Happy the day-after-Superbowl Monday, Little Bellows fans! Riding the wave of last night's incredible game and AH-MAZING half time show....(omg! Missy E brought da house dowwwwwn!), I am super excited to bring you all this very special interview with one of my favorite photographers, Amanda O'Donoughue. I first noticed Amanda's work when I was browsing through Little Bellows' weekly image submission on our Facebook wall for one of the film favorites. I found myself constantly being pulled into her emotionally riveting and thought provoking world through her lens. If you ask me to use one word to describe her work, the word is "Truth". When I look at Amanda's work, I feel like I can see into her soul, her heart, her very being!
Well, that's enough about what I think... Let's get to know Amanda a little more, shall we?
Joyce: So first, tell us how you started your photography journey. How did you get into photography? What do you love about being a photographer?
Amanda: Hi Joyce, thank you so much for this invitation to share with you.
I started taking photos back in high school, maybe around 14? that was almost 20 years ago (go ahead and do the math). And, yes, I started on film! Although my family thought I was to be a photographer from an early age, I wanted to go to college instead, psh... I graduated college with a degree in Anthropology. During my schooling, I worked as an archaeologist for a short time. After school, I had the opportunity to work with great apes at a local zoo, first as a volunteer and then as a full-time keeper. I did that for three years and that is when I picked up the camera again. This time it was a digital point and shoot, but man did working with those animals inspire me! Many years later it still inspires me. After a big move back to Florida, I kept up the momentum with photography. Opening a business just two short years ago when my son was around a year old. I wear many hats as a conservationist, photographer, animal activist, volunteer, archaeologist, and mother and am passionate about each one. I love how photography can tell stories that no one hears but you. Whether it's conservation work, or conceptual work, photography works so well getting a point across.
J: I understand you shoot both digital and film. In your opinion, what are some of the things you love about each? And since this is a "film photographer" interview, I must ask this: what is it about film that makes you love it so?
A: Yes, I use both formats. Mostly because I don't have the money to use film exclusively! Last year I was a prolific shooter. There is no way my small family could sustain that addiction. I love how my digital handles low light, that is probably my favorite thing about it. Film, it's a whole other animal. The grain and softness really pull me in. The acceptance of imperfections that would render a digital example a reject make the film image a champion, in my opinion. Film also handles full sun like a boss.
J: I was "researching" for this interview, and I must say this...you are one amazing photographer! I love how you captured such genuine emotion in your photograph and between your subject. I am particularly drawn to your "birth" and "Mother's Love" photographs. I can see your heart in every single image. Tell me about them!
A: It's funny that you're drawn to those galleries. I think, but maybe I'm wrong, that most people know me for my personal work with my son. I do love working with women. I work part time, and am mostly hired for birth and portraiture so those two portfolios are strong. It is work that speaks to me, as a stay at home mother to my one young son, and as someone who advocates for women's issues surrounding birth and postpartum care.
I want to give mothers their own version of the love that I have for my son. Photographic evidence that it all once existed. My mother had our portraits taken when I was about a year old. She has had the set of three printed and hanging since I can remember. They are some of my favorite photos. It was of the time it was just her and I, before my sister was born. Simple, black and white casual studio work. They're treasures to me. I want to give women that.
J: I am welling up with tears reading about your project, Partum Me. As a mother, I experienced postpartum depression first hand. Although mine was a mild case but I know PPD is real. It's not some made up stories. I love your approach in helping women who are suffering and how you use your talent to help those who are in need. Can you tell me more about this project?
A: It makes me sob too. I'm sorry you had to experience that kind of pain, and thank you for sharing that. This project grew organically from the portrait work I do with women and children. Many friends were growing their families, having their second and third babies. There was a lot of depression within my circles. It was alarming. It is still happening right now, people I know are suffering from debilitating postpartum depression. With no lasting help, support, or resources. I guess I felt that if they could tell their stories, I could take their portrait, and together we could help send a message to the medical communities and other women that are similarly suffering in silence. It has been a slow going project. It has been hard to find willing participants and clear why some would choose not to talk about such pain. But, in the end, I think it helps them process their own experiences. I will continue the project into the new year and beyond. I'd love to see it grow and gain recognition. When I started the project it was all digital. I have since begun using only black and white film. It has evolved and will continue to, it is a labor of love.
J: I know you were working on a 365 project in 2014, are you planning to continue it for 2015? How has this project helped you grow as a photographer? I am doing a film 365 this year and feeling a bit out of comfort zone. What are some of the tips or advice you can give those (like me) who are starting their first 365 project?
