INTERVIEW WITH CAMILLE SEAMAN

Self-portrait by photographer Camille Seaman (© Camille Seaman)

Self-portrait by photographer Camille Seaman (© Camille Seaman)

By Anita Malhotra

Photographer Camille Seaman is best known for her stunning photos of polar ice and habitats as well as for her dramatic photographs taken while storm-chasing. Her unique style is informed by her Native American heritage and its emphasis on connection with and respect for nature.

A TED Senior Fellow since 2011 and a frequent public speaker, Seaman has received several awards, including a 2006 National Geographic Award and a 2014 John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University.

Three books of her work have been published, and her photos have appeared in National Geographic Magazine, The New York Times, Newsweek and Time Magazine, among others. 

Seaman recently moved from California to Ireland, where she is working on her first novel. Anita Malhotra spoke with her by phone on Dec. 3, 2018, a few days before she left for Antarctica on her latest photographic project.

The Last Iceberg Series III: Blue Underside Revealed II, Svalbard, July 5, 2010 (photo © Camille Seaman)

The Last Iceberg Series III: Blue Underside Revealed II, Svalbard, July 5, 2010 (photo © Camille Seaman)

AM: Can you tell me a bit about where you grew up and your childhood?

CS: I grew up on Long Island. My family on my father’s side are indigenous to Long Island. We’ve been there for thousands of years – part of the Shinnecock tribe. And my mother is black and Italian, so she came from New York City out to the island and met my dad and they got married.

Camille Seaman at the age of 2 (photo courtesy of Camille Seaman)

Camille Seaman at the age of 2 (photo courtesy of Camille Seaman)

I was raised in a mixed ethnic family, but in many native families we don’t judge people by their religion or their skin. We judge them by how they treat us. If I told you about all the cultural mixes of my cousins it would spin your head.

While my parents were still married, my father’s family had the main say in how we were raised, which was very much in Shinnecock tradition.  We grew up in the woods, we grew up fishing, we grew up planting fish-heads in the garden so that the vegetables would be fertilized. I didn’t realize that that was different from how other kids were being raised on the island until I was much older.

AM: How did you first get interested in photography?

CS: When I was a little kid, my family would give me the Kodak 110 Instamatic and say, “Let Camille take the picture because she doesn’t cut off people’s heads.” So even as a little kid I had some ability with the camera.

Camille Seaman's paternal grandparents (photo courtesy of Camille Seaman)

Camille Seaman’s paternal grandparents (photo courtesy of Camille Seaman)

As a 15-year-old, after my parents divorced, my mother got custody of us and she decided she needed to “Christianize her heathen half-breed children.” So she forced us – she was raised Roman Catholic – to go to church and to pray. And it didn’t go well. By then my artistic ability was starting to show in ways that she didn’t understand and we clashed. I left home at the age of 15.

Meanwhile, I was going to the “Fame” high school of music and the arts in Manhattan and they recognized that I was at risk. They put me in an after-school program where they gave me a film camera and said, “Go out and photograph your experience.”

I liked making pictures but I didn’t know that a career in photography was a possibility for me. I realize now that I’m much older that there was nobody that looked like me. It was always white men you saw as photographers. I just didn’t think it was possible until I was 32 years old.

A Penguin's Life: Running to See, Ross Sea, Antarctica 2006 (photo © Camille Seaman)

A Penguin’s Life: Running to See, Ross Sea, Antarctica 2006 (photo © Camille Seaman)

When I was 32, a series of events happened that flicked the switch on. I realized that I wanted to use the camera to show that there was something beautiful about this life and this planet. I didn’t have a plan. I was just going to photograph my experiences. And then this path emerged that started to take me to the polar regions and then chasing storms and so on.

Camille Seaman (L) as a young woman with a friend (photo courtesy of Camille Seaman)

Camille Seaman (L) as a young woman with a friend (photo courtesy of Camille Seaman)

AM: What did you do in your 20s and early 30s?

CS: Before I left home I was so unhappy and I swore that I would never be that unhappy again. I took the time to realize what made me happy, and what made me happy was being outside, making things, and traveling.

You would think I would have come to photography sooner, having those three together, but for years I was a surfer. I worked different jobs to support that surf habit.

I worked in one-hour photo labs, I worked as hiking and biking guides. I did all these different jobs that taught me skills that when I did decide to become a photographer helped me.

When I had my daughter I was going stir-crazy at home so I taught myself how to do database-driven Web design. That was at a time when you could make a lot of money doing that. So, with that I was buying photo equipment that I loved. Finally my partner said, “You’re spending a lot of money on photo equipment. Maybe you should do something with it.”

The Big Cloud: Rain over Fields of Gold, Kansas, 2008 (photo © Camille Seaman)

The Big Cloud: Rain over Fields of Gold, Kansas, 2008 (photo © Camille Seaman)

AM: How did you start your photography career?

CS: When I decided that I was going to become a photographer, I knew that there was no way I was going back to school but I knew I needed skills that I didn’t have. So I decided instead to call up any photographer whose work made me say, “How’d they do that?” One of the first persons I called was Steve McCurry, the National Geographic photographer who’s famous for the Afghan girl with the green eyes.

Expo The World of Steve McCurry at Palais de la Bourse of Brussels (photo by Sabr68, Wikimedia Commons, May 6, 2017)

Expo The World of Steve McCurry at Palais de la Bourse of Brussels (photo by Sabr68, Wikimedia Commons, May 6, 2017)

I was really curious how he was able to make such soulful portraits all over the world using available natural light. He said, “If you want to learn that, you have to come with me to Tibet.”

I went with him first in 2004 for several weeks and he was so hard on me, almost to the point of bringing me to tears. At one point I remember saying to someone, “Why is he so hard on me?” And she said, “Because he sees something in you.” And the next year he invited me back and we did that for four years.

Something he said – and I think it’s true – is it didn’t matter how good your subject matter was, how good your composition was. If you didn’t understand quality of light, your images would not stand the test of time. And both he and I were interested in making images that would resonate, if we’re lucky, for hundreds of years.

Pretty Woman, Kham, Tibet, 2007 (photo © Camille Seaman)

Pretty Woman, Kham, Tibet, 2007 (photo © Camille Seaman)

One year we were photographing side-by-side and very similar images. He was able to sell his images to Apple as part of the Aperture software, and I thought, “Whenever anyone thinks of Tibet they will think of Steve McCurry first.”

I needed to go somewhere that was not known and I saw a lot of ice work coming out of the Arctic. I’m not the first person to photograph there by a long shot but I felt like they were missing something. It felt so static.

Camille Seaman photographing from a boat (photo courtesy of Camille Seaman)

Camille Seaman photographing from a boat (photo courtesy of Camille Seaman)

And then when I went there myself and I saw the place – not just saw it but felt it – I brought my indigenous perspective and started to photograph portraits of these beings, because I saw them as the water of our ancestors, knowing that we’re made of the material of this planet. That everything is interconnected. And that these are our relatives.

When I did my first TED Talk in 2011 I got a lot of flak from people saying, “All this touchy-feely stuff – ice is not alive.” And I said, “You’re 70 per cent water. Does that mean you’re 70 percent not alive?” Now, people see it instantly. I am so proud of the Idle No More movement and the Indigenous Rising movement where indigenous voices are stepping forward at this critical time of the climate issue.

AM: Can you describe the feeling you had when you made your first trip to a polar region?

CS: My first actual polar trip was before I was a photographer. I was just going up there because I was curious and, of course, I had a camera tucked inside my parka. I had it in my mind that I was going to walk across the frozen ocean in Alaska towards Russia.

Camille Seaman in Cuverville, Antarctic Peninsula, December 2010 (photo © Camille Seaman)

Camille Seaman in Cuverville, Antarctic Peninsula, December 2010 (photo © Camille Seaman)

It was kind of extra-terrestrial because as I set off onto the ice I realized that this was not some kind of science fiction movie. This was my planet I was walking on. It was so powerful to understand the harshness of that environment and yet the fragility of it.

All my grandfather’s teachings were just flooding in – that we are made of this material, that we will return to this material, that none of us is separate. This idea that humans are somehow separate from nature is so flawed.

AM: What are some of the challenges photographing icebergs?

CS: Most of that is not usually in my control. Because it’s not in my control, I have to be outside – either on deck or out in the little boats as much as possible. And be ready for those moments when it does present itself, and the light is right, and everything is as I would want it to be.

Camille Seaman's book "Melting Away" (photo © Camille Seaman)

Camille Seaman’s book “Melting Away” (photo © Camille Seaman)

A lot of people say, “I hate the cold, how do you work in the cold?” There’s a Norwegian saying that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.

So over the years I have developed a wardrobe that works so that I can be out there for 8, 10, 12 hours in freezing temperatures and not feel like I’m going to die.So that when those moments do arise I’m in a position to make the image. It’s just being prepared and being there. If you’re inside, you’re going to miss it.

The Last Iceberg: Looking at the Icebergs near Franklin Island, Antarctica, 2006 (photo © Camille Seaman)

The Last Iceberg: Looking at the Icebergs near Franklin Island, Antarctica, 2006 (photo © Camille Seaman)

People often ask me, “How do you light the icebergs?” I say, “That’s the clouds.” I mope around the ship if it’s blue skies. That light is not interesting to me. But when it’s this low, overcast sky, oh my goodness!

I would love to talk to a scientist that specializes in how light works to figure out how this effect his happening where the icebergs seem to be glowing. Some of them even look like they’re neon.

AM: Do you bring a lot of gear with you on these trips?

CS: One of the most valuable lessons I learned in Antarctica was, “Don’t ever change your lenses outside.” In fact, don’t change them at all. Once I go on ship and I put the lenses on the camera they don’t come off till I leave.

Camille Seaman (photo courtesy of Camille Seaman)

Camille Seaman (photo courtesy of Camille Seaman)

I learned the hard way that it is so dry and there’s so much static that if you get dust on your sensor it’s really bad.

I ruined thousands of images from one trip where the dust was just so bad on my sensor and I couldn’t clean it and it made it worse. So you’ll see me carrying two bodies. Sometimes three or four that have different lenses on them.

AM: What kind of post-production work do you do on your photos after your trips?

CS: My joy is not being on the computer. My joy is making the image in the camera as close to what I saw. So I have a personal rule that if it takes me more than 60 seconds in Photoshop I will not use the image. And because I’m held to the standards of Nat Geo for photojournalism, I can really only do simple curve adjustments and some cropping. Even cropping, I rarely do. Because the whole point of my images is to show that there’s something amazing about this planet – about this life – without Photoshop.

The Big Cloud Series IV: Purple Lightning, Canadian TX, June 22, 2014 (photo © Camille Seaman)

The Big Cloud Series IV: Purple Lightning, Canadian TX, June 22, 2014 (photo © Camille Seaman)

AM: Can you tell me how the photos for your book The Big Cloud came about?

CM: In 2007, when the U.N. announced that climate change was real, my phone started ringing and everybody wanted to publish the work and show the work. I went from obscure to being named “emerging photographer of the year” and “person to watch.”

The Big Cloud: Each Year We Pray (photo © Camille Seaman)

The Big Cloud: Each Year We Pray (photo © Camille Seaman)

Everybody wanted to interview me and show the work, which is great. But in interviews, people would always ask, “So what are you working on now?” I was like, “I don’t work that way. I don’t have a plan.” I started to feel like, “What if I’m a one-trick pony and this is all I have?”

