Artist Interview: Emily Garthwaite

– by Wendy Morley, VW’s Creative and Editorial Director –

Even after all this time, photography is not universally accepted as art. When it is, there is usually a clear delineation between “art” photography and photography that is used as documentation of any sort. As photography critic Sean O’Hagan expressed in an article published in The Guardian, “… the ‘photography is not art’ debate is so old it’s hardly worth revisiting,” and yet he too appears to determine that certain types of photography do not rank.

Students head to their classrooms at Prerana hostel run by Nari Gunjan in Bihar, India 2014

Students head to their classrooms at Prerana hostel run by Nari Gunjan in Bihar, India 2014

Emily Garthwaite’s work should change anyone’s mind. A British photojournalist based in London, Emily has a Masters in Photojournalism and Documentary photography from the University of Westminster. Internationally known, her exhibitions include those at the Natural History Museum, Ambika Gallery, Gallery on the Corner, Norman Rea Art Gallery, 4th Floor Studios, The Tabernacle, The Hive and Central Saint Martins. Emily is an Associate Member of Street Photography International, which is Instagram’s fastest growing account for the genre, with over 250,000 followers and reaching over 8 million people per month.

Wendy Morley: You studied photojournalism. What was it that drew you to this field, and what were your goals?

Karate lesson at Nari Gunjan's school, 2014. Nari Gunjan is a charity in Bihar, India that supports girls and women from the Musahar and Dalit castes, the lowest castes in India. It champions female empowerment and education

Karate lesson at Nari Gunjan’s school, 2014. Nari Gunjan is a charity in Bihar, India that supports girls and women from the Musahar and Dalit castes, the lowest castes in India. It champions female empowerment and education

Emily Garthwaite: I first established an interest in photography when I was 15. There was a forest fire near my family home, and I remember watching the fire destroying the woods that I played in and feeling the need to document it before it disappeared. I sent my photos to my local newspaper, and they were published the next day. My love of photography blossomed from that point.

I started to assist fashion photographers in London and photographed events in my free time. It wasn’t long before I moved away from fashion photography, and photojournalism became my sole focus. I believe my work is reflective of how I see the world and I always try to stay true to my own creative identity. Photojournalism has allowed me to travel, learn new languages, engage with different cultures and meet some extraordinary and inspiring individuals.

rainee monks in Ranong Province, the least-populated region in Thailand 2017

Trainee monks in Ranong Province, the least-populated region in Thailand 2017

WM: You’ve done wildlife photography, street photography, photography focusing on the marginalization of women, religious differences and I’m sure many, many more. Can you tell me about some things during these assignments that especially affected you?

EG: There have been moments that I have almost frozen in disbelief at the scene before me – not necessarily because they are emotionally challenging moments but because of the sheer beauty. Documenting orangutans in Sumatra is especially poignant, partly to do with their almost human expressions.

Boys in a washing vat – Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai 2014

Boys in a washing vat – Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai 2014

I will never forget taking a photograph of four boys playing in a giant washing vat inside Dhobi Ghat, Mumbai. The temptation to splash water at me is apparent in their faces. I was 21 when I took the photo and had been in India only one week, knowing I would be there on my own for another six months. I remember feeling so creatively free as I stood half drenched in the washing vat with them.

WM: When you look back at your photographs, do you feel you captured what you wanted to capture?

The Yayu coffee forest biosphere in south-west Ethiopia is one of the last remaining mountain forest fragments of arabica coffee in the world. Pictured: A coffee worker in Yayu, Ethiopia. 2016

The Yayu coffee forest biosphere in south-west Ethiopia is one of the last remaining mountain forest fragments of arabica coffee in the world. Pictured: A coffee worker in Yayu, Ethiopia. 2016

EG: Yes and if I feel an image isn’t representative of a situation, I won’t publish it.

When you work alongside another photographer, you realize how different two creative eyes can be. There have been countless moments I have been in the same room as another photographer, and we have walked away with incredibly diverse work. I don’t consciously think about what I want to capture when I am on an assignment because you can’t predict what you will see. Perhaps the people you meet will be shy, maybe there will be poor light, or there will be time limitations. I try always to be prepared and as focused as possible. Sometimes I think of a “dream” shots or scene, but mostly I keep a checklist in my mind of the photographs that will tell the story.

A boy in his father's car. Udaipur, India 2017

A boy in his father’s car. Udaipur, India 2017

I am continually drawn to photographing women and children, mostly because of the connection I have with them.

WM: What do you feel is your greatest strength as a photographer?

