The power of photography to evoke emotion is perhaps one of its greatest gifts. Here at Elston Gunn, we admire those who use the camera to capture delicate moments that can be all to fleeting in their nature. It’s a joy to present our first interview with an artist who reveals a tender heart through her imagery.
Phoebe Jane Barrett is the editor of Hylas Magazine: a much-loved magazine within the film community for showcasing and inspiring film photographers around the globe. As well as being the editor of Hylas and studying for a degree, Phoebe is a creative in her own right and produces beautifully serene and compassionate photography. We had a quick chat with Phoebe about the thoughts and feelings behind her work.
One of the things that immediately struck me about your work, particularly when you’re photographing other people, is the tenderness of it. It feels like you use the camera as a tool to connect with the subject of the image. Is this a conscious decision and something that you aim for?
Firstly, thank you for your insight, it is beautiful to me that someone could see that in my work. I guess it became a conscious decision after I found that tenderness and fragility were apparent and coming through naturally in my work. I feel tenderness is something I look for in general life, the world can be so hard and cruel and cold, creating works which capture and cherish the tender moments is almost an escape. It allows me to live in that soft world for a little while. I suppose that is why I’m so drawn to instant film, it has an inimitable softness and depth.
Your self-portraiture evokes a real sense of peace. I love the quiet moments that you’ve captured in those images, and how natural they look. What do you enjoy about making self-portraits, and why?
For me, self-portraiture is an interesting and revelatory process. Solitude has always been present in my life, it is something I’ve always longed for and found peace in. Self-portraiture however, is an expression which I’ve only quite recently found, perhaps it’s been a year or so. It seemed to come naturally. I have always been sensitive and emotive, and longed for a sense of depth in anything I do. Creating self-portraits is a way for me to process and understand my inner world; sometimes I find that thoughts run around my mind so fast that a self-portrait is the only time it slows down. It’s almost a meditative process.
For decades, images of women have widely been presented through the male gaze. Do you think this is why there are increasingly more and more female photographers using their work to take back control and define their sexuality in images for themselves? Do you feel that you use your work to empower yourself as a woman?
There does certainly seem to be an increasing number of female photographers creating work for this reason and I understand why, I can empathise and find it admirable. This is not the case for me, at least this is not my intention. I don’t find my work inherently sexual in nature, many people take nakedness as synonymous with sexuality or eroticism. I don’t believe this to be necessarily true. The nude form is sometimes used in my images as simply a form, as a tool, but it is most often used to explore aspects of fragility and vulnerability within myself. As previously mentioned, I think it is the tenderness and the softness of the human form which I am most drawn to and why I use it within my images.
Do you have a favourite image that you’ve taken? And if so, is there a story behind it?
That is a difficult question! I do have favourites, I feel my work is very personal and quite intimate, and I guess sharing the stories behind them could be hard. There is one image – my hand holding the hand of my love. It was the coldest day but we found where the light was shining, I knew I wanted to create the image as it had been in my head for a while. I just feel the image creates a sense of warmth and peace which completely contrasted with the coldness of that day. I guess that is what I find beautiful about taking photographs, that you’re able to capture a feeling or emotion forever, despite the harsh realities which may exist outside of that frame.
You run your own successful magazine, Hylas – which I’m sure takes up a lot of your time! Do you have any other projects that you’re working on alongside that? What do you have planned for this year?
Well, currently I’m working on the first print edition of Hylas, the edition focuses on the theme of loss, and the various ways that can be interpreted through writing and photography. It will be beautiful and I can’t wait for it to be released. Other than this, I am in the final year of my degree studying History of Art, so this is currently taking up much of my time. When I graduate, I plan to move out of England to experience a new place and find new inspiration. I guess from there I’ll see where life takes me…