One day I was vacuuming the living room while my daughter was watching Storm Chasers on Nat Geo channel. I was looking at the screen and said, “Look at that light and those colors!”

I wanted them to show more, and she saw me trying to look sideways into the TV. She was eight years old at the time and said, “Mom, you should do that.” And her dad said, “Why don’t you go Google it?”

So I Googled “stormchasing” and this whole world emerged. One site in particular really stood out to me. It was uber nerdy. It had lightning flashes across the screen and thunder noises.

All of these trips were sold out so I wrote an email saying, “I’m really interested in doing this. Please let me know if anybody cancels.” Less than an hour later he emailed back and said, “I just had a spot come open.”

The Big Cloud Series II (photo © Camille Seaman)

The Big Cloud Series II (photo © Camille Seaman)

I wasn’t even prepared for it – it is so visceral. The smell and the feel of the wind, and the colors in the cloud. It was just amazing. After that first week, I said to the guy, “If anybody cancels, will you let me know?” And he said, “Can you drive?” I said, “Yeah, I have a commercial license for up to 15 passengers.” So then I was a professional, paid storm-chaser. And I did that for six years.

It was a wonderful way to experience nature – to watch it create and destroy. It taught me incredible empathy and compassion for the people that live in those areas. And then in 2014 I just realized I wasn’t enjoying it anymore – too many hours on the road – and was just like, “I think I’m done.”

Photographer Camille Seaman (photo courtesy of Camille Seaman)

Photographer Camille Seaman (photo courtesy of Camille Seaman)

AM: You are leaving for Antarctica in a few days. What will you be photographing?

CS: I’ve been photographing there for over a decade and I wasn’t sure that there was anything new that I could say about the place. And some part of me was a little anxious about going to back to see if it is really bad because of climate change. But each time I’ve gone back since 2016, I see incredible color that I hadn’t noticed before when I was there 10, 15 years ago, so that’s really new and interesting.

Lemaire Sunset, Lemaire Channel Alpenglow, Antarctica, Jan. 14, 2017 (photo © Camille Seaman)

Lemaire Sunset, Lemaire Channel Alpenglow, Antarctica, Jan. 14, 2017 (photo © Camille Seaman)

My first ever Nat Geo cover in July 2017 was this iceberg on a blood-red sea and that was just due to sunset. I’d never witnessed that kind of light or color before. It was surreal. So I’m enjoying, “What’s going to happen this time? What am I going to see that’s different?”

AM: You do a lot of public speaking. What do you generally speak about?

CS: Most recently my love is to speak especially to young people but also to older people who don’t necessarily see themselves represented in mainstream media. I say, “We need you to get out there to get out and do the things that you didn’t think were possible.”

Camille Seaman at TED2013 (photo by James Duncan Davidson, Flickr Creative Commons, Feb. 26, 2013)

Camille Seaman at TED2013 (photo by James Duncan Davidson, Flickr Creative Commons, Feb. 26, 2013)

I tell them, “I was a homeless kid at 15 in New York City and never thought that I would end up having such a magnificent, adventurous life. There is hope for us all.”

I share with them something that my grandfather told me before he died. He died when I was 13 of cancer.

He called us each in before he went, and he said to me, “You are billions of years in the making and there is no one like you. You carry all of your ancestors with you and you can access them at any time. You are made of this time, for this time, and your job is to figure out what you do like no one else can on the planet – and do that. Because that is how you will serve.”

We all live in service to each other. You are part of everything and if you sit still long enough you will feel that connection. So mostly that is what I’m sharing with people these days because I think the only way forward out of this mess that we’ve created is to remember that connection.

Melting Away: Polar Bears on Thin Ice, Svalbard, June 2010 (photo © Camille Seaman)

Melting Away: Polar Bears on Thin Ice, Svalbard, June 2010 (photo © Camille Seaman)

AM: You recently relocated from California to Ireland. Why?

CS: I had a brief jaunt around the globe and was thinking about where I wanted to live, and I needed a place that I could have access to the sea. I was paying a ridiculous amount of rent in California, and I found myself complaining a lot about the expense and the crowd and the noise and the traffic.

I’d been in California for 29 years and I thought, “You know, my daughter’s gone off to university and why not? I don’t need to stay here. I could live anywhere in the world.”

Camille Seaman with her daughter (photo © Camille Seaman)

Camille Seaman with her daughter (photo © Camille Seaman)

I chose Ireland because every time I came here I had a great experience. I love that it rains here – I was living 29 years in a place where it doesn’t rain regularly. And the people are friendly and sociable.

There’s this wildness still here. I was also very eager to step away from the U.S. while the current regime is in power. I’m writing a novel right now and I needed to have that distance. I felt that being in it it’s very difficult to escape the daily chatter of all the mayhem going on there. Here I can fall into the rhythm of the sun. Just watching the sun move across the sky and being very aware of it.

For more information about Camille Seaman and her work, please visit camilleseaman.com.














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INTERVIEW WITH CRISTINA COSTANTINI AND DARREN FOSTER

Darren Foster and Cristina Costantini, co-directors and producers (with Jeffrey Plunkett) of the award-winning documentary "Science Fair," at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival (photo by Francisco Sanchez)

Darren Foster and Cristina Costantini, co-directors and producers (with Jeffrey Plunkett) of the award-winning documentary “Science Fair,” at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival (photo by Francisco Sanchez)

By Anita Malhotra

Award-winning investigative journalists Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster have been getting a lot of positive buzz about their first feature film collaboration, Science Fair.

Full of humor and deftly crafted, the inspiring film follows nine extraordinary teenagers vying against 1,700 others to win coveted prizes at one of the world’s largest international science fairs.

The film has played to almost unanimous acclaim, winning audience awards at several film festivals, including Sundance and South by Southwest (SXSW). In April 2018, Science Fair was acquired by National Geographic, who are distributing it in cinemas and schools and plan to broadcast it in 2019.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Costantini and Foster, who are based in Los Angeles, on Nov. 6, 2018, a few days before Science Fair began its Nov. 9-18 run at Ottawa’s Bytowne Cinema.

AM: Can you each tell me a bit about your career before Science Fair?

DF: Both of us were journalists before we became filmmakers. I did a lot of TV docs. The opioid crisis, immigration and the drug war were probably my primary areas of focus over the last 10 years or so.

So it was a bit of a departure for me to do something like Science Fair, but it was a much needed and very happy departure. And it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been partnered with Cristina on a previous project.

CC: Darren and I worked on a project about fentanyl together, which is a deadly opiate that has made both the U.S. and Canada’s opiate epidemic much more deadly. That was, like it sounds, a very sad story.

Cristina Costantini's previous work included award-winning investigative documentaries (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

Cristina Costantini’s previous work included award-winning investigative documentaries (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

And I had done also a lot of reporting on immigration and sex trafficking and prisons and detention centers. So, like Darren, I was ready for a break. And it was actually during the fentanyl documentary that we started talking about this idea of doing a science fair documentary.

I was a science fair kid when I was in high school, and it totally changed my life, and it validated me during the dark years of high school. I learned just so much from it and I’m really in love with this world.

We started talking about how fun it would be to go to the fair and scout the characters and tell the story. So we went to the 2016 fair, and that’s where we met many of the kids that are in the movie.

AM: Can you tell me about the particular science fair your film is about?

Finalists, narrowed down from more than 7 million students around the world, walking towards the 2017 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), held that year in Los Angeles (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

Finalists, narrowed down from more than 7 million students around the world, walking towards the 2017 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), held that year in Los Angeles (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

DF: The International Science and Engineering Fair [ISEF] is the Olympics of science fairs. 1,700 kids from 78 different countries around the world all convene at a convention center in some major American city. So for a week it’s maybe the highest concentration of brains in the world.

Many of these kids are misfits in high school, not always recognized or celebrated for their brains and for the work they do in science. But for one week a year, if they make it there, they really get celebrated in an amazing way. For a documentary subject it’s pretty great to follow the kids on this journey because it is life-changing for so many of them.

CC: You might think that because they’re teenagers that they’re doing baking soda volcano type science, but they’re doing really incredible, amazing science that is going to change the world – and much of it already has.

There are 500 patents that came out of the fair that we covered alone. I think it’s really inspiring to watch 14-year-old brains do this really high-level research, and they’re not waiting for adults to teach them this stuff. Most of these kids are self-taught. They’ve learned how to do the things that they’re doing online. And so it’s really fun to be around that energy.

Finalists at ISEF 2017 in Los Angeles (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

Finalists at ISEF 2017 in Los Angeles (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

AM: Can you describe a couple of the youths featured in the film and their projects?

DF: I think Kashfia is the emotional heart of the film. She’s a young woman from Brookings, South Dakota – one of the few Muslims in a pretty middle-class community in the middle of America.

Like many high schools in the U.S., it’s obsessed with sports and she doesn’t get much recognition or validation for all the amazing work she does. And she has this amazing journey where she, basically all on her own – with the mentorship of the head football coach –makes it to the international science fair.

High school student Kashfia Rahman's ISEF 2017 project was on the effects of risky behaviors on the adolescent brain. She is now a student at Harvard University (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

High school student Kashfia Rahman’s ISEF 2017 project was on the effects of risky behaviors on the adolescent brain. She is now a student at Harvard University (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

CC: Robbie was failing out of math when we met him, but on the side he was working on a prime number theory project that had won the entire West Virginia state science fair. And there was this joy in learning and exploration and innovation that we sensed in him. I think his Kanye West algorithm really embodies that.

Robbie Barrat's ISEF 2017 project focused on neural networks and machine creativity (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

Robbie Barrat’s ISEF 2017 project focused on neural networks and machine creativity (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

He continues to do incredible amazing things that you don’t see in our documentary. He’s gone on to do AI generated artwork that’s been on the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek. He had an art show in Paris in February. And he still has not been able to get into any colleges.

He’s guest lecturing right now at Stanford but can’t get into Stanford. So he’s a really interesting indication of failure in our education system to foster brilliant minds who are not interested in the kind of rote memorization that a lot of our American schools push. And you find a lot of kids like Robbie at Science Fair. A lot of these self-starters who don’t quite fit in.

15-year-old Anjali Chadha's ISEF 2017 project was a device that monitors arsenic in groundwater (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

15-year-old Anjali Chadha’s ISEF 2017 project was a device that monitors arsenic in groundwater (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

AM: What was your process of narrowing down your subjects to the nine young people who are featured in the film?

DF: This is where being reporters was really helpful. We burned some shoe leather at the 2016 fair walking up and down the aisles talking to as many kids as we could. And then there were a lot of phone calls, a lot of Skype chats, a lot of visiting regional, local fairs – calling different schools around the country.

We were looking for a fairly good representation of the kind of kids that wound up at ISEF. So that includes powerhouse schools like duPont Manual in Kentucky and Jericho High School on Long Island –always churning out these amazing kids. And then it was a bit of luck finding some of the underdog characters like Kashfia and Robbie.

AM: What was your main challenge in shooting the film?

German high school student Ivo Zell was an ISEF 2017 finalist with his prototype of a "flying wing," which he is seen here operating (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

German high school student Ivo Zell was an ISEF 2017 finalist with his prototype of a “flying wing,” which he is seen here operating (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

CC: I think one of the challenges was keeping up with that many kids and with all their storylines. In a competition documentary, you don’t know what’s going to happen, so we had to place some bets and some of them didn’t work out.

One of our favorite kids was supposed to do a science fair project. We got to Louisville, where he went to high school, and he told us the day before the science fair that he, in fact, hadn’t done the project, which gave us a lot of difficulties.

