Interview by Costanza Francesconi
All images © Emma Hardy
Hello Emma! Can you tell us something about yourself. Where does your interest in photography come from? When did it become a job?
Hello! I was raised in a family of actors, therefore cinema, acting, drama, and the creative arts were the frameworks of my environment. Even as a child I was interested in photographs and making pictures. I was given a little instamatic camera for my eighth birthday, and I loved squeezing life into a rectangle. I also realised that I was fascinated with appearance – I mean how people organised and presented themselves to the world. I found the process of photo-taking compelling, and even as an eight year-old I’d scrutinise my pictures for clues.
Had I captured what I felt at the time?
What was that strange look I hadn’t noticed and what did it mean?
Then, some twenty years later, while photographing my own children, I remembered how I had felt as a child looking at photographs, and how the connection between my images and self-expression became more defined. Photography became a job when I showed some of my family portfolio of personal images to a magazine editor … and a few meetings later I was commissioned by British Vogue.
Did you always have this profession in mind while dreaming about what you wanted to do after your studies?
No, I didn’t. I trained as an actress, following my family tradition, though I found out that I really wasn’t much good at that as I felt very self-conscious in front of a camera or on a stage. I had lots of other jobs after leaving university: I was a house-painter, a metal-worker, I worked in advertising, I was an actress for nearly seven years and I also worked in the food business. It was only when my youngest daughter started going to school aged five, that I really thought about doing something creative and photography seemed to fit within my family life and my main role as a housewife and mother to three children. So I went to college and started a photography degree which I never finished because I broke my leg and couldn’t drive to the college. I carried on practising, set up my own black and white darkroom, and learned from other photographers and printers.
Travel. What is the origin of this itinerant project? Is it an ongoing photo album updated every time you live a wonderful experience somewhere around the world?
Travel is perhaps the part of my work which inspires me most. I have always loved travelling – right from the moment I became an independent teenager. Now, as a photographer, I combine personal travel with my family as rich opportunities for making photographs. I would add that photo commissions from magazines or brands have taken me all over the world, and allowed me to visit places and meet local people in a way that would be much less accessible if I weren’t there for photo-work. And yes, the Travel section of my website is a collection of such images. I intend to add to it, but in all honesty I am a bit behind with this practice. So let me thank you for prompting me to keep it up to date!
Your pictures seem to be a collection of landscapes from a multitude of countries. The quality of the colours and light in each photo suggests work produced during different seasons of the year in tune with the hues and tonesof nature. This seems also to be true of the people in each of the places. Is there a common direction in your whole approach to shooting photos?
Well, I run towards beautiful light at any time of year, in any place in the world. It doesn’t always have to be sunlight; it can be a solemn cool light, a reflection, lamp light, dusty light filtering through a little window, green light under trees in a forest, firelight, snow light, moonlight even. It is some sort of painterly quality that pulls my attention, an emotional quality, something that jogs a memory deep inside me. I also believe I have an ability to ‘tune in’ to wherever I am, so that reflecting the nature of the people I meet, and capturing the tones of the local landscape or cityscape or internal “roomscape” becomes instinctive. I try to look from the inside out, rather than from the outside in. I photograph with my heart engaged, not just my eyes. If my heart is not involved, there is little point in taking the picture.”
Thank you, Emma for sharing what is clearly the very heart of your creative approach. It is borne out in New Work in which nature, people and glimpses of everyday life are captured with delicacy and depth by your camera lens. What can you say about planning – what goes into this stage of your work?
Actually I do not spend a great deal of time planning my pictures. I do when there is a particular commission, and interpreting a certain brief requires a careful planning stage. But that is something different. My personal work is intuitive and responsive – reactive. I respond and react to what is happening in front of me, and my response is always emotional, visceral and authentic. That is one of the many things that I love about photography – we all respond to the world in different ways, and our responses are a combination of previous experiences, and triggered memories which are often sentimental – I mean they are connected to feelings, to sentiment. It is useful to remember that we are animals, we are all reactive beings. I have a beating heart, unending curiosity, and vision tempered by experience which guide me; not a set of intellectual instructions.
You say it all so well – there is much wisdom here and it is exactly what I feel comes across in your photographs. A certain blitheness and balance are the first sensations I get looking at your intriguing works. Have you anything more to say on this?
I would like to share my joy for life! That does not mean that my pictures are always joyful, or about joy; but I hope that most of them impart my sense of curiosity, and my awe at how even the most seemingly insignificant things can be elevated by certain arrangements of colour and light, shadow and depth. I am happy that you sense blitheness, because that is often how I feel. Even if an image has a more solemn mood, there is still a lightness at its core. The lightness of being. I love the unexpected. I love how curious and quirky life can be. And if you sense balance then I am glad too, because that comes from a feeling I get when I see people, moments, interactions falling naturally into their own grace. I do not interfere much with my subjects, or I try not to impose myself. I would rather wait a few seconds, even minutes, for the scene in front of my camera to unfold organically; and I will be there to catch whatever I can that feels meaningful to me. I am very persuaded by the tenderness of people, and by honesty. Someone who trusts me enough to show me who they are, perhaps even to appear vulnerable in some way – that is a most beautiful gift. And I always treat this trust with absolute respect.
And this, Emma, is the gift you give us in your own vulnerability and generous sharing. In one photo there is a man playing with a soap bubble, in another there is a young woman in a swimming pool with a girl on a horse in the background. In another we see clothes lying in the sun and a young girl on the beach admiring the sunset. There are also portraits and holiday sketches. Variety. What stimulates your curiosity the most?
That is a big question!
I am curious about pretty much everything. However, in terms of making photographs I am fascinated by people and how they interact with the world around them. I mean in simple, animal ways. We are strange and complex creatures, so often we work against ourselves; yet I celebrate and adore idiosyncrasies, imaginative behaviour, off-beat moments, threaded through with kindness especially when it is kindness for its own sake and not for show. I love the unexpected, though of course I cannot prepare for it, except by staying open and elastic. I am curious about human habits that are new or strange to me; customs from other countries, cultural eccentricities or behaviours, ceremonies, celebrations – and the smaller and closer to the natural world the better. I am super-attracted to harmony between humans and nature and animals. And this often takes very beautiful, unusual and art-full forms.
This certainly comes across in your work. Is there anything more you could possibly add about your artistic research? If you had to say anything about your style, how would you define it?
My artistic research is often happenstance. I might be at a gallery, and come across a painting or artist who inspires me; and I will take that deep inside my consciousness to the point where I start to see those particular colours or arrangements of form, light and shadow in the world around me. Or I might be inspired by a movie, a book I am reading (that often happens) a piece of music, the way a tree grows, a human gesture, some unexpected colour lit by a low sun, and so on. I would define my style as raw and tender.
Hmm … raw … and tender… That does indeed speak volumes! What willyour next job focus on? Is there a special story you would like to tell the world?
I am waiting for the world to open up again before I make any decisions about work. Otherwise, I have just put order into my twenty years of personal family work – into book form which I hope to get published very soon!
What artists’ work are you really keen on?
Carolyn Drake, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Elinor Carucci, Masahisa Fukase, Saul Leiter, August Sander, Nan Goldin.
Thank you very much Emma you have been most generous and forthcoming! I am sure that you will inspire others as much as you have inspired me!