A: Gosh, this is still like an open wound. I just finished this week and, man, what a trip. It is a real-living time capsule, the greatest gift. It was not without hard work nor was it something I did to pass the time, or to fit in. It was a personal challenge, one that I was determined to make matter to myself and my family. I think I accomplished that. I feel so gluttonous, it's time to unbutton and take a small break. I do plan to continue with a few new and old projects, and I too am toying with the idea of taking on a film project this year. Not brave enough for a 365 and the money is always tight so financially it just won't work. A darkroom would be nice this year, that sounds like a solid goal. I think like with any personal project, you need to ask yourself why you are doing it. If it's for the right reasons, then garner your support team and push yourself. Remembering also, that not everyday is your day. Most days, it's not about what you can create, it's about just trying.
J: What are some of your favorite photographers? What/Where/Who do you look to for inspirations and ideas?
A: My favorite photographers are also some of my favorite people. I've made lasting relationships in the past few years. There is so much support going around, it's really amazing. I do love the masters. Diane Arbus, Sally Mann, Mary Ellen Mark, etc. There are also contemporaries that I love like Gregory Colbert, his work is unlike any other, it moves me. Also, Anne Berry has captured beautiful portraits of primates in the name of conservation. Aaron Huey, his passion gets me every time. I cry ugly tears when I watch his TED talk about his work at Pine Ridge. It doesn't hurt that he takes amazing photos either. Which gets me thinking, I am motivated by many other things outside of photography, like conservation, that's a big one. I will look at other photographers for techniques but almost never for ideas, those just present themselves in that fun way that life always does.
J: If you can give one advice you wish you had known when you first started out shooting film, what would it be and why?
A: Find a good lab pronto. Someone that you can talk too, even if you have to pay a premium for that, do it. It took me over a year to find someone that I felt comfortable working with. it wasn't an easy task, and so much relies on the scanning process of your negatives. I am really happy with my current lab relationship. they don't just develop and scan my film, I learn things from them too, which help me become a better photographer.
J: I am curious, and I am sure our readers are too: a. What is your favorite film camera for client work and for personal work, and why? b. What is your favorite film stock and why? c. What is one gear you can't live without when you go on a shoot? d. If you can give one advice to any photographer who wants dip his/her toes in the realm of film photography, what would it be?
- My Rolleiflex. Because it's complicated, all manual and it makes me take my time and think about what I'm doing. I am severely dyslexic and looking down into the waist-level finder completely rocked my world. I can't even breathe when I use it, and I like that.
- I love all film stocks, they each have their purpose. The greens in Portra 400, the skin tones with Portra 160, the grains, the tones of Acros and Tri-x, please don't make me choose. Actually, you know what? I like cheap film. Free is better.
- My light meter
- Get a job, you'll go broke :)
who are your favorite artists on your playlist right now?
War on Drugs, Cat Stevens, Pavement, James Vincent McMorrow, John Fahey
"I wish my kids would hurry up and go to bed so I can watch...."
Eh... I work at night. But, will occasionally sneak in some Downton Abbey these days.
A quote you live by:
I don't have a particular quote that I live by, but ever since I was 17 I have memorized David Berman's book 'Actual Air'. His poetry makes me feel alive.
What is the most exotic place you have ever been?
Your favorite hobby other than photography:
Working with bare hands in the garden.
Airplane, Train or Automobile?
Auto! I can turn my music up to eleven and roll the windows down.
Wine, Champagne or Beer?
Two truths and a lie in any order, go!
Because today is her 93rd birthday, I remember when I met Betty White while working with the apes. She is a huge conservationist and supporter of zoos out in California. I helped introduce her to our chimpanzee group that day. Our Alpha male was clearly excited about the visitors. He had a large erection when he greeted her at the glass. I thought I was going to die right there where I stood. Stonefaced, she looked at him, at me, and the others and said, "Somebody get this animal a glass of wine!" I laughed so hard I cried.
When I was 15, I was hospitalized for drinking mushroom tea along with my two cousins and my younger sister. We all had our stomachs pumped into the wee hours of the morning. Throwing up non-stop until the sun came up. The charge nurse that came on shift that morning bent over my bed and pulled down the top of his scrub shirt revealing a small, old, greenish tattoo of a mushroom and some dancing bears. I puked all over him, right then and there.
A long time ago, I must've been about seven, my younger sister and I were in the back of our old Chevy Blazer making faces at the passing cars. One of us, I can't remember which, decided to give the finger to one of the cars. Well, of course it followed us all the way home and told our father what had happened. We both were grounded from playing our Nintendo. I'm not quite sure how my parents ended up raising such hooligans. I feel bad for them.
Joyce Kang is a children & family photographer in Austin Texas. She is also a mentor and an instructor for Embrace The Grain, an intro to film photography online workshop, class starts on March 1, 2015. She is married to her best friend and enjoys outdoors with her family. Her favorite gear line-up includes a Rolleiflex 2.8c, a Pentax 67 and a Nikon Fe2. She loves to indulge in a good book, and suffers from knitting-yarn-hoarding syndrome, and has a terrible addiction to any thing that tops with a heaping scoop of ice cream drizzled with chocolate fudge! She has been featured and published in international photography blogs and magazines such as Click Magazine, Lemonade and Lenses.