But then he said, “You should meet my friends – they’re doing a really cool project.” And we had to very quickly change course. So I think our biggest difficulty was that we couldn’t predict what was going to happen. We had to be flexible, and because we had such a small crew, that was much easier.

Harsha Paladugu, Abraham Riedel-Mishaan and Ryan Folz, students at duPont Manual High School in Louisville, Kentucky, whose ISEF 2017 project was a 3D-printable electronic stethoscope (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

Harsha Paladugu, Abraham Riedel-Mishaan and Ryan Folz, students at duPont Manual High School in Louisville, Kentucky, whose ISEF 2017 project was a 3D-printable electronic stethoscope (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

AM: Did the election of Donald Trump affect the direction of your film?

DF: We set out to make a film that was about the science fair, but along the way the backdrop that the film was playing against changed so much. The politics of this country have taken a turn where some of our characters were in the middle of some of these heated debates – the travel ban, the anti-Muslim sentiment, the anti-immigration sentiment.

Anjali Chadha taking water samples for her ISEF project research (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

Anjali Chadha taking water samples for her ISEF project research (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

We have a lot of immigrants and children of immigrants in our film. Also, the anti-science sentiment in many aspects of this country. These are all things that took on a different resonance as we were following these kids on that journey.

Darren Foster at a Q & A for "Science Fair" at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on June 23, 2018 (photo by DW Nicholson, Flickr Creative Commons, © EIFF)

Darren Foster at a Q & A for “Science Fair” at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on June 23, 2018 (photo by DW Nicholson, Flickr Creative Commons, © EIFF)

AM: Science Fair has won audience awards at two major festivals. What was it like to be in those screenings and see the audience response?

CC: Nobody is more shocked than we are that it’s resonated with audiences as well as it has. It was supposed to be a quick break from our investigative work, and now it’s become the majority of our time for a few years.

The first time we ever saw it with a group of people was at a volunteer screening at Sundance, and it was one of the most surreal moments of my life to hear an audience laughing at something that I’d created. I’d never watched anything with an audience that I’d created before, much less anything happy.

Brazilian ISEF 2017 finalists Myllena Braz de Silva and Gabriel de Moura, whose research focused on combatting the Zika virus (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

Brazilian ISEF 2017 finalists Myllena Braz de Silva and Gabriel de Moura, whose research focused on combatting the Zika virus (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

DF: I think it’s also a testament to how amazing these kids are and to how powerful their stories are. I think the film is very much an antidote to the times that we’re living in. And to see these teenagers reflecting the best of who we are, I think is what audiences are really responding to.

CC: It’s been just a wonderful experience to be doing something so happy and uplifting – especially during a time when there are so many adults who are acting like children in this world. To do something about children who are acting like adults and serve as a really great example of who we could be as a nation.

AM: How did National Geographic get involved with the film?

CC: After we won the Sundance and the SXSW audience awards, they purchased the film. And they have been amazing at distributing it. What we love most about working with National Geographic is that they made a huge push to get it in front of kids and into schools, so in November they’re actually giving it away for free to any school that wants to see it.

Director, producer and co-founder of Muck Media, Darren Foster won a Peabody award for his previous television documentary work (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

Director, producer and co-founder of Muck Media, Darren Foster won a Peabody award for his previous television documentary work (photo courtesy of National Geographic)

Over a thousand schools have already signed up. We made it in large part to make people aware of how fun this world is, and celebrate these kids, and get more kids involved in this world. So it’s been so awesome that they’ve taken the project on.

AM: Are you working on any other projects right now or is all your time devoted to this film?

DF: We have a bunch of ideas that we’re developing, but quite frankly we’ve been so busy promoting the film and being out with the film that we haven’t had much time to think about what’s next.

At the moment we’re just really enjoying touring with the film, especially when we get to go to these schools and show it in front of a bunch of other teenagers, so it’s been great.

Science Fair is currently playing in theatres in the U.S., the U.K and Canada, including at Ottawa’s Bytowne Cinema Nov. 9-18 and Dec. 16-18. Through the month of November, schools in the U.S. can request a free screening of the film from National Geographic. For more information about the film, please visit National Geographic or Muck Media.

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INTERVIEW WITH HANS HEMMERT

By Anita Malhotra

German conceptual artist Hans Hemmert at his home in Berlin on Sept. 7, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

German conceptual artist Hans Hemmert at his home in Berlin on Sept. 7, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Berlin-based artist Hans Hemmert is best known for his groundbreaking conceptual artwork, most notably his performative balloon sculptures. His work has been exhibited at the MoMA in New York, the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea (CGAC) in Spain and Shanghai’s Museum of Contemporary Art, among others.

"o.T. - "Yellow sculpture fitting to beer crate" (1998), balloon/air/artist/ beer crate, Cibachrome, 100 x 75 cm, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

“o.T. – “Yellow sculpture fitting to beer crate” (1998), balloon/air/artist/ beer crate, Cibachrome, 100 x 75 cm, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

It can also be found in many art collections around the world, including those of the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art Helsinki, Malmö Konsthall, Berlin Landesmuseum, German Bundestag, and the Jumex Collection in Mexico City.

Hemmert is also a member of the collective “inges idee” (Hans Hemmert, Axel Lieber, Thomas A. Schmidt and Georg Zey), whose more than 50 striking public sculptures can be found in Europe, Asia and North America.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Hans Hemmert at his home in Berlin on Sept. 7, 2018.

AM: Where did you grow up?

HH: I grew up in Bavaria – in the countryside.

AM: What were your first experiences with art?

"Unterwegs" ("On the Road"), 1996, balloon/air/artist/car; lightbox slide, 100 x 160 cm, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

“Unterwegs” (“On the Road”), 1996, balloon/air/artist/car; lightbox slide, 100 x 160 cm, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

HH: At school I liked to work with my hands building small models made of paper, or working with clay. And this developed in my youth.

I knew that I wanted to do something with my hands – not with texts and words, but with pictures and three-dimensional objects. I started studying philosophy in ’81, but then it became clear that I wanted to enter arts school.

Hans Hemmert at the age of 6 in Bavaria (photo courtesy of Hans Hemmert)

Hans Hemmert at the age of 6 in Bavaria (photo courtesy of Hans Hemmert)

AM: What interested you about philosophy?

HH: The interest came from the religious education I had in Bavaria. My family was very religious – Catholic. I was even in a seminary from age 10 to 17.

There I got a lot of religious and philosophical input, because we were reading the old Greek and Latin philosophers.

I started studying philosophy but realized that I’m not a scientist but an artist. Then I got a place in the art school in Berlin and studied sculpture for five years.

AM: In your sculpture studies, who were you influenced by?

HH: I was influenced by English sculpture because my teacher was English. He was a pupil of Anthony Caro, who did abstract steel sculpture in England in the ‘60s. Caro was the assistant of Henry Moore for five years.

Untitled 1988 work by Hans Hemmert in an exhibit of 1980s Berlin art at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien (photo by Anita Malhotra, Sept. 7, 2018)

Untitled 1988 work by Hans Hemmert in an exhibit of 1980s Berlin art at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien (photo by Anita Malhotra, Sept. 7, 2018)

So I started with huge abstract steel sculptures, and out of that I developed my own language.

Afterwards I moved away from pure sculpture to a lot of different materials and into installation and doing video and photographic work. I was also drawing all the time.

AM: What was the arts scene like in Berlin when you first came?

HH: Berlin was not the centre of the arts scene in Germany. The centres were Cologne and Düsseldorf. Berlin was a special town in the sense it was very cheap to live here because there was no economic growth. The city was more or less empty.

And there was a grant from West Germany for Berlin. Everybody who worked here got eight percent on their income from the state to live here. It was called Berlinzulage [Berlin Allowance].

"level" (1997), Styrodur/rubber/Velcro/measuring device, 50 pairs of platform shoes with heights of 5-43 cm, installation view at Galerie Gebauer Berlin, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

“level” (1997), Styrodur/rubber/Velcro/measuring device, 50 pairs of platform shoes with heights of 5-43 cm, installation view at Galerie Gebauer Berlin, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

Nearly every artist had a cheap studio because Berlin was a big industrial city before the war, and after the war all the factories stood empty. So West Berlin was very good for young people developing their creativity.

Hans Hemmert as sculpture student in 1986 at Universität der Künste Berlin (photo by Sebastian Kusenberg)

Hans Hemmert as sculpture student in 1986 at Universität der Künste Berlin (photo by Sebastian Kusenberg)

AM: How did you start working with the medium of balloons?

HH: During my studies and for a few years after I still worked with steel and other materials doing sculptures. And then I got ill with my back. If you carry a sack of plaster, it’s really heavy work, so I had a real problem and had to stop for a few months.

Then I started mainly to draw for one or two years. In the drawings I often had these bubbles. If you work with ink, you can take a little bit of water, and you get these wonderful bubble-forms. This brought me to the idea of working with balloons.

First I bought all the balloons and inflatable everyday stuff made from PVC you can buy for bathing like bath dolphins.

Then I realized that I wanted to have bigger balloons – as big as possible. I researched and developed the technique to build my own balloons and I built the yellow balloons with two assistants in my studio. It took two, three weeks’ production time gluing them with natural latex material I bought from England.

"Die Story über den Freund vom Sohn der deutschen Synchronstimme von Robert de Niro" (1995), latex air balloon, 500 x 600 x 700 cm, part of the exhibition "Urbane Legenden - Berlin" in the Staatlichen Kunsthalle Baden-Baden (photo by Hans Hemmert)

“Die Story über den Freund vom Sohn der deutschen Synchronstimme von Robert de Niro” (1995), latex air balloon, 500 x 600 x 700 cm, part of the exhibition “Urbane Legenden – Berlin” in the Staatlichen Kunsthalle Baden-Baden (photo by Hans Hemmert)

AM: Tell me about some of your first balloon sculptures.

HH: In 1995 I was invited by the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden to participate in an exhibition about Berlin. There I got a big space and I decided for the first time to take a giant yellow balloon as a sculpture and fill the whole room up to the ceiling. You could still walk around the sculpture, but the artwork took up 80 percent of the volume of the space.

"0104/95/H.H," 35 x 27 cm, ink on paper (photo courtesy of Hans Hemmert)

“0104/95/H.H,” 35 x 27 cm, ink on paper (photo courtesy of Hans Hemmert)

After this exhibition I got my balloon back and I had the idea to inflate it in my student apartment, and go inside the balloon and take a photo.

The balloon was closed at the beginning and then you cut a hole in it so you could go in. My girlfriend helped me to get in. I went in and breathed through a tube, and then my girlfriend glued it closed again.

I had to wait for about half an hour with the tube in my mouth, and then through this tube she inflated the balloon with an air blower. I was seated inside and then it inflated and started to press against the furniture and the wall.

I had a camera and tripod with me because I had intended to take a photo. Then I thought, “Nobody will believe that this is a real sculpture. Everybody will think it’s a photoshop collage.” It needed a passerby – a reference person. I decided to be that reference person and I made self-portrait with a tripod and remote shutter release.

"Saturday afternoon, at home in Neukölln" (1995), latex balloon/air/artist/living room; lightbox slide, 43 x 62 cm, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

“Saturday afternoon, at home in Neukölln” (1995), latex balloon/air/artist/living room; lightbox slide, 43 x 62 cm, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

When I saw the image I thought, “This is a good work because it’s a very open image. Everybody can see different things in the work.” For me, personally, it was very interesting. I was sitting on the same chair I sat on every day just separated by a tenth of a millimeter of stretched latex. But in my thoughts I was far away, like on a journey to outer space or to the moon.

