INTERVIEW WITH EMILY SHUR
BY RACHEL WOLFE
1. Finding creative flow in collaboration and consistency has led Emily Shur down some pretty interesting paths. Her flexibility between digital and film mediums might not have come easily, but her ability to communicate nonverbally and find a home in a foreign land has lent itself to building trust in new relationships and an impressive body of photographic works. Here, Shur speaks to the necessity in allowing for good days, bad days and everything in between.
Your photographs have a fluid, conversational appeal to them. In particular, your portrait work highlights this quality. How much does the final image come from you or from the person you’re photographing?
«It’s very much a collaboration. As a portrait photographer, you really need to be able to talk to all different types of people and create a bond where there is none. Sometimes that’s easy, and sometimes it’s not. The most successful images come out of shoots where that bond, trust, and interaction flowed easily. I depend on the subject quite a bit to bring something to the table, and if it becomes apparent that they won’t be doing that I resort to just making sure they look good».
2. The range of your portfolio, from celebrity, to commercial and your personal work is quite astounding. As a professional and an artist, do you treat each type as a separate entity or does the intention originate from relatively the same place? And what kind of advice would you have told yourself before you were more established?
«The intention, which is making interesting pictures that I’m proud of, is always consistent. The method and approach are a little different between my personal and commercial work, but everything comes from the same brain and point of view. In terms of advice I would give to a younger me, it would probably be not to get too discouraged or too cocky at any one point in my career. I have had good years and bad years, good shoots and bad ones. I’ve booked jobs and won awards and then lost jobs and received absolutely no recognition at other times. Being a photographer (for me) is a practice and a journey. When I was younger, I just wanted to win the race, but now I’m a little more understanding about my role».
3. From a technical standpoint, there is a seamless level of cohesion in both your commercial and personal works. Can you explain your approach and execution of each including and similarities or dissimilarities? Does film play any role in your work, or have you fully embraced the digital medium?
«Composition and framing are very important to me in all of my work. With my personal work, I still shoot film – either medium or large format – and the majority of my process is wandering around on foot or by car. This work is as much about the process of shooting as it is about the images. It’s cathartic for me to take trips and make time specifically for shooting my personal work. It’s very quiet and introspective which brings me back to the fundamentals of what I love about photography. My personal work also is rooted in the technical fundamentals of photography, light and composition, which is good exercise for my mind. In terms of my commercial work, I now pretty much exclusively shoot digital. It took me a very long time to make the full transition and feel as though I was taking “my pictures” without shooting film. Some people are of the opinion that a camera is a camera, but for me it was as if I was being forced to learn how to play a completely new instrument. It was very difficult to adjust to the process of shooting digital, but after a few years I’m finally comfortable with it. With my portrait work, I also am very concerned about the technical fundamentals, but there is an added element of the subject’s personality. So, a portrait then becomes a combination of composition, light, and human interaction instead of my interaction with a place alone».
4. Does your commercial or personal work influence one more than the other? For example, your personal project Instant Gratification can be seen as a melding of worlds.
«Neither really takes precedence in terms of influence. I treat every shoot individually and try hard to focus on what I’m doing at that moment and not get distracted. You are totally right that the Polaroid project, Instant Gratification, is a melding of the two worlds. Those Polaroids are mostly from commercial and portrait shoots with a few exceptions. My favorite image from a shoot would sometimes be the test Polaroid so I started scanning them and grouping them together».
5. The reoccurring relationship between East and West appears in your work, perhaps more directly in your personal projects. Images from Japan came up on your blog earlier this year. Are these photographs related to your personal project, Shizenkan? What brings you literally or introspectively to the East, and how has that evolved over time?
«Yes, those images are part of what is currently an untitled project, which I’ve been working on for about seven years. I’ve been traveling to Japan a couple times a year since my first trip in 2004 specifically to photograph. From my very first visit, I felt oddly at home there. I relate visually and personally to Japanese life. Photographing there is as much about being there as it is about the pictures I come away with. When I go there to shoot, it’s a very quiet time for me. I spend days wandering, usually silently, just observing and seeing what I come across. This project is very much about the experience for me, and that’s why it has continued to interest me over time. There is no beginning, middle, and end. I will continue this work as long as I can or as long as it remains fulfilling to me».
6. As an experienced and recognized photographer, can you explain your choice to self-publish and what the experience was like for you?
«I am a huge photo book nerd so I have been sequencing my pictures and editing them in book form for a while. When Blurb came along it was such an easy and accessible way to play around with book design. I never intended for my Blurb books to replace a book that might be published by an actual publisher. That is still very much a goal of mine. However, I think self-publishing is a great way to get a book out there if you don’t want to wait around for someone to publish it for you. I suppose there are pros and cons to both scenarios».
7. How do you feel self-publishing in the transformative digital age and what that does for you personally, professionally and how the role of the artist and the photographer, commercial or traditional, is shifting? And, what role would you say transparency plays in your expression?
«As of now I only have one public book on Blurb. I’ve removed the books I’ve made of my Japan work because I do intend for that project to be published when completed, whenever that may be. I don’t really want what I think are incomplete edits of that project floating around. I’m fine putting work-in-progress images on my blog because there are lots of images I take that will never end up anywhere but there. At least this way they can be seen somehow.
I think the role of the photographer or artist today has shifted a bit. You can find out so much about people online, and things in general seem to be way more up close and personal than when I started out. Everyone wants to see behind the scenes, read the story behind the shoot, and our personalities have become more front and center. I think this works well for some people and not so well for others who enjoyed their privacy way back when. Most photographers want notoriety, and it seems easier than ever to achieve that in some way, shape, or form today. The true test is making solid images».
8. Finally, what are your primary goals or desires for accomplishment in your work as a photographer?
«In the most basic terms, I’d like to be one of the greats. That would be my ultimate desire».
TRANSLATIONS #6: 'TRUE TO FORM'
BY RACHEL WOLFE
Distinguishing the commonplace from the regulatory
is all but easy -
Still uncommon is the nature to nurture
the desire to please -
Decorated abstractions as basis for evidence
an existence for amusement -
Lets us refrain for making any sort of pattern
gone from treaties -
These climates were devised to control
a greener mound to call home -
Stretch a toe out long across deserving textures
a reach for understanding
Something true to form.
© All copyright remains with photographers
Translations is a new editorial curated by Steve Bisson and written by Rachel Wolfe that focuses on the dialogue of image and text as individual parts relating to the totality of art and life.
Rachel Wolfe - ESP.LA.
Existence, or the place for the self within another place, has always captivated me. The reality of our world is the manifestation of duality, life or death, creation or destruction, but in my work I explore each moment in itself as an entire world and existence unfolding and ending at the same time. My presence in L.A. captures a world that existed because I was there, and is able to exist within the interplay of texts and images as a place within a place.
The vague, in-between of describing intuition, experiencing multiple possibilities of past and future in the present is a challenging one. In the pursuit of understanding and spiritual actualization, I’ve always been drawn towards the sensibilities and practices of Eastern and Ancient cultures. The spiritual aspects and communal relationship with nature and the nature of life offers eloquence to the true and pure essence of all existence.
In this way I’m attempting to capture my intuitions, the significant shifts occurring within me due to the residence of that which I found residing within the landscapes of Los Angeles. What is found here, tangibly before you in and transcended in each moment are both there and here, and are of the same dimension
All images © Rachel Wolfe