My interview with Foto39

An Interview With Heidi Woodman


Firstly, congratulations to Heidi Woodman who has been announced as one of the  finalists in the Lensculture Visual Storytelling Awards 2014 for Gold Fever

Selected as an exhibitor in Foto39’s 2014 exhibition, Heidi was kind enough to offer her own definition of ‘distances’, the theme for our 2015 exhibition, as well as answering a few questions about Gold Fever.

Gold Fever is a series touching on politics, greed, humanity and power; are you always inspired to create work focusing on such complex topics?

I’m certainly attracted to subjects of a more complex nature and particularly those which connect us all in some way regardless of who we are or where we come from, albeit in different ways and to varying degrees. There are decisions we make and things we do (particularly in the developed world) that have repercussions that we are not necessarily cognisant of; and perhaps we’d think or do differently if we were. 

I’m also fascinated with issues which transcend national borders and class barriers on a much more personal level such as domestic and sexual and violence. Or the more seemingly mundane issues like the pressures of adolescence, which is the next project I am working on. Goodness me, this all sounds very heavy indeed doesn't it?! I’m also interested in the fluffy stuff as well by the way!

What led you to Ghana to create Gold Fever?

My husband was raised in Ghana, so we had traveled back to the country together on a number of occasions both before and also in the midst of global financial crisis. I was struck by how Ghana appeared to be flourishing when most of the world was flailing. A surge in the price of gold, which is one of Ghana’s biggest exports, was the driver of this growth. I studied finance and economics at university so was naturally compelled to dig a little deeper. The idea for ‘Gold Fever’ grew quite organically from there.

The price of gold is a very keenly debated topic in our media yet the complexities behind the way that the spot price is decided are actually quite esoteric. So despite the fact that the price of gold is often used as a barometer for economic sentiment and as such affects us all, this disconnect makes it easy for people to distance themselves from the effects mining has on the land and the people where it it is mined. 

Documentary photography is a genre well populated in both online and offline media. How do you tackle discerning your own voice within your work?

By sticking to subject matter that you are truly interested in. Research, plan and know your subjects as well as possible; but when you shoot, shoot intuitively.

Henri Cartier-Bresson called it a ‘Decisive Moment’ while Garry Winogrand simply wished to see what things looked like photographed- what do you think creates a good photograph?

I think that a good photograph tells a story, speaks to your emotions…or ideally both! Above and beyond technical perfection, a good photograph has layers and depth and stirs something within the viewer.

It’s been an exciting time for your work, what advice would you give to aspiring photographers?

It’s a tough business and there are so many wonderful photographers out there, I’m really only just starting to carve out my own path now so I hesitate to offer any advice. If I must I would say that, as I mentioned before, try to stick the stuff you truly care about. Also make sure you know as much about your subject as possible, this means that you can be more responsive and less likely to find yourself in a situation where you feel too out of your depth and thus unable to really think about nuances of your work (a little out of your depth is ok of course as it challenges you).

What projects are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a couple at the moment. One is about the pressures faced by young people on the cusp of adulthood, particularly regarding the pressures around sexual experience in the digital world we live in. I’m trying to make it a collaborative project of sorts, working with the teenagers in order to give them a voice as opposed to a more voyeuristic or distant style we often see in the media.

I’m also researching and planning a follow up project to Gold Fever which is a development of some of the same themes touched on in the Gold fever’ series. Specifically, how certain decisions taken in the developed world have ramifications and repercussions far beyond what most people are aware.

Let’s talk kit – our audience is always interested in what equipment photographer’s use. What’s in your kit bag?

Canon 5D mark III as my main body but I also have a Canon 6D for my second body, as situations like I encountered in Gold Fever I don’t have time to switch lenses. 

Lenses: Canon 70-200 2.8 II USM, canon 85mm 1.4, canon 50mm 1.8, canon 16-35mm 2.8, canon speedlite 630ex-rt. I also have a couple of Manfrotto carbon fibre tripods, a Manfrotto BeFree tripod (very useful for travel), a couple of Manfrotto LED midi lights. For my portraiture work I also have various lastolite trip grip reflectors and various accoutrements. Crucially -my notebook and PATIENCE!!!

Our next exhibition is currently open for submissions with a theme of ‘distances’. Is there any one image that stands out to you as successfully representative of distance?

As a body of work, Mike Brodie's amazing project - 'A Period of Juvenile Prosperity' stands out to me as representative of distances. Firstly in the literal and physical sense as it documents his long journey train-jumping, hitch-hiking and walking the length and breadth of the United states. Secondly because it covers a brief period in his life, a passing of time and a life that is now very distant from the one he now leads. (Mike Brodie quite famously quit photography and turned his back on the art world after the publication of this book, despite it's worldwide success and became a mechanic).