Updated: Feb 19
"I'm excited by photography’s material nature, as well as memory and the romantic idea of nostalgia, and this project was essentially about combining those two elements. It’s very personal and I think that’s why I love it so much – it’s very precious to me."
Words: Rachel Cameron-Potter and Emma Birdsall
Photography: Emma Birdsall
EMMA BIRDSALL IS A LONDON-BASED PHOTOGRAPHER AND OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPHER FOR UK BOYBAND 'BEARS IN TREES.'
Hi Emma! First of all, how are you doing? How are you finding Lockdown 3.0?
Hi! I am doing good thank you! I am finding it okay, y’know it is what it is.
Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you get into photography?
I’ve always been creative. I found it came naturally to me when I was growing up and I maintained that passion for creativity while studying, choosing to do Fine Art and Fashion at A-Level, where I did a lot of oil painting.
I still absolutely adore oil painting, but I really got into photography when I went to university. I started out doing a Foundation Diploma before pursuing a digital media pathway, where I wound up taking pictures for a magazine using Polaroids. I always knew I was a visual person and have enjoyed making compositions, expressing emotion in a visual way. Photography felt a lot like an extension from painting in that respect, which ultimately led me to study it for my degree.
There are two sides to your photography: one that captures subjects in natural settings, the other picturing people in private spaces. Can you tell us more about these pieces?
That is a really good observation! However, I feel like this contrast is mainly a result of lockdown, particularly as a lot of these pictures were shot between February and April last year, where I spent a lot of time documenting my private spaces.
I am really drawn to shooting within natural settings and feel most at home there. I enjoy playing about with that environment, especially the mood and seeing the effect that natural light has on an image. Also, lockdown meant that the outdoors was one of the only spaces I could continue working!
Alongside the still life photos, you’re also a band photographer (with one of your regular subjects being a favourite band of mine, ‘Bears in Trees’ – tell them I said hi!). How do you find that compares to photography where you have more control?
I would say that I prefer shooting the unpredictable, and I love to engage with the band when they are doing their thing. I recently shot one of their live sessions and it felt really energetic and very in the moment. Capturing that energy has produced some of my favourite works to date, and I hope to carry on doing this when live music makes a comeback after COVID as it is a lot of fun.
Nonetheless, I do find enjoyment in those quieter moments with subjects when I return to still life. I will tell Bears in Trees you say hi!
What has been your favourite project to date?
I think my Polaroid graduate collection, which is still ongoing, is my favourite. I’ve loved watching it grow from the first one up to now – I think I have 62 photos in total – and I’m excited to see it grow even more throughout my lifetime. I'm excited by photography’s material nature, as well as memory and the romantic idea of nostalgia, and this project was essentially about combining those two elements. It’s very personal and I think that’s why I love it so much – it’s very precious to me.
Can you share any exciting projects that you have in the pipeline with us?
At the moment I don’t really have anything in action, but I’ve been doing a lot of planning. I really want to carry on with some more portraits using medium format (120mm film) which is what I used for the Bears In Trees portraits. This was my first ever time shooting on 120mm and I loved it, so really want to connect with some more people and get into portraiture more.
Final question – what do you find the most rewarding about your work?
The most rewarding part of my work is that I can do something that I love and really put myself into it. I also enjoy the freedom and unpredictable elements of it and engaging and talking with people when I take their picture.