Questions and answers with Liz Ham.

{September 2020}

Home: Sydney, Australia.
Title: Teddy Girls.

Where was the final image from this photoshoot featured?

Oyster Magazine, Feb Mar 2010. The image of Cassie and Georgia in boys underwear and holding the chickens also featured on the cover of Art Monthly in August 2011.

Give us a bit of background on the photoshoot concept.

I had discovered some old photographs that British Film Director, Ken Russell, had taken of Teddy Girls (or ‘Judies') posing around old bombed out buildings in London around the mid 1950’s. In 2010, The Global Financial Crisis was taking hold, and I had also noticed a return to old fashioned pastimes like knitting, mending, gardening, having chooks, and up-cycling, etc. It felt like a good time to make a fashion series that commented on these revived ‘make do and mend’ practices, during a major recession, while also referencing the trailblazing style of these post war girls adopting the Teddy Boy aesthetic.

Why did you/your client choose the final image compared to the outtakes?

Editing is always so hard. This was a pretty epic shoot that occurred over two days with 5-6 models each day, so there were a lot of images. It was a personal submission that I presented to the magazine, so essentially the final edit decisions would have been made by myself and my long-term collaborator stylist, Jolyon Mason. We would have chosen the final hero images based on what we felt worked as a story, and would best suit the pages of this magazine.

Any cheeky moments during this photoshoot that you'd be willing to share?

It’s not a cheeky story, but anecdotal, and not something you see every day! I had sourced the two chickens via an ad on Gumtree and the guy who hired them out brought his two daughters along to the shoot. We were all transfixed when he let his daughter show us how to hypnotise a chicken!

Have you ever experienced a fanboy/girl moment?

Where I am the fan girl? SURE! I had a commission to photograph, Wendy James of Transvision Vamp, about 10 years ago. She was my idol when I was around 13 years old and I had an epic scrap book filled to the brim with every article and magazine tear sheet I could find. After playing cool and completing the shoot, I just had to let Wendy know what a fan girl I was. I brought out the scrap book and she was pretty blown away! She signed the last page for me and the shoot we did together has now been stuck in there.

Were you encouraged or discouraged to become a photographer?

Very encouraged. Both my parents are fine artists and all my grandparents painted as well. It was always gonna be! I shot my first roll aged 4 where I photographed my ‘Sarah Bear’ in different locations in my backyard, and also worked on a series of very banal abstract lo-fi images of towels hanging on the hills hoist LOL!

Shed some light on how you got involved in photography.

I was always very interested in art, and surrounded by it but, frustratingly, I didn't feel like painting or drawing were really my thing. I took up a photography elective in high school when I was about 14 years old and it was love at first sight. I started entering competitions and winning a few prizes. I just loved everything about photography – the history, the chemistry, the meditative time in the darkroom, and the ability to imagine something and make it happen.

Film or digital?

Both! I started out working with film and so that will always be my happy place. Film is the medium I reserve for more personal work and instances where the different pace is warranted. Digital is just so fast, accessible and has its own unique qualities as well. It is certainly more commercially viable.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Music, films, and art, primarily. I don't look at many fashion magazines anymore, but mostly love to track popular culture and new subcultural trends, etc.

How would you describe your photographic style?

Narrative, humourous, humane, timeless.

Describe the photoshoot that defined you as an established photographer.

Well, it is probably a much earlier precedent to this Teddy Girls shoot. It would be my first submission published, again, by Oyster magazine. It was called ‘Gleaming’ and was inspired by skate culture. It was all black and white, so it felt like my earlier documentary work was fusing with my interest in fashion, and thus my style was kind of born from that shoot.

What's it like being on set with you?

I would hope to say that it’s fun and not too stressful! I like to have everything super organised and mapped out, with multiple models and locations. It needs to be that way. I sometimes storyboard each and every shot I have in mind but working this way means that when unexpected things pop up you can actually go with the flow, and embrace the unexpected. Generally, there will always be an anomaly that appears and that’s the most exciting part! Like discovering an immaculate hearse and approaching the owner and suddenly grabbing the models and shooting with that as a prop. A cute pair of random greyhounds walking by get cast in a shot, that sort of thing.

Do you prefer photographing with a big or small team on set?

Both. The more people on set the more you need to traffic manage and organise everyone but, from that dynamic, an energy can really develop. It really depends on the shoot, though. There are certainly times where a very intimate set is warranted.

Describe your ideal photoshoot with your dream subject.

OMG this is so hard! Gosh...well it would probably be working with someone like Patti Smith, really - that would be totally inspiring and yet terrifying at the same time!

Are you trigger-happy or selective with your shots?

Again, it really depends on what I am shooting. Generally, for a quiet sort of image that I already have in mind I would shoot no more than 15-25 frames. This may actually stem from my film background where 1-2 rolls of medium format film per shot was often the norm. For images that are more documentary style, I would shoot a lot more, as it’s often the in-between moments you need to catch.

What makes a photograph special, in your opinion?

It’s often the imperfections that can make an image really special. I hate photographs that are too polished, or perfect.

Express what photography means to you.

Photography is my job but it’s also my passion, and my art. I should probably get another hobby!

Do you photograph full-time? If not, what helps to pay the bills?

I balance working as a freelance photographer with teaching photography at University, and I’m also undertaking a Masters by Research right now.

What cameras are you packing?

Canon 5D’s, and a variety of film cameras - my old Nikon 35mm’s, Pentax K1000’s, a Fuji GA645, a Fuji 6x9 (The Texan Leica) and my trusted Razzle camera - a custom converted large format rangefinder.

How would you, or others, describe your style of photography?

Documentary style fashion and portraiture.

What were some of the major factors that influenced you to reach your photographic style?

My love of the documentary genre, and photographic artists like Sally Mann, Carol Jerrems, Duane Michals, Diane Arbus and Nan Goldin.

What would you like to be known for in the creative industry?

I would hope that people recognise me for fusing these genres together and producing images that entertain, inspire questions, and provide an insight into subcultures or cultural history.

Instagram and photography...need we say more? Give us your two cents.

I was a very early uptaker of Instagram and was part of its community when there were only around 5000 users, internationally. it was a really unique and inspiring place! I hardly even use it anymore, but I see its merits for marketing and research.

Do you have any suggestions to budding photographers out there?

Shoot what you know, or what intrigues you. Be kind. Don't be a dickhead. Be aware of your privilege. Feed your crew!

We obviously believe this outtakes concept is brilliant, but why do you think it's important for outtake photographs to be promoted in the industry?

It’s the blooper reel, the behind the scenes stuff that we always love! Like I said, the imperfections are sometimes the exact elements that make a photograph really amazing. It’s also fantastic insight to see the ‘how’ that goes behind a photograph.

Anything you're working towards with your next move in photography?

Revisiting my archives and specifically the Documentary work I made in the 1990’s in order to see what was actually left out then – my own personal outtake editions!

Share a quote you live by.

“Unless you photograph what you love, you are not going to make good art” - Sally Mann


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