Anna McNay: What are the key concerns or themes running through your practice?
Emli Bendixen: As a photographer, my interest is in finding beauty in the everyday. I photograph other people’s craft and lives with respect and warmth.
AMc: How much a part of your work does self-portraiture form?
EB: None. In fact, the thought of a self-portrait goes against what I’m interested in, which is other people – a curiosity of other lives lived. This exhibition has given me a chance to investigate myself as a subject/object of my own eye and lens.
AMc: As a woman looking at a woman (herself – but perhaps also other women, if you also make portraits of others), how aware are you of the conventions and load of the male gaze? To what extent do you work with or subvert these?
EB: I’m fortunate to work with and amongst people of all genders and I see it as part of my job to find strength and attractiveness in all subjects. It’s my duty to convey their beauty in the way I find to be most true to both them and myself. This applies to subjects of all genders – when I’m photographing, I see it as part of my role to love whomever is in front of the lens. Truthfully, I fall a little bit in love with everyone I photograph – It makes my job a lot easier.
AMc: How – if at all – does your sexuality influence or shape your work, especially your self-portraits?
EB: I don’t make self-portraits – I’m even shy to make selfies on my phone. It’s something I should work on perhaps, seeing myself in the way I see others. That is, with wonder and admiration and a willingness to find that which makes them special.
AMc: As a woman who likes women, looking at women, do you feel your gaze is different from the gaze of a heterosexual woman artist? In what way?
EB: I do not. When I started my practice I still considered myself to be heterosexual and my gaze then as now was one of respect and wanting to know more. I applied this to all genders. As a woman who doesn’t look overtly lesbian, I honestly enjoy interacting with all people that I photograph. This is part of my job rather than my personality. Since becoming a mother, my gaze has adapted, expanded, finding attractiveness, affinity with other parents and our shared situation. A new focus on shared understanding of love of our children rather than self-love or sexualised love. Having a child has changed my gaze of the world in general. It has extended the way I view my partner from sexual to one of deep admiration and beyond for motherhood, parenthood.
AMc: Can you say something about the work you are submitting for this exhibition? How are you seeking to portray yourself? What are the key aspects you’re drawing forth? Physical, psychological, sociological…?
EB: Here, I portray myself privately, intimately but also slightly hidden (behind my mother role). My gaze meets the viewer’s without fear but with a sense of guardedness and protectiveness over my child. Although my partner isn’t visible in the photograph, she is there, behind the lens and the portrait becomes a family portrait, a queer family portrait of a mixed-race family. The image however can be viewed without any of this being known. That is how I can meet the gaze of the viewer. They think they know what they’re seeing but only part of the portrait is visible, same as neither mine nor baby Robin’s faces are fully visible. I suppose then I’m simply trying to portray that there is more than meets the eye. I may pass for heterosexual, the scene in the image may pass for heteronormative even – mother and child – but outside the frame is the context which includes our queerness.
AMc: Do you seek to portray yourself as object, subject, or both? How does this dynamic come through in your work?
EB: In this photograph – as an object, a vehicle perhaps to convey love for our baby, Robin. The portrait was directed and edited by me but taken by my partner, Julie Bendixen.
AMc: Do you work in media other than photography? If so, how does the gaze offered by the camera differ from the viewpoint obtained through other media? How does the experience as artist differ? Does it make the act of looking easier or more difficult? If you don’t work with other media, what is it about the gaze of the camera that attracts you to working with photography?
EB: I illustrate and write – both these outlets are much darker and less focused on a subject, they’re abstract and often fantastical. My photography on the other hand aims to be true, flattering perhaps but true. Loving but honest. I can’t say if it makes it easier or harder – I see no conflict as the subjects I explore are so different. If anything I would say my drawings and writing dig deep while my photograph holds to the light.
AMc: What one work of art, depicting a woman as object – or subject, have you been most influenced/impressed by and what is it about this work that captures you?
EB: I think the first photograph that really moved me was Nan Goldin’s Nan one month after being battered (1984). The sheer brutality and the way Goldin holds the viewer’s gaze was stunning and defiant but also accepting.