"o.T. - Yellow sculpture fitting to Julie" (1998), balloon/air/ artist/Julie; Cibachrome, 100 x 75 cm, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

“o.T. – Yellow sculpture fitting to Julie” (1998), balloon/air/ artist/Julie; Cibachrome, 100 x 75 cm, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

I continued over the next years to make a lot of different balloon works. There are different ones where I’m inside – for example, inside my car, inside my studio, and so on.

Afterwards I experienced this idea of going inside a balloon but taking a part of the outside – the balloon world – for example, my daughter Julie – into my hands. The balloon was, if you will, my second skin. I felt like an alien.

In 1998, I was invited by the Centro Galego for Contemporary Art – a beautiful new museum in Spain with a very special architectural space.

I made it a dialogue between my sculpture and the architecture. They are squeezed together like a sandwich, and in the end the whole space is an art installation. In another gallery show in Berlin at carlier|gebauer, I took a big balloon and suspended it by scaffolding standards.

AM: The one that puzzled me was the dancing balloon. I thought you had motorized it.

HH: I was inside and I was really dancing. It was bouncing against me and it was only possible for 20 or 30 minutes. I had two or three people outside who kept asking, “Hans, are you still okay?” “Yeah, I’m okay.” But then they had to cut me out because I had no air.

AM: So for this size of balloon, 20 minutes is the maximum?

HH: Yes, but you can stay a whole day in the big ones.

Untitled 1998 installation [latex balloon/ air/museum; 900 x 550 x 650 cm; Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea, Spain, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

Untitled 1998 installation [latex balloon/ air/museum; 900 x 550 x 650 cm; Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea, Spain, © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

AM: What does it feel like to be inside a balloon?

HH: The main feeling is fear. You feel fear because of the breathing. And I also had fear that it would blow up and hit me in the eyes, so at first I wore safety goggles. But this never happened when I was inside a balloon.

AM: Is there a reason you almost always work in yellow?

HH: I decided on yellow for different personal reasons. Yellow was a very fashionable colour in the ‘70s when I was a teenager, and yellow reminds me of the sun, of the colour of gold, and the baroque churches where I was raised in Bavaria and Franconia. So it has something divine.

And yellow is also a little bit aggressive. It inspires you to start thinking. I made transparent works before, but yellow was my favourite colour, and it kind of became my signature.

AM: How do you feel about the fact that people see your work and your name is out there, but then your work of art just deflates?

HH: Yes, it deflates and after a few years I throw it away. What I like about the inflatable art pieces is that I don’t pack my studio full of works. The steel work was always a problem to store.

And I like the idea that it’s temporary and ephemeral. A big balloon filling a museum space – if it’s deflated you can carry it in a suitcase. I travelled by airplane to Tokyo with a suitcase containing my art and inflated big installations. It was a crazy feeling – it was fun.

Hans Hemmert working on a balloon sculpture in his Berlin studio in 1998 (photo courtesy of Hans Hemmert)

Hans Hemmert working on a balloon sculpture in his Berlin studio in 1998 (photo courtesy of Hans Hemmert)

But the disadvantage is that although I was showing a lot – worldwide, too – I could not sell them. What I did was have photographs taken of performances in my studio and then I commercialized these works. Because otherwise nobody but a few assistants in the studio would see them.

AM: Why did you create German Panther – the tank made out of balloons?

HH: One day I stopped working with the big yellow balloons and decided to work with a lot of small balloons, like pixel art. I created a few works with small, randomly coloured balloons – first a church, and then I did this lifesize tank, German Panther.

"german panther" (2007), latex balloons/air/latex glue; 960 x370 x 300 cm, installation view at Städtische Galerie Nordhorn, Germany © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

“german panther” (2007), latex balloons/air/latex glue; 960 x370 x 300 cm, installation view at Städtische Galerie Nordhorn, Germany © Hans Hemmert and VG Bild Kunst

I was invited by an exhibition and my proposal was in the form of a small watercolour drawing. They liked it, so I created it. I wanted to create an image which has a strong contrast between what you see as an image, the tank, and the material it’s made of.

The effect is stunning, but I also think it becomes an anti-war statement. It seems that a lot of people read it like this because I was asked by Amnesty International and War Child to use the image.

AM: How did you get involved with the public sculpture collective inges idee?

HH: This happened in the early ‘90s. I had a lot of artist friends, and with three others we had the idea to work as a team because work in public space was becoming more and more common. I created one public space project alone in Frankfurt in ’90.

"Next Step" by inges idee at the Führichstraße primary school in Munich (photo by Anita Malhotra, Sept. 11, 2018)

“Next Step” by inges idee at the Führichstraße primary school in Munich (photo by Anita Malhotra, Sept. 11, 2018)

I realized if you do it alone you have to be really a good entrepreneur, and it would be much more convenient to work together on such big projects.

Also, if you work in public space, your work will be seen on the street and has to make sense to everybody.

Only a small percent of society goes to contemporary art galleries or museums. We thought if there are four of us discussing the ideas, then we are already a small public sphere because the four ideas come together and the four critiques come together during brainstorming.

That’s our main business – doing brainstorming. Everybody brings ideas to the table, and then we filter out what would be good at this site in this context.

An artist colleague from Vancouver once said, “inges idee is like Christmas. You never know what you will get.”

"Zauberlehrling" ("Sorcerer's Apprentice") by inges idee, Emscherkunst 2018, Oberhausen, Germany (photo by inges idee)

“Zauberlehrling” (“Sorcerer’s Apprentice”) by inges idee, Emscherkunst 2018, Oberhausen, Germany (photo by inges idee)

AM: What does the name inges idee mean?

HH: Well, it’s just a crazy idea. Inge is a German name – a woman’s name. But it’s old-fashioned. Nobody has been called Inge in the last 50 years. We wanted Inge because it has an “i” like the word idee, and idee is a beautiful German word. We also thought, “It’s a woman’s name – we are four guys.” So the fictional fifth person is “inge” – the mother.

One of two riderless horses in the inges idee sculpture "Wild Horses" in the old city of Berlin-Köpenick (photo by Anita Malhotra, Sept. 7, 2018)

One of two riderless horses in the inges idee sculpture “Wild Horses” in the old city of Berlin-Köpenick (photo by Anita Malhotra, Sept. 7, 2018)

AM: How do you work together?

HH: Everybody has his individual skills. Thomas Schmidt is very good in drawing very quickly and evocatively, Axel Lieber is doing all the texts – very precise text work, Georg Zey is the best manager you can imagine, and I work on the small models, which then go to the factory to be enlarged.

But all of us are first and foremost the artists of inges idee and mainly involved in the idea-finding process.

Our studio is full of small models – hundreds of little sculptural sketches. We did 350 competitions in the last 25 years. These are invited, closed competitions like architectural competitions. We won and completed 50 or so in 11 different countries.

Top view of "From Above" (2011) by inges idee at Expo 2005 Commemorative Park, Aichi, Japan (photo by Kei Okan)

Top view of “From Above” (2011) by inges idee at Expo 2005 Commemorative Park, Aichi, Japan (photo by Kei Okan)

AM: inges idee has many interesting works all over the world, but one of the most striking is the snowman you have in Japan. How did that idea come about?

HH: The snowman was an invitation from Aichi, a former world exhibition site. When we are invited, we get images of the place and usually travel there and come back and develop an idea.

Lower view of "From Above" by Inges Idee, Expo 2005 Commemorative Park, Aichi, Japan (photo by Kei Okan)

Lower view of “From Above” by Inges Idee, Expo 2005 Commemorative Park, Aichi, Japan (photo by Kei Okan)

Here, the place was an exhibition pavilion with an open sky roof and a small water-feature below. And then we came to the idea of building a snowman who melts down and loses his hat.

We wanted to bring something from our culture to Japan, and for that reason we used the schneemann (snowman). I think it’s a German or middle European invention – a mythical figure.

Everybody builds a snowman as a child in wintertime because we have snow everywhere. I built hundreds as a child.

In Germany if you make a snowman, you put a carrot for the nose, a pot as a hat, and two pieces of black coal or buttons as eyes. So the snowman starts to melt, and the hat falls while the snowman is looking down.

AM: Can you tell me a bit about the basketball court sculpture outside the Munich technical school?

HH: We had the idea to take a basketball court and destroy one parameter of it. So we removed the parameter that it’s flat. Everything is what you would expect for a basketball court – there’s normal tartan material, the sizes are right, the lines are right, but the parameter that it’s flat is left out. And so we built hills up to two metres on it.

3D² by Inges Idee, Riesstraße Vocational School Centre, Munich (photo by Anita Malhotra, Sept. 14, 2018)

3D² by Inges Idee, Riesstraße Vocational School Centre, Munich (photo by Anita Malhotra, Sept. 14, 2018)

You still see it as a basketball court, but it is also asking questions. You cannot really play on it, but you can use it in a different way as a relaxing zone in front of the school. It’s a simple idea, but it does so much to a place.

AM: Another striking work is the one of the dog and bone in Calgary.

HH: That’s the newest one. It’s installed at the Seton medical centre in Calgary. We wanted to attract people to the entrance of the medical centre. It’s a dog looking for the bone up on the roof, and the dog itself is built out of nine bones. And so the dog is built out of his own “desire.” He is longing to get the bone, and he is built out of his desire like every human being is filled with desires, if you will. The sculpture tells you to always look up.

"The Bone" (2017) by inges idee, Seton Professional Health Centre, Calgary, Canada (photo by inges idee)

“The Bone” (2017) by inges idee, Seton Professional Health Centre, Calgary, Canada (photo by inges idee)

AM: What projects are you working on now with inges idee?

HH: We are working on a new invitation in Vancouver, Canada. There is a new area outside Vancouver with incredible highrise buildings called Gilmore and they are building a SkyTrain. For this space under the new SkyTrain, they invited artists to make public art.

"Jewelry" (2004) by inges idee, Karlsplatz Parking Garage, Düsseldorf, Germany (photo by Peter Stumpf)

“Jewelry” (2004) by inges idee, Karlsplatz Parking Garage, Düsseldorf, Germany (photo by Peter Stumpf)

We are developing three or four ideas, and at the last moment we will select the best one. So right now we are doing drawing and making models and photoshop collages.

My whole day is about looking at visual ideas and deciding which one is strong – which one could invite people to start thinking outside of the box.

For more information about Hans Hemmert and inges idee, please visit ingesidee.de.

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INTERVIEW WITH FRED PENNER

Fred Penner at Cooper's Gastropub in Ottawa, where he was interviewed for Artsmania on May 11, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Fred Penner at Cooper’s Gastropub in Ottawa, where he was interviewed for Artsmania on May 11, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

By Anita Malhotra

Award-winning children’s entertainer Fred Penner is still going strong after a 45-year career entertaining and educating not only children, but also their parents and grandparents, many of whom were part of his audience when they were young.

Born in Winnipeg in 1946, Penner worked as a singer/songwriter, youth worker, children’s entertainer and stage actor before releasing his first album, The Cat Came Back, in 1979.

In the mid-‘80s, he was invited by CBC television to create his own children’s TV show, Fred Penner’s Place. The popular show ran from 1985 to 1997 in Canada and from 1989 to 1992 in the U.S. on Nickelodeon.

