I shoot mostly now. A whole life can be seen on someone’s face if you give that person a positive space and confidence to reveal that to you.
What other areas of photography are you looking to explore?
For my personal projects, I would like to work more experimental – trying out new ways to distort images to tell a story, during a shoot and later on, while working with the negatives. For my client work, I would love to expand to shooting more portraits in the studio – on film and polaroid material.
If you could work with an artist/photographer/group, who would it be?
I’m a big fan of Spencer Murphy, his work is beautiful and inspiring. The same goes for Kenneth O’Halloran’s portrait and documentary work, it’s amazing.
Any artist/photographer out there worth following?
Besides the people mentioned above, I really enjoy looking at the works by Eugene Shishkin, Eva O’Leary, Jimmy Fontaine, Molly Matalon, Niall McDiarmid, Dario Catellani and many more beyond counting.
What do you think matters more -- talent or skill?
I believe in both talent and skill, but what I value even more are determination and curiosity.
If you could replace photography with one thing, what would it be?
Working on a movie set, I suppose – does that count? I absolutely love good TV or movie productions, I’m in deep awe of camera angles, movement, cuts, set designs, costumes… the whole collective effort that makes a good production. I’d love to be part of that.
How does a perfect day look like for you?
Waking up in a foreign country I have never been to before, itching to get outside and explore the strange culture, land, and customs. Eating things I have never eaten before, hearing strange voices speaking a language I don’t understand. If I could do one thing for the rest of my life it would be traveling with a camera.
What's next for Sandra Singh?
I’ve had a really busy summer with finishing my Bachelor of Arts project, exhibitions, photo festivals,… now, after taking a bit of a break I’m ready to start with several new projects and experiments. I want to get back to the darkroom and directly deconstruct negatives for a new project about the fear of vision loss. It’s a very personal project and I want to take my time working on it. The other projects will be more documentary and portrait related. It’s going to be a busy winter!
Last words for our readers?
Quit thinking and talking about the great project you want to do – and just do them. Or at least: start!