For Women's History Month we want to have a closer look at the work of aspiring female photographers. With projects like Curated By Girls or Girlgaze Project more and more platforms are being created to feature the female view upon the world. But how exactly does that look like and in what way does gender influence art? How do they themselves experience working in the male dominated business of photography?
Edie Sunday is a 28-year old artist from Texas with a passion for photography. While she is selling her prints on her website, Edie refuses to see photography as her profession or her work part of the industry. Her strict rejection of becoming part of the professional world of photography seems to have many reasons, some of which she shared with us in this interview. Edie is also one of many artists who had to find out first hand that using a creative medium as your tool creates a very thin line between being heard and being judged.
How did you discover analog photography for you?
I have taken photos and carried a camera for as long as I can remember. My family always provided me with instant cameras as a kid and then a 35mm that was once my dad’s when I was a teenager. It’s just something I’ve always done and I didn’t think anything of it until I was about 22. That’s when I started to take it much more seriously and to really channel my emotions into photography because I’d had such a fucked up year before that. I needed an outlet and something to absorb my energy, and there it was. One day in 2012 I picked up my cameras again and I haven’t put them back down since. They are a part of me now. I have thousands of photos—literally thousands—and I probably share about 1 out of every 100 photos I take. I do take breaks, though, and the nine months I have been on my residency has been quite a break. I photographed here and there, but it wasn’t the same. Something within me needed to recalibrate—something old needed to die, and it was painful, but now I am on the other side and I’ve just made a series of self-portraits that I’m really proud of.
What camera and film do you like to shoot with?
I shot with a Nikon F3 for a very long time and then I broke the body for the third time and decided I’d try another body because the third time clearly wasn’t a charm. So I got an FM3A, and I still just use my 50mm Nikkor lens. It’s a simple set up. I mostly shoot with Kodak Portra 160 or 400, and I have certain quirks about how I shoot that film that are responsible for my “style”—it’s not the film itself, I’ve just grown accustomed to it at this point, and I think the grain is beautiful. On another note, I’ve recently been gifted a Hasselblad by my boyfriend’s family. It’s very dear to them because of who it once belonged to—a person I have never and will never meet. So, we’re learning each other. I figured out how to use it in about five minutes but knowing the mechanisms of a camera and “knowing” a camera are very different things. It’ll take some time.
For this month we are focusing on female photographers. What is your experience with being a woman in this business? Have you ever felt misunderstood or mistreated because of your gender?
Well, fortunately I’m not in this business at all. I don’t work as a photographer and I’m grateful that I don’t. There are certain projects I have done because of who I was working with (good friends) and things like that, but over all I’m just a person who takes photos and posts them on the internet for others to enjoy. I may shoot some music things this summer, which would be lovely, but I’m very picky about who I work with. So, I guess that does lead to some experiences I’ve had that have been less than desirable, but I don’t think they had to do with being a woman. Maybe they did. I was so young and I really attributed it to that. It was mostly people asking me to take photos for their shop or what have you for no payment whatsoever. I was a kid and I wanted validation so I was like of course! And then in the end I was so bitter and resentful that I had put all of this time and energy into something that didn’t even mean anything to me, and the people who I made it for didn’t even respect me enough to compensate me for it. That was rough but I stopped doing that a long time ago.
I do have some thoughts on the whole gender thing, though, and the way that people might perceive me because I am a woman and things they might expect from me because I am a woman. Lately I’ve been pretty vocal about my opinions, and the backlash that comes at me via my Instagram DMs is i-n-s-a-n-e. And it’s from women and men! In some ways, for many women, I disappoint them because I’m too lenient in my views—like not always separating art from artist, not throwing away my favorite band t-shirt because said male musician once had sex with an underage girl and the like. And for many men, now I’m not nice enough. I speak and have opinions (I used to only post photos) and so I don’t fit into their idea of sweet, inspiring little artist girl. Suddenly I’m “pretentious” and “self-righteous” because I’m not giving everyone what they want. Some days I feel like fighting the good fight, and other days I feel like retreating into myself and reading books and pretending like none of the mean things people have said to me are real and mostly that I’ve never disappointed anyone just by being who I am. People get really upset when an artist they admire doesn’t align with their beliefs completely. And I understand. I just didn’t think I’d ever find myself in a position where it mattered to anyone how I felt about things. When I was younger I felt like I was screaming just to have my voice heard at all. Now people want to hear my voice much more than I want to give it, and they want to hear my voice echo their own. It’s all very stressful, but just to be clear, for every mean thing that has been said to me there are so many more kind words of support given and I am so grateful for that, as well as that anyone on this earth gives a fuck to know what I think!