Fred Penner performing on Sept. 16, 2017 at CityFolk festival in Ottawa (photo by Michael Anderson Photography, courtesy of Fred Penner)

Fred Penner performing on Sept. 16, 2017 at CityFolk festival in Ottawa (photo by Michael Anderson Photography, courtesy of Fred Penner)

Penner has released 13 albums, four of them garnering Juno Awards. A passionate advocate for children, he has won four Parent’s Choice awards and has been a spokesperson for organizations like UNICEF, UNESCO and World Vision. He was named to the Order of Canada in 1991.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Penner in Ottawa on May 11, 2018, on the first day of his five-day run at the Ottawa Children’s Festival.

AM: How did your shows go today at the Ottawa Children’s Festival?

FP: They went well. The 11 o’clock was sold out and the 1 o’clock was a smaller house but with some lovely connections There was a family from upstate New York, and they had contacted me a while ago saying that their daughter was a huge fan and would love to have an opportunity to meet me, so I gave her one of my Fred Penner T-shirts and we had a lovely connection.

The cover of Penner's 2017 CD, "Hear the Music," which won a 2018 Juno Award for Children's Album of the Year

The cover of Penner’s 2017 CD, “Hear the Music,” which won a 2018 Juno Award for Children’s Album of the Year

That’s always the delight of my performing, no matter where it is. It’s not just singing a couple of songs and then people singing along, but that shared moment after when I’m signing autographs and doing pictures. People want to go a little deeper and then tell me some of their stories.

AM: What kind of material are you playing at the festival?

FP: It’s an hour performance, so about 15 songs. The majority are original tunes – many from the new CD that I produced last September called Hear the Music. And there are the standards that the audience is expecting. A song called “The Cat Came Back” and “Sandwiches” are the number one and two requests. And then I intersperse that with some hand games and sign language things.

Penner being congratulated by then Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn after being named to the Order of Canada in 1991 (photo courtesy of Fred Penner)

Penner being congratulated by then Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn after being named to the Order of Canada in 1991 (photo courtesy of Fred Penner)

AM: I imagine it’s not the easiest thing to entertain children because of their attention span.

FP: I don’t think of it in terms of attention span, I think about it in terms of listening to them and engaging with them. I think of my performances as a musical dialogue, so I’m singing universal topic songs about animals or food or families or co-operation.

I’ll put out these songs that the parents can connect to, grandparents connect to, children can connect to. And after the performances, the caregivers and the child will continue the triangle of communication.

AM: Can you give me an example of that?

FP: There’s a song called “You can do it if you try.” I wrote it years ago based on a Japanese children’s company that was playing in Vancouver at the kid’s fest there. Parents have come to me and said that they use that song when their children have felt insecure or feeling they’re not able to do a certain thing. And the parents will say, “Remember what Fred says. You can do it if you try.” Knowing that the parents are taking some of these songs and the concepts and bringing them into their own lives is really quite overwhelming.

AM: When you perform live, is your audience mainly children?

FP: No, it’s 50/50 at least and often more adults than kids. The first album, The Cat Came Back, was out in 1979. That decade – the ‘80s into the ‘90s – was the heyday for what we were doing – with Sharon, Lois & Bram and Raffi and the core of those performers. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH CALLEN SCHAUB

Callen Schaub with one of the paintings in his show "The Arena" at The Sussex Contemporary gallery in Ottawa (photo by Collateral Photography - Spencer Robertson)

Callen Schaub with one of the paintings in his show “The Arena” at The Sussex Contemporary gallery in Ottawa (photo by Collateral Photography – Spencer Robertson)

By Anita Malhotra

Twenty-seven-year-old artist Callen Schaub’s abstract paintings are bold, colourful and appealing but there’s a lot more to them than meets the eye. Namely the process, which consists of  spreading paint on a canvas using innovative equipment he has designed and built himself.

The act of creating these paintings is an integral part of his work, and Schaub, who is based in Toronto, has performed his work live at galleries in Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa as well as on Instagram, where he has more than 70,000 followers. A graduate of OCAD University who ran his own gallery for four years, Schaub has also had his work exhibited in Toronto, including at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and in Miami at Art Basel.

Throughout April, Schaub has been Artist in Residence at The Sussex Contemporary gallery in Ottawa, where his exhibit “The Arena” opens on Saturday, April 21. Anita Malhotra spoke with him at The Sussex Contemporary on April 17.

One of the spin paintings Schaub created during his residency at The Sussex Contemporary gallery (photo by Collateral Photography - Spencer Robertson)

One of the spin paintings Schaub created during his residency at The Sussex Contemporary gallery (photo by Collateral Photography – Spencer Robertson)

AM: Can you describe your show at The Sussex Contemporary?

CS: The show is called The Arena. It’s a residency in which I’m spending a month here, turning the gallery into a studio. That’s a very special kind of opportunity for me because my process is at the crux of my artistic practice, and the content of my work is the process.

My studio’s right near the window so people can come in off the street and ask questions, even post gallery hours. Different demographics that might not usually engage with the gallery feel more inclined to because it makes it a little bit more accessible by saying, “This is my process. There’s not a secret to it.” It takes away the barrier, or the sterile nature of the white space of a gallery, and brings the mess and the colour and rawness of the process in.

Callem Schaub painting live in at The Sussex Contemporary gallery on April 15, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Callem Schaub painting live in at The Sussex Contemporary gallery on April 15, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

AM: What kinds of reactions have you been getting?

CS: A lot of people pulling out their phones and wanting to record. It’s very Snapchattable, so that’s fun. The one-on-one interactions with people have been extremely positive, which is a relief because I spend a lot of my time as an artist in this new-age technology, online, with videos and reading comments, and there is a lot of trolling and negativity that people behind the mask of technology feel like they have a right to say. So here – in real life – it’s been extremely positive.

A spin painting by Callen Schaub (photo by Collateral Photography - Spencer Robertson)

A spin painting by Callen Schaub (photo by Collateral Photography – Spencer Robertson)

AM: Can you describe your work?

CS: My paintings are abstract spin paintings. They’re done with an acrylic paint. I use different innovative tools I’ve created by hand – most notably my spin machine, which is a bicycle that I have cannibalized. I pedal the crank, and the chain goes to what would be the wheel, but instead it’s the canvas, and the canvas spins around.

When I’m explaining it to people for the first time I just say, “I splash paint on there” but I’ve been doing it for nine years, so there’s actually a lot of control in the way that I apply the paint to the canvas. I’ve also developed a swinging trough. It’s like a painting trapeze that deploys over the top of the horizontal surface of the rotating canvas. The image that is created is a relationship between the centrifugal motion of the canvas and the pendulum of the swing, and illustrated through colour.

Callen Schaub with one of his paintings at the Art Basel Fair in Miami (photo by Callen Schaub)

Callen Schaub with one of his paintings at the Art Basel Fair in Miami (photo by Callen Schaub)

AM: How did you first arrive at the idea of having your paintings spin while you created them?

CS: In my second year of arts university under the teaching of Dan Solomon, he gave the class the assignment to do whatever we liked. That was really exciting for me because I wanted to look around and see what my peers were creating.

So I’m observing as my classmates approach their canvas in a traditional manner vis-à-vis using a paintbrush, a palette, having their canvas on the easel. I saw that as an opportunity to do something different. I ran down to the potter’s department, got a potter’s wheel, brought it back to the classroom, strapped the canvas onto the potter’s wheel,­ and started pouring paint kind of haphazardly. And everyone is like, “What’s going on?” It was a performance piece – engaging my classmates and my teachers to say, “Hey, let’s think about this differently.”

The repurposed bicycle crank used by Callen Schaub to spin his paintings (photo by Collateral Photography - Spencer Robertson)

The repurposed bicycle crank used by Callen Schaub to spin his paintings (photo by Collateral Photography – Spencer Robertson)

And then it quickly developed and I was surprised by the results. I did 10 pieces, I had a little show in a café, and I sold a few pieces. I continued to paint with that simple set-up for a year and a half and then my friend had this bicycle that got smashed by a car. I chopped it up and re-welded it into the orientation which it has now.

That’s not my greatest triumph because there are other spin painters out there, so in terms of process, I’m really quite proud of the swinging trough and the relationship between the swinging trough and the rotating canvas. I think that’s a new idea.

Schaub painting live at The Sussex Contemporary gallery on April 15, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Schaub painting live at The Sussex Contemporary gallery on April 15, 2018 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

AM: What role does chance play in your work?

CS: I think the pursuit of perfection is still there, and the way that I get there is unconventional. Instead of trying to control everything I create the parameters for chaos to occur and within those parameters I’m hands-off. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH HANK WILLIS THOMAS

Conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas (photo by Andrea Blanch courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

Conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas (photo by Andrea Blanch courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

By Anita Malhotra

New York based conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas is best known for his groundbreaking and provocative works that encourage viewers to think about race, identity, history, advertising, sports and other subjects from a different, often uncomfortable, perspective.

His photographs, sculptures, installations and videos have been exhibited extensively in the U.S. and internationally. They are also in the public collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art and National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C, among others.

Hank Willis Thomas’ 2017 sculpture “Hand of God” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Ben Brown Fine Arts)

Hank Willis Thomas’ 2017 sculpture “Hand of God” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Ben Brown Fine Arts)

Thomas’ works include Priceless, a scathing commentary on commercialization; the Branded series, about the commodification of African Americans; and two Unbranded series, which strip away the logos and slogans from advertisements portraying black men and white women respectively.

Thomas has also been involved in several collaborative projects, including Question Bridge, which aims to represent and redefine black male identity in America and The Truth Booth, a portable installation collecting video testimonials of people’s opinions on the truth.

In December, Thomas won the 2017 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize, a $50,000 prize awarded by public vote based on works exhibited by four shortlisted artists at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

Anita Malhotra spoke by phone with Thomas, who was at his New York studio, on Dec. 13, 2017.

Thomas’ bronze sculpture “Raise Up,” part of the work exhibited for the 2017 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

Thomas’ bronze sculpture “Raise Up,” part of the work exhibited for the 2017 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

AM: What will the Aimia Photography Prize mean for you and your career?

HWT: Well, for me it’s a big deal, partially because it’s the first prize I’ve won as an artist independently from an arts organization in over 10 years. I’ve had a lot of success with my collaborative projects but this was a chance to highlight my solo work. Seeing how the work – which is pushing the boundaries of what photography means in the 21st century – was received and accepted well by the public is a major sense of accomplishment for me.

Hank Willis Thomas in 2017 (photo by Levi Mandel courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Ben Brown Fine Arts)

Hank Willis Thomas in 2017 (photo by Levi Mandel courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Ben Brown Fine Arts)

AM: Can you describe the work you currently have on display at the AGO?

HWT: I have images from different bodies of work. I have a lenticular print that is a text-based piece. Rather than the photographer using a camera, I think of the viewers as a camera because it changes as you move around it. It says, “History is past, past is present.”

“Scarred Chest” (2004) by Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery

“Scarred Chest” (2004) by Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery

I also have a series of retro-reflective prints, which are using archival photographs screen-printed onto a material that illuminates when there’s direct light on them – so when a flash photograph is taken of them. And there are also some sculptures that were based off of photographs that I found in archives in apartheid-era South Africa.

AM: When did you first get interested in photography?

HWT: I think I’ve always been interested in photography. I was always fascinated with the family albums and photographs. But my mother is also a photographer and photo historian and I think I was following in her footsteps most of the time.

AM: Did you take photographs when you were younger?

HWT: Always. As early as I can remember there have been cameras in my life – and both sides of it.

