Brian Sherwin: Michelle, can you discuss some of your first experiences with a camera? What attracted you to photography? Also, do you have any formal training in photographer-- as in, did you attend any academic programs for that study?
Michelle Sank: I discovered photography by chance - It was introduced in a Fine Art course I was studying at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, Cape Town. I immediately became committed to the medium.
BS: I understand that you view your work as a form of social documentary. Can you go into further detail about that and the message you strive to convey to viewers?
MS: My work although not journalistic deals with social issues - I am drawn to groups or individuals that don't quite fit the norm.Through my portraits I attempt to show the social, psychological, physical nuances of the people I work - a sense of humanity. Often these people lives have been difficult in some way.
MS: No. not specifically - I work very intuitively and am drawn to my subjects through something they are emitting at that point in time - a mood, a look, a stance, dress, how the light is working with all that as well.
BS: I understand that you have lived in Capt Town, South Africa and a few other places throughout the world. How have those travels influenced you as an artist?
MS: I was brought up in South Africa and lived there into my early adult life. I believe growing up in the Apartheid system and myself being part of a refugee community drew me to photograph people living on the edge of society. I also think the exoticness of Africa in place, colour, light and cultures has strongly influenced the work I make.
Image from Endgame by Michelle Sank
MS: My strongest earliest influence was that of David Goldblatt who became a mentor to me when I started. I now enjoy the work of photographers like Phillip di Corcia, Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld… etc.
BS: Tell about some of your series. ‘Bye-Bye Baby’, ‘Reality Crossings’, and ‘Tidal’ for example.
MS: Bye-Bye Baby was a self-initiated project which evolved through my concern for the youth I observed. These images deal with the notion of developing adulthood within the milieu of British society today. In Bye-Bye Baby I am exploring the way young boys and girls interpret their understanding of masculinity and femininity. Having left the purity of their childhood worlds, they seem to take on the trappings of the grown ups they mimic and of the status quo as set out in popular culture and the media.
These portraits were produced against the background of the sea, itself a symbol of the passage of time, of change, of journeys into and discoveries of pastures new
BS: Can you discuss the connection you feel with the people you photograph? Is there a connection? Philosophically speaking, can you describe that connection?
MS: I am very connected to my subjects whether it is on the street or in more constructed working environments. It is very much a two way process and I have always said that the interaction I have is as meaningful as the photograph.
BS: How does an idea for a series come to you? At what point do you say “this could work”… or does it just happen depending on the situation?
MS: As mentioned I work very organically and sometimes just by walking around and observing, the seed of an idea for a project happens. Sometimes projects come to me through various gallery commissions I have undertaken
Image from Celestial Echoes by Michelle Sank
MS: I have just made some portrait work in South Africa in the townships, a school and a refugee camp
BS: Finally, you are represented by Galerie Les Filles du Calvaire in Paris and The Photographer’s Gallery in London, correct? Will you be involved with any upcoming exhibits?
MS: I have been part of a group show on Adolescence with Les Filles du Calvaire but there are no plans at the moment for that to be shown elsewhere.