FILM TALKS #15: Emily Shur | Photographer (Los Angeles CA, USA)

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© Emily Shur, Digging for Oysters, Miyajima. From the series Untitled Japan.

1. You are currently working as a fashion, fine art and editorial photographer shooting on film, instant film and digital cameras for clients all around the world. Looking at your work, it seems as if there is a deep artistic and photographic chiasm between your personal projects and your professional assignments: first with your own work coming out as genuinely film-based in its aesthetics and narrative formats (Polaroids, Wild Wild Life, Untitled Japan) and with your commissioned one more of a mix of film and digital takes, and secondly with a strong documentary focus devoid of any figures in the former, the latter almost always implying a sense and representation of individual identity. Can you talk a little of what different rationales you may have for distinguishing different subjects and purposes of photographing in such a way?
Most of my commissioned work is portrait based while my personal work is almost solely landscape based and/or focusing on spaces and details around us.  So, the subject matter is quite different, but I don’t really see a huge gap in the point of view throughout my work.  I have a similar approach to all of my shoots.  Commissioned work is exactly that – a shoot for which I am getting paid by someone else.  So, the objective is about successfully bridging my photographic style with the needs of the client.  Personal work has fewer constraints and is just about whatever I feel like shooting.  It’s a breather from my “job” as a photographer and allows me to reconnect with photography in a way that’s very pure for me.

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© Emily Shur, Meiji Memorial Hall, Tokyo. From the series Untitled Japan.

2. Despite the assumptions previously made, we can see there are many obvious connections bridging all your work around, with keys notions constantly intersecting: the subjective documentary and the unexpected emergence of dystopian traces, an ambivalent Nature often only to be found in the many allegorical interstices of photographic language, and of course wonderful ontological wanderings poetically questioning how everything came to be as it exists in front of your camera. Can you briefly describe what your film photography practice is like today, i.e. how you work, approach a subject, etc?
I make a living with my commercial and editorial work, so I have to put a good deal of energy into procuring shoots, self-promotion, and the day-to-day responsibilities of running a business.  It’s a lot of work.  I’ve found that I work best on an assignment basis.  So, every so often – when work is slow, when I need a break, or just when the mood strikes – I’ll take some time to shoot personal work.  I approach it pretty much the same way I do commissioned shoots.  I focus on shooting that one thing – be it a trip to Japan, a road trip, etc. – for a certain amount of time.  It could be for one day or one month.  I plan for it, do the necessary research and production, and just shoot that one thing in that time.

In terms of why I take the pictures I take, that’s a little difficult to put into words.  I think for all photographers it comes down to what moves us emotionally.  I love photographing people.  I love the nuances of faces and facial expressions.  I love performance, capturing a moment between the subject and myself, and meeting all different types of people.  Photography is an amazing window into other worlds, and I’ve had so many interesting experiences because of my camera.  However, taking pictures of people can be draining.  There are a lot of opinions, a lot of decisions to be made, and a lot of people to talk to about all of those things.  Over the course of a career in portraiture, I’ve actually become less and less social.  I find that I get the most enjoyment and fulfillment from wandering around quietly with a camera, talking my own pictures.  I enjoy looking at things.  I respond a lot to photography that deals in observation and subtlety.  My personal work is pretty introspective and I can’t say definitively that I only photograph this or that.  Right now I’m moved by one thing, but in the future it could be something else.  What has remained consistently important to me are good light and good composition.  There’s no picture without both of those elements.

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© Emily Shur, Boy, Naoshima. From the series Untitled Japan.

3. For most people, the recurring question on the topic of the film medium is why? Why photographing on film in 2013? What would your answer to them be (besides why not)?
Shooting film helps a photographer learn about their craft.  I only fully understand how a camera works because of shooting film, making mistakes, and learning how to correct them.  It’s very important for a photographer to be able to make decisions about how they want their picture to look.  They should know what to do or what to change in order to achieve the desired look.  Understanding the fundamentals of photography helps build a photographic vocabulary and gives the photographer the tools to actually make their vision a reality.  I think this is doable with digital, but it utilizes different tools.  Digital is more about understanding how to make the best use of technology whereas shooting film forces you to start at the beginning, which I think is important.

4. How do you see the future of film photography? In what ways can it remain a relevant – if only artistic – medium?
It’s hard to say how much film we’ll be shooting in 5, 10, or 50 years.  I held on as long as I could (professionally) until it became clear that it was no longer acceptable to use film on jobs.  Now, I think that has changed a little, and I know photographers who do shoot film on assignment.  Overall, I think that film has had a small resurgence, but it doesn’t seem to be large enough to sustain the companies producing film.  I think as long as film is available, there will be photographers shooting it.  I still shoot medium and large format film regularly.  It’s a much more thoughtful process than shooting digital.  I consider the photograph more and take more time composing, etc.  Photography, like many other art forms, is a lot about one’s process.  Deciding what medium one uses is a huge part of the process, so film will always be relevant as long as there are photographers who feel passionately enough about that aspect of their process.

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© Emily Shur, Untitled #8. From the series Nature Calls.

5. FOTOFILMIC is dedicated to promoting the new generations of photographers attached to film today: what essential advice or recommendation would you have for them?
Take a lot of pictures.  Experiment.  Find your own point of view.  Stay awesome.

6. What have you been up to recently? Any recent achievements, projects, news?I’ve been continuing my series in Japan.  Shooting there never gets old to me.  I recently wrapped up a project here in the US (Nature Calls) that I’ve been working on for a few years so I’m excited to do something with that.  I’ve had some fun commercial projects this year, which I’m grateful for.  All in all, just trying to stay busy and make work that I’m proud of and excited about.

7. If anything was possible, what would be your next ultimate project photography-wise (or else)?
I’d love to travel the world for a year with my husband and our dog (and take pictures)!

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© Emily Shur, Untitled #4. From the series Nature Calls.

 

Emily Shur’s website

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FotoFilmic’s new FILM TALKS series is all about sharing experienced views, artistic endeavors, industry outlooks and how to reshape the contemporary practices at the center of the film photography medium today. FILM TALKS invite advanced artists, independent publishers, photo editors and art dealers, as well as the broad creative crowd of visual arts to engage in insightful dialogues with FotoFilmic about film photography in all aspects.