AM: What did you take photographs of?

HWT: Pretty much anything and everything. With a point-and-shoot camera there are maybe some limitations, but license plates to sunsets, family members, shadows, many of the other things young photographers focus on – light and texture.

Hank Willis Thomas in 1997 while pursuing photography at New York University (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas)

Hank Willis Thomas in 1997 while pursuing photography at New York University (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas)

AM: When did you first become aware of social justice issues – especially those related to African Americans?

HWT: I would say my entire life. My mother being a photographer and photo historian and a person who worked at Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture as a curator, issues of universal struggles for human rights and equal rights were all over my house. And from the earliest ages I was at least listening to conversations about these different struggles, if not actually looking at work by artists dealing with them.

“The Long March” (2013), a video installation at the Birmingham (Alabama) Shuttlesworth International Airport by Ryan Alexiev, Jessica Ingram and Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and the Cause Collective)

“The Long March” (2013), a video installation at the Birmingham (Alabama) Shuttlesworth International Airport by Ryan Alexiev, Jessica Ingram and Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and the Cause Collective)

AM: When did you decide that you would become an artist?

HWT: I would say I started really thinking of myself as an artist at the age of 28. By that time, I had finished grad school and I had a Masters in Photography and a Masters in Visual and Critical Studies. I really hadn’t thought about myself as being an artist as much as I thought of myself as someone who was trying to avoid being in the real world.

Thomas' work "Zero Hour" at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia in 2017 (photo by JR P, Flickr Creative Commons)

Thomas’ work “Zero Hour” at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia in 2017 (photo by JR P, Flickr Creative Commons)

I was using photography as a place to explore the world and I thought of myself more as a searcher and explorer. Because I never learned to paint or draw, I thought that I couldn’t be an artist. But then I realized that I’d been doing that all along and that being an artist is not a profession but just a way of life.

AM: Why did you choose the particular studies that you did?

HWT: Africana studies and photography were my undergrad degrees. I always joke that my mother kind of chose them for me. I didn’t realize that I was following in her footsteps in much of the work. But I think there was just a great example set and I followed unwittingly.

Deborah Willis (Thomas' mother) and Hank Willis Thomas speak at TEDWomen 2017 — Bridges at the Orpheum Theatre in New Orleans, Louisiana (photo by Stacie McChesney/TED, Flickr Creative Commons)

Deborah Willis (Thomas’ mother) and Hank Willis Thomas speak at TEDWomen 2017 — Bridges at the Orpheum Theatre in New Orleans, Louisiana (photo by Stacie McChesney/TED, Flickr Creative Commons)

AM: You’ve said that your adult artwork started with the murder of your cousin. Can you tell me about the work that came out of that experience?

HWT: That happened in 2000 when I was in grad school. In going through the process of mourning and loss, I realized that I wasn’t alone. And recognizing if you’re not rich and famous the only real evidence of your life are the people who you impacted. Sometimes, if you’re fortunate, you can have a tombstone, but most people who die don’t even have that.

“Priceless” (2004), by Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

“Priceless” (2004), by Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

So I asked people who were affected by his life or death to pose for portraits for me. I did a project called Bearing Witness: Murder’s Wake. I also revisited pictures I had taken at his funeral, using the language of advertising like the Mastercard “Priceless” campaign of the time, and talked about how even in mourning we’re still being marketed to.

“Branded Head” (2003) by Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

“Branded Head” (2003) by Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

AM: Much of your work has been related to advertising images. How did your interest in that begin?

HWT: I believe the ‘80s was really a watershed decade for commerce becoming a ubiquitous part of everyday life. Most of what we did and saw was branded, with the explosion of transnational corporations like Nike and MTV. So advertising was definitely my second language. I had been speaking it, like most people, for a long time, but I had realized that I wanted to use it rather than just listen.

AM: In Branded, you used it by applying images of branding onto bodies. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

HWT: I wanted to use the language of advertising to talk about things that advertising couldn’t responsibly talk about such as slavery and the way in which commodity culture shapes our notion of ourselves and value of other people.

AM: What was the reaction to Branded when you first exhibited it?

HWT: Usually there’s never one reaction. Some people found it interesting; some people didn’t care. But overall what I’m most impressed with is the fact that the work has continued to be relevant and gain relevance now 14, 15 years later. Every artist hopes that the work they do will be relevant beyond the moment that they make it in. And I think that’s what’s really exciting to me about that work.

“The Liberation of T.O.” (2003/2005) from Thomas’ series “Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968-2008” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

“The Liberation of T.O.” (2003/2005) from Thomas’ series “Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968-2008” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

AM: For Unbranded, you took away the context from advertising images, just leaving the images. What did you learn from that?

HWT: I did two Unbranded series. One was called Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968 to 2008. The other one was Unbranded: A Century of White Women 1915 to 2015.

Each of these series, where I removed advertising information from ad images, were focusing on specific demographic groups that ads were targeted to. Black people as a demographic weren’t a market that people were interested in back in the ‘60s.

Typically, if you saw a person of African descent, they were a servant. But with the emergence of a black middle class, and as a result of the Civil Rights movement, you started to see more and more brown-skinned people in advertising. And I wanted to track this kind of corporate notion of blackness over 40 years.

“Come out of the Bone Age, Darling” (1955/2015) from Thomas’ series “Unbranded: A Century of White Women, 1915-2015” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

“Come out of the Bone Age, Darling” (1955/2015) from Thomas’ series “Unbranded: A Century of White Women, 1915-2015” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

And then in Unbranded: A Century of White Women, I took a period where most women in the United States weren’t legally empowered to vote and I tracked from 1915 to 2015, when the first viable female candidate for presidency was announced. So the project really becomes this timeline of American history through the lens of this notion of a white, female identity from a period where it was very uniform and very controlled.

The Truth Booth in Bamiyan, Afghanistan in 2013 (photo by Jim Ricks courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and the Cause Collective)

The Truth Booth in Bamiyan, Afghanistan in 2013 (photo by Jim Ricks courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and the Cause Collective)

AM: You started a project in 2011 called The Truth Booth. Why did you start that project?

HWT: It’s important to mention it’s a collaboration with Ryan Alexiev, Jim Ricks and Will Sylvester. It’s really about perspectives – how different people can have a different perspective on the same object or issue. The truth is something very contentious that people fight and kill each other over and debate. And The Truth Booth became a platform for it – a forum to invite all versions of the truth.

AM: What were some of the things that you heard from The Truth Booth?

HWT: Over 10,000 people went in The Truth Booth and the beauty is seeing the wisdom that different people share and recognizing how our prejudices based on someone’s look or their age or their geographics limit our ability to hear them.

AM: Your work Question Bridge aims to fight stereotypes of African American men. What are the biggest challenges around fighting stereotypes?

HWT: Question Bridge is a collaboration with Chris Johnson, Bayeté Ross Smith and Kamal Sinclair. The biggest challenge is that we’re told at a very young age not to judge a book by its cover, and then taught by society always to put on a good cover and to judge everyone else by the cover that they put on.

An audience viewing the video installation “Question Bridge” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

An audience viewing the video installation “Question Bridge” (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

The challenge is recognizing the hypocrisy in this and that two people can be from the same family and have very diverse cultural experiences and views on life. Therefore, how likely is it that people from socially fabricated groups of millions of people have more in common than they do with anyone else? Question Bridge is really trying to show that there’s as much diversity in any given demographic as there is outside of it.

Crossroads (2012) by Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

Crossroads (2012) by Hank Willis Thomas (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Jack Shainman Gallery)

AM: And that is why you say that race is a myth.

HWT: Well, yes, it was created to keep certain people in control and certain people under the thumb of that control.

AM: As an African-American artist, what kinds of preconceptions do you face?

HWT: I think there’s a preconception that I think about race a lot. Probably true, because it’s not real, and it shapes my life. So how can I not think about it a lot? But I’ve learned enough to not presume that people are presuming things about me or about my work, meaning there are many times where I’ve been misjudged or prejudged, but there are many times where I’ve misjudged and prejudged viewers – African American and non African American.

Installation view of Hank Willis Thomas’ sculpture “Liberty” (2015) in City Hall Park in New York City (photo by Jason Wyche courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and the Public Art Fund)

Installation view of Hank Willis Thomas’ sculpture “Liberty” (2015) in City Hall Park in New York City (photo by Jason Wyche courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and the Public Art Fund)

AM: It takes courage to put out some of the work that you’ve created. Do you ever feel nervous about how your work might be received – that it’s too provocative?

HWT: Well, I think provocative is good as long as it’s not destructive. I think I don’t ever make things with the agenda of being harmful or destructive, but you never know if somebody might perceive something that is made in one spirit in a very different way.

One view of Thomas’ neon sculpture “Love Overrules” in San Francisco, California (photo by Mariah Tiffany courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Sites Unseen)

One view of Thomas’ neon sculpture “Love Overrules” in San Francisco, California (photo by Mariah Tiffany courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Sites Unseen)

AM: You have two recently installed public sculptures, All Power to All People (an Afro pick) and Love Over Rules. Can you tell me a bit about them?

HWT: Public space is more and more contended about what kind of objects, who we celebrate, and what we celebrate. So I decided that I wanted to make statements, and one of the statements my cousin made that had a profound effect on me was, “Love overrules.” I thought of that being read multiple ways, both as “overrules” and “over rules” and the different ways you can interpret a single statement. So the neon flicker is between saying “Love Overrules” and “Love Rules” and “Love Over Rules.” In public space, where most of it is dominated by ads and commerce, putting things out that make different kinds of statements is important.

Hank Willis Thomas’ 2017 public sculpture “All Power to All People” in Philadelphia (photo by Steve Weinik courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Philadelphia Mural Arts)

Hank Willis Thomas’ 2017 public sculpture “All Power to All People” in Philadelphia (photo by Steve Weinik courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Philadelphia Mural Arts)

With Afro pick, I was inspired by artists like Claes Oldenburg, who would notoriously put different everyday objects – whether they be a spoon or clothespin or a symbol – into the public space as a sculpture. I decided that Afro pick would be an important thing to add to that lexicon.

AM: What are some of your upcoming projects?

Thomas speaking at Design Miami on the topic "Concept, Abstraction and Blackness" with Torkwase Dyson and Dozie Kanu (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Design Miami)

Thomas speaking at Design Miami on the topic “Concept, Abstraction and Blackness” with Torkwase Dyson and Dozie Kanu (photo courtesy of Hank Willis Thomas and Design Miami)

HWT: There’s an equal justice initiative, which is in Alabama. It’s led by Bryan Stevenson. He’s opening a national lynching memorial. So I’ll be having a sculpture on display in that park and we’ll be working on public sculptures at Brooklyn Bridge in New York as well as exhibitions at museums in Oregon as well as Delaware and Florida and Chicago in 2018.

AM: Do you feel that this is a good time to be an artist?

HWT: Is there ever a bad time or is there ever a good time? All we really have is now, but now is then, and then is now. So that’s what I’m trying to encourage myself to think about – that we sometimes think about our moment as if it’s the first or the last – but it’s part of a much larger continuum.

For more information on Hank Willis Thomas, please visit hankwillisthomas.com.

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INTERVIEW WITH ANNE DUDLEY

By Anita Malhotra

Award-winning British composer, arranger, producer and performer Anne Dudley (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Award-winning British composer, arranger, producer and performer Anne Dudley (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

In a career spanning more than four decades, UK composer, arranger, producer and performer Anne Dudley has accumulated an impressive number of awards for her evocative music, including an Academy Award, a Grammy, and the 2017 Ivor Novello Award for outstanding contribution to British music.