EG: I’ve always been drawn to color photography and how color can lead the eye to a focal point, in the same way the use of the light can. It’s become a strength of mine, a signature of sorts. I don’t actively seek out colorful backdrops; I just like to maximise on the tones in a scene.

12_RomaniaI have found it to be a great strength to be a woman, too. My fiancé, who is also a photojournalist, has at times been unable to photograph young children or women simply because he is a man. Universally I have found that being a woman has allowed me greater access to my subjects. I believe that it is a luxury to be a female photographer partly due to the instant connection you have with other women, or at least that is what I have found.

WM: Can you tell me a little about the camera(s) you like to use?

EG: I’ve recently changed camera systems from a Canon 5D Mark iii to a Leica M240.

From the Middle Ages until the early 20th century the town of Turda in Transylvania was famous for its salt mining industry. By 1932 the mines were closed, and all that remains on the perimeters of the quiet village of Turda are disused water-filled salt quarries and mud flats. This is where the elderly locals come to bathe. The clay treatments are used to ease the effects of degenerative rheumatic conditions in preparation for the bitterly cold winter months in Romania. Turda, Romania, 2015

From the Middle Ages until the early 20th century the town of Turda in Transylvania was famous for its salt mining industry. By 1932 the mines were closed, and all that remains on the perimeters of the quiet village of Turda are disused water-filled salt quarries and mud flats. This is where the elderly locals come to bathe. The clay treatments are used to ease the effects of degenerative rheumatic conditions in preparation for the bitterly cold winter months in Romania. Turda, Romania, 2015

The Leica M240 is more suited to what I want to create as a photographer – it’s discreet, has intensely rich colour and excellent dynamic range. I still love Canon but the body combined with four lenses requires a large camera bag while the Leica and four lenses fit inside a small shoulder bag.

WM: Do you prefer shooting a specific subject: wildlife vs city scenes vs people, for example?

EG: I love photographing people and animals alike – it’s an instinctual connection and whether you are shooting candidly or staging portraits. There is always an element of surprise.

WM: Do you have a dream assignment?

Juvenile orangutans hold on to Emmy, a keeper at SOCP's orangutan quarantine centre in North Sumatra, Indonesia. Well over 200 orangutans have been returned to the wild as a result of this work, and two entirely new wild populations of this Critically Endangered species are gradually being established. As a back up “safety net” for the remaining wild population, increasing the likelihood that at least some orangutans will survive in Sumatra’s forests in the future. Sumatra, Indonesia 2017

Juvenile orangutans hold on to Emmy, a keeper at SOCP’s orangutan quarantine centre in North
Sumatra, Indonesia. Well over 200 orangutans have been returned to the wild as a result of this work, and two entirely new wild populations of this Critically Endangered species are gradually being established. As a back up “safety net” for the remaining wild population, increasing the likelihood that at least some orangutans will survive in Sumatra’s forests in the future. Sumatra, Indonesia 2017

EG: My dream assignment was to visit Sumatra and document orangutans. I always kept it as a goal, something aspirational. I was incredibly fortunate to visit Sumatra in April this year after dreaming of visiting for so many years. My father was a zoologist for over a decade and looked after Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, so it was always something we spoke about when I was a child. I worked with the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program, run by Dr Ian Singleton, for a month and had the opportunity to visit their quarantine base outside Medan as well as work on field assignments in the Leuser ecosystem.

– Click on images to see larger versions (All images copyright © Emily Garthwaite)

 

An Asian elephant stands visibly traumatised, chained to a temple pillar following a six-hour procession. It was paraded through the streets of Varanasi, noisy with crowds and rocketing fireworks, in the build up to Diwali, the festival of lights. The elephant was swaying, and its bloodshot eyes swirled, as its owner looked on anxiously. There are an estimated 3,600 domesticated Asian elephants in India, belonging either to the government, wealthy families or temples and used in festivals throughout the year. They are an endangered species, their wild counterparts under threat from habitat loss and conflict with humans in agricultural areas.Varanasi, India 2014

An Asian elephant stands visibly traumatized, chained to a temple pillar following a six-hour procession. It was paraded through the streets of Varanasi, noisy with crowds and rocketing fireworks, in the build up to Diwali, the festival of lights. The elephant was swaying, and its bloodshot eyes swirled, as its owner looked on anxiously. There are an estimated 3,600 domesticated Asian elephants in India, belonging either to the government, wealthy families or temples and used in festivals throughout the year. They are an endangered species, their wild counterparts under threat from habitat loss and conflict with humans in agricultural areas. Varanasi, India 2014

Varanasi, India 2014

Varanasi, India 2014

A man walks home from lunch in Calcutta, India 2017

A man walks home from lunch in Calcutta, India 2017

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