“Photography is this fascinating journey from one physical state to another (or not, in the form of digital pixel photographs) but it creates a secondary ‘life’. In my pictures, I think a part of me wants to do this too, create this new image ‘life’. I want to transmit a feeling of nostalgia and narratives and I want the viewer to connect with the photographs directly.”
Pamela Jane Wheeler
Pamela Jane Wheeler (born in 1991) is a contemporary photographer currently based in South East London (UK). She studied at “University for the Creative Arts”, Rochester.
Pamela Jane is a fine art and portrait photographer, compelled by the analogue and handmade aspect of traditional photography. Working with both analogue and digital photographic techniques, she aims to create and capture a narrative within the photograph – embedding the photograph with essence and spirit. Based in London, UK, and recently having Graduated from UCA Rochester, Kent with a BA (Hons) Degree in Contemporary Photographic Practice, Pamela Jane is inspired by the vintage, the human form, and the emotion that can be enchanted within a photographic print.
Interview with Pamela Jane Wheeler
Pamela, what was your most memorable moment shooting pictures?
The most recent shoot I did, at Hyde Park corner in London – we were shooting in a small team, and a middle-aged man came up to the Makeup artist, asking if it was an important shoot. He thought the model was a celebrity!
Why did you become a photographer?
Primarily I think it was another way of expressing my active imagination for creation. I was constantly making stuff as a child, and still am! Photography was another outlet that I took to quickly – and of course, the minute I made my first black and white print in the red dim of the darkroom, I was completely hooked. To this day, the feeling of creating an idea or vision through the processes into a print is something I cannot fully describe! And I’m sure a lot of photographers would say the same thing. They sort of become a physical extension of myself.
What does photography mean to you and what do you want to say with your pictures?
Photography is alchemy and magic – it is this fascinating journey from one physical state to another (or not, in the form of digital pixel photographs) but it creates a secondary ‘life’. In my pictures, I think a part of me wants to do this too, create this new image ‘life’. I want to transmit a feeling of nostalgia and narratives and I want the viewer to connect with the photographs directly. I want the viewer to, ideally, consciously realise their own relationship with the photograph in front of them. Begin to think about what a photograph means to a human figure, how details can be embalmed and kept safe within the print, and how they relate to that. But then sometimes I find myself just thinking, ‘Lets make something pretty!’
Which photographer has inspired you most?
Ooo, it’s a tricky thing to name just one! In terms of my passion for the analogue, and picture-taking in general … I think it’s got to be those great, wonderful ancestors of ours, William Fox Talbot, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, Louis Daguerre – and of course those alchemists that came before them that discovered and studied the properties of light and chemicals. It is to them we owe the ability to hold ourselves in print. And I think this is the depth of my inspiration – the notion of a sort of immortality within a photograph. And those that began the phenomenon had so much knowledge and technique and determination that I find hard to imagine sometimes.
What’s your favorite photography quote?
The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here; the duration of the transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being, as Sontag says, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
How would you describe your photographic language and creative process?
My voice is romantic, but strong. Full of emotion … and poetic, I like to think. A viewer will look at one of my series that re-work vintage photographs, and feel a connection with the person within it – begin to start their own conversation with the individual that will build their relationship to the print. And this is in a nutshell my working process in terms of those series. I begin with the original and connect with it myself before re-creating the original photographic trace into a new form, retaining its beauty and essence but bringing it into the present. I do this by the combination of traditional and digital methods, and through aesthetic, of course. And in my own portraiture work, I try to do the same – retain the same essence and beauty of a person in the photograph.
What’s important in order to develop an own photographic voice?
Experimentation, definitely. But then equally knowing when to stop that, and following your gut, your instinct, so that you begin to create your own style. Doing something well, and refining your method of doing it, so that it becomes yours. And of course, exposing yourself to imagery. Whether or not that is photographic is irrelevant sometimes, just getting your eyes and imagination to work together is good practice. And not to sound too harsh, but knowing what you’re not good at. Get some honest, blunt opinions on all of your work because sometimes it’s the thing that you may think isn’t as interesting that people find the most intriguing and beautiful.