Classically trained at the Royal College of Music and Kings College, she also had an early passion for jazz and popular music. This led to session keyboard work and arranging music for dozens of artists including ABC, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, The Pet Shop Boys, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney, Seal and Elton John.

In 1983, she co-founded the influential British synth-pop band Art of Noise, which pioneered the use of sampling and released several international hits, including the Grammy-award-winning “Peter Gunn.”

Anne Dudley and J. J. Jeczalik of the Art of Noise with Tom Jones (centre), who recorded the hit single "Kiss" with the band in 1987 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Anne Dudley and J. J. Jeczalik of the Art of Noise with Tom Jones (centre), who recorded the hit single “Kiss” with the band in 1987 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Dudley is also a critically acclaimed soundtrack composer. She won an Oscar for her soundtrack for The Full Monty (1997) and has written scores for more than 40 other movies and TV series, including The Crying Game (1992), Pushing Tin (1999), Tristan & Isolde (2006), Les Misérables (2012), Elle (2016) and the BBC TV series Poldark.

An album of Anne Dudley's music from the BBC TV series Poldark (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

An album of Anne Dudley’s music from the BBC TV series Poldark (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Dudley has recorded several albums of her own work, including the critically acclaimed Ancient & Modern (1995) and most recently Anne Dudley Plays the Art of Noise.

She was recently commissioned to write a suite for violin and orchestra based on the 2013 award-winning children’s book The Man with the Violin.

Written by Kathy Stinson and illustrated by Dusan Petricic, the book was inspired by a 2007 experiment initiated by The Washington Post in which concert violinist Joshua Bell busked incognito in a Washington, D.C. subway station and was virtually ignored.

Anita Malhotra spoke by phone with Dudley, who was at her UK home, on Dec. 11, 2017 in advance of the Canadian premiere of a multi-media production of The Man with the Violin at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre on Dec. 20, 2017.

World premiere of the multi-media work The Man with the Violin, featuring music by Anne Dudley, at the Kennedy Centre in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 12, 2017 (photo courtesy of Normal Studio)

World premiere of the multi-media work The Man with the Violin, featuring music by Anne Dudley, at the Kennedy Centre in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 12, 2017 (photo courtesy of Normal Studio)

AM: How did you get involved in creating the music for The Man with the Violin?

AD: I met Joshua Bell a few years ago when I wrote some children’s pieces with the cellist Steven Isserlis. We did some musical fairy tales for a chamber group and Joshua and Steven have often played these pieces. So I met Joshua when he was rehearsing the first of these pieces, which is called the Little Red Violin. I think he probably suggested that I might a suitable person to do this piece.

Virtuoso violinist and conductor Joshua Bell (photo courtesy of the National Arts Centre)

Virtuoso violinist and conductor Joshua Bell (photo courtesy of the National Arts Centre)

AM: Did you know about the actual story behind The Man with the Violin?

AD: I knew vaguely about it. This particular incident seems to be well-known all over the world. So I did know the story but I didn’t know a book had been made about it.

AM: How did the process of working on the piece unfold?

AD: It was interesting because the book is mostly pictures – very little dialogue, very little narration. If you were to just read it from end to end it would probably only take about a minute. I had to devise a way of expanding this to be a piece that lasts about 12, 13 minutes. So it was a process of a collaboration between me and the animators to discuss how to put scenes into the book.

As soon as the animators began to start on the pictures, there was plenty of material to be working with. But when I first started off, they hadn’t started and we were both sort of starting from nothing. So it was a process of collaboration. They showed me what they were doing and then I’d play them a bit of what I was doing, and then it went back and forth.

Working image from the multi-media production of The Man with the Violin featuring animation by Normal Studio of Dusan Petricic's illustrations from the 2013 book (photo courtesy of Normal Studio)

Working image from the multi-media production of The Man with the Violin featuring animation by Normal Studio of Dusan Petricic’s illustrations from the 2013 book (photo courtesy of Normal Studio)

AM: How did you determine the style of the music?

AD: I wanted it to be approachable for a family audience but I also wanted it to have a degree of virtuosity because Joshua is an amazing violinist and I wanted to do something that would show off his particular talents. He has a particularly beautiful, lyrical style – a lovely tone, an absolutely massive, gorgeous sound.

Violinist and conductor Joshua Bell (photo by Chris Lee)

Violinist and conductor Joshua Bell (photo by Chris Lee)

The whole piece is about music being transformative and being beautiful. So it had to be beautiful – and I hope some of it is. And then you have the contrast with the world of the train and the underground. So parts of it are quite dissonant and quite rhythmic and quite loud.

AM: Could you describe the set-up of your home studio and how you work with visuals when writing for film or television?

AD: Usually when I’m writing film music or TV music I get the picture first and the picture dictates the structure of the music. It was a bit different on this piece. I have set-up where I have a Pro Tools rig, which is playing the picture.

And I am quite a traditionalist really, and I’m also a piano player, so I like to compose at the piano, and the piano becomes my orchestra. I do a degree of orchestration just working at my desk and working in my head, but I do like to use the piano as part of my composing process.

Anne Dudley recording her album "A Different Light," which was released in 2001 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Anne Dudley recording her album “A Different Light,” which was released in 2001 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

AM: Your work has always been innovative. What are the new elements in this piece?

AD: I’ve never written a piece for solo violin and orchestra, but also the particular combination of the animation with the storytelling is so lovely because the animators are really clever. The animation is running live but the orchestra’s not playing to a click-track. So every performance will be slightly different.

Working image from the multi-media production of The Man with the Violin (photo courtesy of Normal Studio)

Working image from the multi-media production of The Man with the Violin (photo courtesy of Normal Studio)

But the animators have devised a method of working whereby if the music is going slightly faster or slightly slower than before, they have a little bit of leeway. So it’s the perfect combination of the excitement of a live performance without a click track and a film performance.

AM: Did you go to the world premiere of the piece in Washington earlier this year?

AD: Yes, I did. It was great. I really enjoyed it – fantastic. Great orchestra, Joshua was wonderful, it was lovely.

Anne Dudley's 2001 album "A Different Light" (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Anne Dudley’s 2001 album “A Different Light” (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

AM: What do you see as the message of the piece?

AD: It’s that we need to take time to listen. This piece revolves around the child who’s listening, and his mother, who’s not listening. She’s not listening to anything. She’s not even listening to him. So their relationship has become slightly dysfunctional because clearly she’s off in her own world and she’s not really relating to him. And when they listen together, something special happens.

I hope people don’t lose this wonderful experience of listening together. I see so many people and they’ve got their earphones in and they’re listening to their own music. And that’s great, that’s fine. But there is a sort of collective experience that we have going to a concert or playing music together or actually being with other people and encountering a work of art as a group is something really special.

Anne Dudley reunited with two other Art of Music founding members, J.J. Jeczalik and Gary Langan, in a performance at Liverpool Sound City Music Festival on May 25, 2017 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Anne Dudley reunited with two other Art of Music founding members, J.J. Jeczalik and Gary Langan, in a performance at Liverpool Sound City Music Festival on May 25, 2017 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

AM: What were your own first memories of music?

AD: My family aren’t musicians but we always had a lot of records and they played a lot of records. One of the earliest memories I have is hearing Danny Kaye singing the “Ugly Duckling.” It’s a classic, really, and there’s an absolutely beautiful moment in it where the Ugly Duckling becomes a swan. And this is reflected so wonderfully in the music.

Anne Dudley (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Anne Dudley (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

And I remember being totally transported by this moment, where the whole arrangement of the music changes. That’s a piece that I haven’t heard for years and years and years, but I know if I was to hear it I would know every bit of it because it really became a piece that I would obsess about and want to hear it all the time. I must have been about 5 or 6 at the time.

AM: When you were younger, did you have the ability to imagine an orchestration?

AD: Yes, I think I’ve always been entranced by an orchestra. I can’t remember the first time I saw an orchestra, but when I was learning the piano, if I was to be playing a Mozart sonata, I would be thinking about if I were to arrange this for an orchestra, who would play this line – would it be woodwind, would it be strings? And still today, if I hear something, and I think “ Wow! That’s fantastic orchestration,” I’ll make an attempt to find the score and see exactly how it’s done. I think it’s something you learn all the time – all your life.

AM: How did music become your career?

AD: I always knew that I had to be a musician. There wasn’t really any choice. I never had any Plan B. But I didn’t know quite what sort of music or what sort of musician I would be because I’m not a virtuoso pianist in any way. In fact, I used to play the clarinet. That was really my first study. And I didn’t study composition at college. I just sort of drifted into it, really, by doing arrangements and orchestrations for people. But music was always going to be my career. There wasn’t any doubt about that.

The 1987 Art of Noise album "In No Sense? Nonsense!" (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

The 1987 Art of Noise album “In No Sense? Nonsense!” (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

AM: You studied classical music, but your first work was in popular music. How did you make that transition?

AD: From quite a young age I was also interested in jazz and I used to listen to great jazz pianists – Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson. I couldn’t play jazz at all at first but I really wanted to, so I went off and I had some jazz piano lessons.

A really good teacher taught me how jazz is constructed and how it’s related to classical music. So when I was about 14, 15, 16, I began to play in little jazz bands and pop bands. Even while I was at college I was doing that to earn money, and you meet people. I met Trevor Horn at a very early stage. I was about 20 playing in a band, and he was also playing in the band, and he was trying to get into music production, and I was trying to get into session keyboard playing and arranging, and he gave me my first job. And things grew from there really.

AM: How did your work with the Art of Noise influence the work that you did later on?

AD: Art of Noise was a band that was obsessed with technology. We loved technology and we tried to do as much with the technology as the technology could stand. We had one of these early sampling instruments, which is called the Fairlight, and we would sample things like people talking and doors slamming, and play with different pitches.

It was quite experimental. It was always quite a surprise to me that it was ever remotely successful because it was never really meant to be. It was meant to be quite avant-garde and off-the-wall.

Looking at it from the perspective of nowadays, I’ve always been interested in sound, and working in film music you have to be very aware that the music is only one part of the sound – there’s a whole sound design going on as well. So I feel that that’s something that may have started with my work with the Art of Noise. A consciousness of how music is part of a whole sound picture.

The soundtrack album featuring Anne Dudley's music for the 2006 romantic drama "Tristan & Isolde" (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

The soundtrack album featuring Anne Dudley’s music for the 2006 romantic drama “Tristan & Isolde” (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

But also, in my film music I still like – if it’s appropriate – to incorporate electronic as well as live stuff. And you know, it was spirited. It had a great spirit of creativity about it. It was good fun and I suppose I’ve always aimed to have quite good fun at things that I do.

AM: You have composed dozens of soundtracks for films and TV series. How do you get the inspiration to compose when you have a deadline?

AM: Well, actually I prefer to have a deadline. If I’ve got all the time in the world I procrastinate a bit. I think the inspiration comes from playing the piano, really. And improvising – from finding a chord sequence that you like, from finding the notes that fit together in a nice way, and building it from there.

AM: You’ve collaborated over the years with many people. What is the key to a successful collaboration?

AD: It’s hard to put any hard and fast rules to it. It depends on the person. I’ve had directors who are incredibly demanding and other people would find them very difficult. But I have respect for people if I think they’re right. I don’t mind how difficult they are because that will inspire better things from me. I think I’ve been very lucky in that most of the time I’ve collaborated with people who are brilliant. And the best thing is if they are brilliant geniuses, then they can raise the standard of your own work. So I’m on the lookout for genius people.