Do you think there is such a thing as the female gaze? Does being a woman influence your work?
In short, no, I don’t think there is a such thing as the female gaze in the way that we have been conceptualizing it over the last year or so, since it’s been a fad. I think gender is something that we grossly overgeneralize in our society and this whole notion of the female gaze is a ripe example of it. Gender is not always a salient part of an individual’s identity. For me personally, being a woman does influence my work because I take self-portraits—my work is a depiction of who I am, and my femaleness IS an important aspect of my identity. But that’s not necessarily the same for the person next to me.
I think that this fad may have started with good intentions—shining a spotlight on women photographers because traditionally we’ve been on the other side of the lens. I really was hopeful at first and kind of believed in the message of some of these “campaigns,” if you will. But as time went on I realized this idea of “the female gaze” was just as oppressive, limiting, and shallow as anything else in mainstream culture. So, I quietly separated myself from any affiliation with that movement because of its complete lack of authenticity, consideration of nuance, and the empty, money-hungry people who are behind it. I hope young girls don’t get too swept away in it. It promotes a version of the artist that I personally just don’t identify with. But after all, that is just me. Maybe I’m completely wrong!
But yes, being a woman influences my work. I embody a lot of traditional feminine qualities, or qualities we have chosen to associate with femininity—I don’t know. I’m very emotive, sensitive, and I live in a world of dreams and fantasies that is entirely charged by my over-saturated feelings. I used to be embarrassed that I was this way, but now I embrace it. But someone who didn’t consider themselves female could be this way, too, and it could influence that individual’s work in the same way. So, I really can’t say. I can only know myself and answering questions about these sorts of things sometimes feels like I have to make assumptions about other people, you know?
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Honestly, it’s just from the experience of being alive, from being a sentient being who engages with myself and others on a regular basis, who is obsessed with certain colors and people and words and sounds and let’s all of these obsessions, tiny little worldly treasures, inhabit and even invade my mind for as long as they please. I will stay with a sensation until I can no longer feel it or even recognize it. It’s kind of like looking at the sun until you can’t stand it anymore, or until its brightness is no longer a shock. Until it loses its power. That’s how I interact, internally and externally, with the things that speak to me. I just absorb and absorb with no limits. And from there, I think I have to create or I would explode.
What's your main goal with your photography?
I just do it because I have to. I can’t live without it and I wouldn’t want to. My only goal with photography is to do it honestly.
If there was one thing that you could change about the photography business, what would that be?
I don’t have a clue because I am not in the business. From the outside looking in, it seems that—although originality is impossible—the age of Social Media has made it very difficult for people to create work that is authentic. I see the same photo 100 times a day if I allow myself to be on Social Media. It’s saddening, because we’re probably missing out on a lot of true talent out there—photographers who have something real to give but are afraid to give it because it doesn’t fit the status quo or doesn’t look like it belongs in one of the big magazines that dictate our own culture to us. I wish people trusted themselves more, and I wish we could all isolate ourselves from each other a little bit more—but that’s something you have to choose to do on your own, and most people do the opposite because it’s a complete addiction (Social Media and comparing yourself to others who do what you do, etc.) Sometimes I physically force myself to put my phone in the other room for the evening so that I can’t start scrolling the endless black hole of the internet and inevitably influencing my own ideas of what is beautiful/acceptable/desirable. I just long for something purer. Not entirely pure—again, that’s impossible, but the photography we’re being fed right now is just disheartening.
Any advice for other young female photographers out there who want to enter the professional world?
Don’t? Just kidding! Again, I wouldn’t know. But I am human which means I do love any opportunity to give my own opinion, ill-informed or not, so here it is: Don’t get caught up in the bullshit. 99% of what you encounter (people, jobs, ideas) will be bullshit. Know yourself before you put yourself out there, because there are so many people and brands (my least favorite word—it’s nausea inducing) and companies waiting to eat you alive and take you for all you’re worth. This is not a nice industry, from what I hear and what I’ve learned from my minimal experience. People will trick you into trusting them—expect that and learn from it. But don’t forget who you are and why you make art! It’s not for followers, it’s not to say “I did this campaign” or “[insert semi-famous person] knows who I am.” That’s how you let all of those beautiful parts of yourself that led you to make art in the first place burn out. It’s so cliché, but just stay true to who you are. Don’t let the bastards get you down, and don’t let the industry and its emptiness swallow you! Also, remember that people do have the capacity to be good, not everyone will treat you in the way I’ve just described, how important it is to not become jaded, and that my words are not gospel because I’m just a crazy cat lady who is currently watching The Wind That Shakes the Barley for the 78th (?) time.
PS: You really should watch The Wind That Shakes the Barley AT LEAST once.