What do you consider to be the axis of your work – technically and conceptually?
Technically – The aesthetics and feel of film. The grain, the texture, the depth and richness of colours. The connection through film that I feel can get lost in digital photography sometimes. When shooting digitally, this is what I am consciously (or not!) aiming for in terms of editing and post-production.
Conceptually – Finding a story and trying to make that personal. To me, to the viewer, to the individual within the image.
What qualities and characteristics does a good photographer need?
Enthusiasm, positivity and confidence in their own work. And just to be having fun with it all. But determination is key, especially in this climate where there are so many photographers. Determination that your own work can speak for itself, and not to be shy to keep putting it out there in the big wide world.
What does a photo need to be a great photo in your eyes? Especially keeping in mind the over abundance of photographic imagery in today’s society.
A great photo … I think it has to be its own sort of original. Or, well, as original as it can be right now. There is an incomprehensible about of imagery out there every day, and what a great photograph does is draw inspiration and knowledge from everything that has gone before, but in its own way. Applying it in its own form, appropriating but not copying. And then, of course, it is all subjective. What is a great photo to me, certainly won’t be for everyone. Or maybe it is? Maybe that’s what makes a great photo?!
Where do you draw inspiration from for your photographic projects?
Lately, it’s been the whole idea of the medium itself. This last year in university I have become particularly interested in found photographs, and the notion of a photograph as a momento-mori and form of mummification of the subject within. The photographs themselves are the initial inspiration for the edit and re-print.
Other photographers constantly inspire me, some really don’t, and some make me want to go out there and do better work than them. I find inspiration in the thought of a shoot, in the idea for a backdrop, in the colour of the sky, the moments of life that make you want to stop and savour. And I want to go back and re-create it. Sometimes it’s just purely in the act of knowing I am going to pick up the camera and meet someone and shoot them.
What kind of photography equipment and photographic supplies do you use?
Well for my re-worked series I use flatbed scanners to scan the original photograph/negative/postcard and then digitally manipulate them, creating inkjet paper negatives which I then print in the colour, or black and white darkroom. I love to print on Peal or Matte finish paper, as I love the texture.
When I shoot film I use my Dad’s old Pentax ME 35mm SLR, that he owned when he was in his teens. It’s my most reliable! Then I also own a few old snapshot 35mm cameras that I picked up in charity shops and boot sales, and a gorgeous Lubitel twin lens medium format camera that gives a wonderful vignette that I use on occasion. But now I’ve finished with university I won’t be shooting or printing as much film, so I’ll return to using my Nikon D40! It’s quite an old model now, and low in spec in terms of what you can get these days! But it gives beautiful grain and also great detail when you need it, and I don’t find it’s spec insufficient at all for my work. In fact I shot a whole wedding last summer using that baby.
What’s your favorite website about photography?
Okay, well if I have to pick one, I’m going to go with Ellen Roger’s page: www.ellenrogers.co.uk. I don’t go on it very often, but when I do it’s such a treat. And never fails to make me want to pick up a paintbrush!
What photography book would you recommend?
Well I think every photographer should read Susan Sontag “On Photography”. I was given that book a few years ago when I was doing A level Photography, and at the time I read it and sort of understood some of it, failing to understand the majority of it! But I think that before one can gain a proper connection with photography, one needs at least a basic foundation of the theoretical notions and issues surrounding it. The theory and ideas by others help you to define your relationship to the craft, and by finding out what it means to you, I think you will find a step forward in your own work. Even if it takes time before the text becomes clear and you understand it fully, that book has so many views on so many different sides of photography. It is so relevant, and I think Susan Sontag is one of my biggest idols. She has so many amazing thoughts!
Which advice would you give someone who wants to become a (professional) photographer?
I have only just finished university this summer myself, so have yet to become a fully fledged professional freelancer. The advice I’ve been given is to stay confident in yourself and your own work. Also to get as much experience as you can, and this is relevant in many fields now. But equally, value your work – don’t spend too long working for free or helping out unpaid, as your time and your photography is so worth payment. And keep shooting, keep working on something to keep your creative juices flowing.