By @SimonCocking. Enjoyable interview with the super interesting and talented Grace Gelder  in 2014. Bringing learning from into my work

Your background briefly?

I grew up in Wolverhampton and focused on Art and Theatre Studies in my last years of school. Then I had studied Visual Performance at Dartington College of Arts which had a unique approach to teaching and it was a really tiny and experimental course. In 2007 I did an MA called International Photojournalism, Travel and Documentary Photography, it was through an English university but based in Dalian, China. Since then I’ve been living in London and working as a freelance photographer and photography workshop facilitator.

How did it lead you to what you do now?

The BA at Dartington taught me a lot about live art, collaboration and the importance of understanding the creative process. My MA was purely photography with lots of quick practical assignments and we also learnt about ethical practice and participatory photography. The geo-politics of image also played a big part as we were studying in a very new environment – we were taught to be responsible about the way that we portrayed different cultures and also to make sure we had considered the long term effect that those pictures might have.

Reflecting on the impact of images is definitely something that I’ve carried into what I do now. A lot of the work I create is about beauty and I can honestly say that everyone I’ve photographed has a beauty of their own. I work in a more documentary style and I edit but don’t retouch my images as I’m hoping to show that it isn’t a necessary ingredient in making people look good.

A lot of the work that I do now is collaborative and I consider the act of facilitation to be incredibly creative too. Some amazing things have happened during workshops I’ve led. I’ve also designed many participatory workshops that aim to support people from all backgrounds to tell their stories through photography, directly using the skills that were taught on my MA.

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What is a typical day like for you now?

I’m not very good at doing the word typical, my projects have a life of their own, so they often dictate the pace and structure of my working week. I’m either shooting, editing, facilitating, writing or teaching. I have a home office so if I’m working there then the day will be inter-spliced with walks around Bloomsbury so I don’t go mad! At present there seems to be a lot of writing happening but in a few weeks it will be a lot of shooting, it very much depends.

How much do you get to photograph, how much do everything else?

Again it depends on many things, sometimes I am mostly shooting for a few weeks then editing, sometimes the balance is a bit more even throughout the week. I think one of the hardest things is to carve out the time for personal projects and to not let commissions and facilitation or teaching dominate.

What cameras do you use? (Does it matter which ones, or are you brand neutral)

I use a Canon 5D Mark ii – I switched from Nikon around 5 years ago when I upgraded to a full frame sensor. I still use my Nikon FM2 sometimes which is such a joy to work with, also my Fuji 645 camera which has a beautifully sharp & wide lens.

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What are some of your favourite pictures you have taken? 

I really loved the project that I did in Mongolia in 2007 – Professional Mongolian Women. I stumbled upon a rarely known fact that 66% of the professional workforce there are female, so I took a series of portraits of women from different professions at work. Most people who saw it had no idea that this was the case – including my grandmother who thought they didn’t even have a university!

I’ve also loved my collaboration with Imogen Butler-Cole, she’s been making important work about sexual violence and I’ve shot her rehearsals, shows and done some collaborative work to explore themes around the piece.

My New Years New Desires project – which I made available for people for the first time last winter – has started up again and this image is one of my favourites from last year. People share their intentions for the coming year or have of life and bring something to the photoshoot to represent that. It always surprises me where the session goes.

Which photographers are you inspired by, why?

I heard Viviane Sassen speak at an event in London a few years ago and I loved her ability to discuss her work in relation to her own experiences and emotions, it also opened my eyes to fashion photography in a new way. I really admire the breadth of Lee Miller’s portfolio, from model, fashion photographer and then her reportage of WW2. I read her biography recently and it gave me a real insight what it must’ve been like to be a female photographer in those times – it’s tricky enough pursuing a creative path without society frowning at you for it. Ryan McGinley has such gorgeous pictures of his friends nude in nature, really capturing the spirit of freedom with humour. I also love the work of Jo Spence and I got a much deeper understanding of her and her work when I facilitated a workshop at the Tate Britain this summer in response to the collection there. Again I’m mentioning humour, but her ability to play with stereotypes, document her illness and her experience of facing death with such honesty and playfulness is incredibly powerful. Her explorations of phototherapy were also very interesting to me and have been an inspiration for my own work.

TEDx Wexford. It went down very well – well done / thanks. Two years after ‘marrying yourself’ how does it relate to what you do now?

The Self Marriage followed a period of self reflection and a desire to understand more about my life – including my creative work. One thing I realised is that I worried way to much what other people thought about what I said or did and since my self marriage my sense of who I am is much less dependant on that. This means that I can help other people worry less about themselves and as a photographer I’m constantly faced with people’s anxieties about how they look.

A lot of the photography work I do is with women who don’t like their body or appearance. Sometimes that is in quite an extreme way and I’m currently working with a young lady who is recovering from anorexia who wrote and asked if she could experiment with using photography to see herself in a healthier way. Since I started reading feminist books and articles at school I’m regularly shocked at how women are portrayed and represented in the media and naturally, as there is now more media distribution than there was in 1999 it is a much more widespread problem. I see my photographic work as an extension of my vows to be more loving towards myself – and therefore to others – by helping them to see themselves with more care. It feels like an exciting little rebellion, to put images into the world that show a natural, un-retouched beauty.

What tips would you give to others who find themselves going viral / in the middle of an over night frenzy of media attention?

Talk to friends and family who know you and can make you laugh and although it is easier said than done, don’t dwell too much on the criticism or the praise as it is overwhelming and confusing. Also keep something of what you did for yourself, so there is an aspect of your story that only you and those involved hold in your memories and the hungry media don’t get to it!

A few great pieces of advice that I was given were “Oh don’t read the comments – that’s where all the wrong lives” and “If you stick your head above the parapet you inevitably divide opinion” Both of these phrases have stuck with me since I heard them!

What is your future Ireland project going to be?

I had never been to Ireland until I went to Wexford in September for the TEDx talk, but a fair few generations of women back, Catherine Sweeney my very great grandmother left Castle Barr during the famine and ended up in Wolverhampton. No one in my direct maternal line had returned until I went over in September, so it felt great to be there and I met some incredible people. Since then everyone has been telling me how stunning Mayo is so instead of a rushed visit in September I thought I’d go back with my camera next spring and travel around. Further to that, I’ve no idea exactly what will happen or what the pictures will look like, but from google images Mayo looks quite breathtaking!

 


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