Congratulations on your success in this year's Sony World Photography Awards. Tell us more about your winning image.
My image was taken with natural light during a cold September afternoon. Myself and makeup artist Suzanne Dolan had been working together on a conceptual painted portrait series inspired by beauty within nature, but instead of taking my subject into nature, I decided to take nature to the model. The headpiece was handcrafted by Suzanne as a shoulder piece but after some trial and error we discovered that the razor clam armour looked more interesting as a crown. We placed scavenged green sea rope found by the shore behind the razor clams to create an earthy contrast to the greys and golds within the portrait. While creating a story about taking nature out of its habitat and placing it into a "studio" set up we used a dark grey textured backdrop to tie the harsh elements together. A sweet smile across our model, Janice Snowden's face to returns the viewer back to a sense of humanity. The simplest lighting, posing and props is what I like to reference most in my work, in hopes that the viewer may lock onto my subject’s gaze, as if in a trance like state.
What is your background? How did you get into photography?
I was always encouraged to create. For as long as I can remember my mother and I would paint together, draw together, make together. Studying in sculpture and paint in her youth, my mother seemed to notice a flair of creativity in me also. Being from a family of writers, musicians and artists, it wasn't difficult for me to find my voice, and express my feelings creatively. As I transitioned from childhood to adolescent, my art became even more important at this sensitive time. It was difficult for me to know that I would soon have to leave home and find my place in the world, and I always know finding my place as an artist would be even more challenging for me.
At the age of 15 my uncle, James, gifted me with my first SLR camera and it opened a whole new world of endless possibilities. I’ve always been interested in illustrations and creating 3D art. But I was always pushed by my art teacher in secondary school, Tipperary, to enter into photographic competitions, and when I started my degree in Art and Design in 2011, I began to find my voice and an understanding of what I can do, not only with a pencil, but with my camera. I taught myself photoshop, not because I needed to, but because I wanted to. I wanted to know how to make an other-worldly picture and it wasn't long before my work became recognisable for its ethereal label. With subtle changes digitally, I was able to make a normal person look "not normal." After more experimentation, with lighting that was supplied by my college, and working with new people, more people, bigger teams on location, I became fascinated with creating a "fashion" portrait, created completely through the "fine art" mind. I don't see myself as completely fashion orientated, or completely fine art. I see my photography as a tether between the two. And as I continue to grow as a person and a photographer I'm finding my style easier to recognise within myself.
Do you have a photographic philosophy?
Photography can be taken literally and not so literally. Literally speaking, photography is a document, now used more often to state, "I am here," "I exist," "Be apart of my life," "know who I am." And if you don't know how to take a picture, it's considered unusual. Not so literally speaking, photography is a magical box, which captures light and you can do whatever you please with your captured light.
What does photography mean to you?
Photography to me is a way of seeing things differently. It's my escape rope when I need a break from the anxieties of today’s fast moving, ever changing culture. When I hold my camera to my face and look through the glass to see my subject gazing back at me, the world around me goes silent, and from the moment I start my set of images, to the moment I've finished editing them, I feel free. I've created something. I've grown as an artist. And that is my accomplishment.
Can you tell us about a current or future photographic project you have planned?
At the moment I'm taking a break from picture taking for a month or two, as I'm building props and making costumes for some shoots I'm planning over the summer. I've started a series "Beauties in Nature" and so far it's become quite successful, with some more tweaking and adjusting, I'll be creating even more dramatic shots to add to the sequence.