AM: What are some of the highlights of your career?

AD: I suppose it was quite fun to be in a pop group in the ‘80s. Pop in the ‘80s was such a big part of people’s lives, and in Britain there’s this program called Top of the Pops, which was the most important pop program. And I, as a kid, Thursday night you had to watch Top of the Pops. And then one week we were on it! And I never forgot that.

AM: What is your daily routine like?

AD: I try and work regular hours. I work from about 9 til 5 or 6. If I’m really busy I will then go and work in the evenings as well, but I don’t really like to do that. One day I might be in the studio recording, then I might be spending several days orchestrating something because that’s a very time-consuming process.

Anne Dudley on the River Thames conducting one of her compositions at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London in June 2012 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Anne Dudley on the River Thames conducting one of her compositions at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London in June 2012 (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Or I might be writing something or I might be meeting somebody and talking about what we’re doing. Or I might be in the studio mixing something. It does depend, but I like to have some sort of pattern so that something gets done every day.

Today we’re mixing a TV film that I’ve just done, and we’re wrestling with power cuts, actually. We had just had a very large fall of snow over the weekend and being Britain, of course, we can’t cope with snow. We’ve had about six inches of snow and we’ve had one or two strange power cuts today, which is a nightmare. We were actually mixing and we had a power cut and it sort of just ripped the power out of the computer and it had to be rebooted.

Anne Dudley conducting at Royal Albert Hall (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

Anne Dudley conducting at Royal Albert Hall (photo courtesy of Anne Dudley)

AM: What will you be working on in the coming year?

AD: There will be another Poldark. Also, I’m producing an album for the lead actress in Poldark, called Eleanor Tomlinson. She’s a singer and I’m producing an album for her. I’ll be playing piano and doing arrangements for it. And I’ve also got a solo piano album called Anne Dudley Plays the Art of Noise, which I did for a Japanese label because the Art of Noise is big in Japan. I’ve used the piano in quite an experimental way. I’ve used prepared piano and I’ve sampled it and I’ve used it as a percussion instrument – playing a rhythmic pattern on the lid and on the soundboard. That’s something that I’ll be continuing with and finishing in the new year.

The Man with the Violin will receive its Canadian premiere in a holiday concert at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on Dec. 20, 2017. For more information about Anne Dudley and her work, please visit annedudley.co.uk

 

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INTERVIEW WITH SASS JORDAN

Canadian singer Sass Jordan (photo courtesy of Sass Jordan)

Canadian singer Sass Jordan (photo courtesy of Sass Jordan)

By Anita Malhotra

Toronto-based rock singer Sass Jordan’s earthy vocals and powerful lyrics have rocked North American ears ever since she released her debut album Tell Somebody in 1988.

Recipient of a 1989 Juno award for Most Promising Female Vocalist of the Year, she went on the record several successful albums, among them Racine (1992), which produced four Canadian hit singles, and the critically-acclaimed Rats (1994).

Jordan has also worked as a theatre and television actress and was a judge on Canadian Idol for the six-year run of the show. This year, she celebrated the 25th anniversary of Racine by releasing Racine Revisited, a reimagined re-recording of her 1992 album Racine.

Anita Malhotra spoke by phone with Jordan, who was at her home in Toronto, on Oct. 27, 2017 following her tour of the Netherlands and Germany and in advance of her Nov. 7 show at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

Sass Jordan (photo courtesy of Sass Jordan)

Sass Jordan (photo courtesy of Sass Jordan)

AM: How has your tour been going?

SJ: I always get thrown by the word tour because in my world, tour means you go out for a couple of months and you don’t even come home at all during that time. Actually, I did do two weeks in the Netherlands and Germany, but I’ve been doing what you could call one-offs. All of that to say, it’s going fantastically.

Sass Jordan performing in Arnhem, the Netherlands on Sept. 15, 2017 (photo by Gernot Mangold)

Sass Jordan performing in Arnhem, the Netherlands on Sept. 15, 2017 (photo by Gernot Mangold)

I’m doing a different type of show starting in November where I’m going to be doing the Racine Revisited album front to back semi-acoustically, but in a format of storytelling. It’s like I’m telling the stories with the soundtrack of the music. So I’ll play a couple of songs, then I’ll tell a story or two, then I’ll play a couple more songs, tell a story. There’s two 45-minute sets of that, which I’m super excited about.

AM: So the stories will be about your life at the time when you recorded the music?

SJ: More about the writing of the songs, which of course includes my life. Just telling the story of the writing of the song and how that song came about. And hopefully the rest of the band will have little stories about what they were doing in ‘92, along with people who are at the show. I’m hoping they’ll want to be involved in the stories as well, or ask questions. I want it to be interactive – as if we’ve all gone out for dinner together and we’ve all had a glass of wine, and now we’re sitting around after dinner just telling stories with music. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH MARIE CHOUINARD

By Anita Malhotra

Marie Chouinard (photo by Richard-Max Tremblay)

Marie Chouinard (photo by Richard-Max Tremblay)

Renowned Montreal-based choreographer and dancer Marie Chouinard is known for her groundbreaking dance works and exploration of the human body. Starting in 1978, she built her reputation with highly personal, experimental solo works, some of which attracted controversy. She formed her own dance company, La Compagnie Marie Chouinard, in 1990, and her more than 50 dance creations have been performed to acclaim in North America, Europe, and other parts of the world.

James Viveiros and Kirsten Andersen in Chouinard's 2005 work "bODY_rEMIX / gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS" (photo by Marie Chouinard)

James Viveiros and Kirsten Andersen in Chouinard’s 2005 work “bODY_rEMIX / gOLDBERG_vARIATIONS” (photo by Marie Chouinard)

Chouinard has received many national and international awards, including the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and the Order of Canada. She was recently appointed Director of the Venice Biennale’s dance section for 2017-2020. She is also active in other media such as film, multimedia, drawing and poetry, and has even created an iPhone app.

Anita Malhotra spoke by phone with Marie Chouinard, who was at her home in Montreal, on July 10, 2017 about upcoming performances in Ottawa of two of her recent works: Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights and In Museum V2.

AM: How did your dance piece Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights come about? What was the impetus behind that work?

Chouinard's 2016 work "Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights" (photo by Nicolas Ruel)

Chouinard’s 2016 work “Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights” (photo by Nicolas Ruel)

MC: First of all the impetus for me is always creation. I love to create. This is a passion and a joy, and my job is to create. Why did I create this specific piece? I was invited by the organization of the 500th anniversary of the death of Hieronymus Bosch to create a piece and perform it in their festival. There was this immensely big event organized in Holland around the death of this man 500 years ago. I love Bosch, I love this painter, and I immediately said, “Yes, I will do that.”

Dutch/Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch painted "The Garden of Earthly Delights," sometime between 1490 and 1510 (public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Dutch/Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch painted “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” sometime between 1490 and 1510 (public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons)

AM: How did you go about translating the three parts of the painting into dance?

Marie Chouinard's "Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights" (photo by Sylvie-Ann Paré)

Marie Chouinard’s “Hieronymus Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights” (photo by Sylvie-Ann Paré)

MC: The three panels of the triptych are full of bodies – full of people moving to different positions. There are hundreds of bodies everywhere in those paintings. So for me it was like seeing a snapshot of a moment in an immense dance of so many people everywhere. It was a joyous exploration to try to put all the bodies of the dancers into these positions and then say, “Okay, what might have been the movement before that and what might have been the movement after that position?” It started like that. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH LEVI PONCE

Levi Ponce (photo by Jim Newberry)

Levi Ponce (photo by Jim Newberry)

By Anita Malhotra

Los Angeles artist Levi Ponce is best known for his large-scale public murals, which he began creating in 2011 to beautify his neglected childhood neighborhood of Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley. His work inspired other muralists to do the same, establishing an area in Pacoima that’s become known as the the “Mural Mile.”

Ponce’s personal and commercial artwork can also be found in Venice Beach, throughout the U.S., and in Mexico and Turkey. He has been recognized for his efforts with awards from Los Angeles City Council and members of the California State Assembly and Congress.

"Logic and Imagination," a mural portraying Einstein by Levi Ponce painted in December 2013 (photo by Chloe Cumbow)

“Logic and Imagination,” a mural portraying Einstein by Levi Ponce painted in December 2013 (photo by Chloe Cumbow)

Also an animator and digital compositor, Ponce has worked on such films as Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Interstellar. He currently works at Walt Disney Imagineering.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Ponce, who was at his Los Angeles home, by phone on March 11, 2017.

Levi Ponce with his mural "Dorothy" (photo by Javier Martinez)

Levi Ponce with his mural “Dorothy” (photo by Javier Martinez)

AM: What was your first exposure to art as a child?

LP: I’ve always been around art. My dad’s a sign painter, so ever since I was a child I went all over town, up and down Los Angeles, painting signs with him. Painting signs exposed me not only to my father’s art of sign painting and murals and graphics but also to the art around the city and the art on the walls – be it graffiti or other muralists like Kent Twitchell.

Levi Ponce as a child (photo by Hector Ponce)

Levi Ponce as a child (photo by Hector Ponce)

AM: Can you tell me a bit about your family and growing up in Pacoima?

LP: My dad’s an illegal immigrant from El Salvador. He’s a U.S. citizen now. My mom’s an illegal immigrant from Guatemala. She’s a U.S. citizen now. And they met here in the States in the early ‘80s. I came around in 1987, and they’ve been together since. We grew up in Pacoima – my mom was a seamstress. She worked at a sweatshop, now she cuts hair. My dad’s a sign painter to this day. And I have a brother, I have a sister, I’m the oldest of three.

Levi Ponce with his mural "Dia de Pacoima" ("Girl with a Hoop Earring"), painted in 2017 (photo courtesy of Levi Ponce)

Levi Ponce with his mural “Dia de Pacoima” (“Girl with a Hoop Earring”), painted in 2017 (photo courtesy of Levi Ponce)

AM: What inspired you to start painting murals in Pacoima?

LP: Working with my father, when we would paint we would go all over L.A. and I would see that Los Angeles had art everywhere. Downtown L.A. has art, Hollywood, the Westside, everywhere you went you saw art. Whether it was highbrow, lowbrow, there was art on the streets.

And when we came home up here to the San Fernando Valley, which is literally removed from Los Angeles, there wasn’t really any art on the walls. There was graffiti, there were some school murals, but it wasn’t what you saw in Los Angeles. So when I started painting murals there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to do it in Pacoima because that’s where it needed it. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH LISA SCHULTE

Lisa Schulte with her neon sculpture "Conversation" at her Los Angeles studio on Feb. 17, 2017 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Lisa Schulte with her neon sculpture “Conversation” at her Los Angeles studio on Feb. 17, 2017 (photo by Anita Malhotra)

By Anita Malhotra

Neon artist Lisa Schulte has been creating neon for events and films in Los Angeles for more than 30 years, earning her the moniker “The Neon Queen.” 

Hired to create a futuristic city for a special event at the Pacific Design Center for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, she went on to fashion neon pieces for many Hollywood films, including many in the Batman series, as well as for countless music videos, TV shows, fashion shows and special events.

"Dreams of my Father," a new work by Lisa Schulte on display at the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster, California until April 16, 2017 (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

“Dreams of my Father,” a new work by Lisa Schulte on display at the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster, California until April 16, 2017 (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

Her company Nights of Neon specializes in custom manufacturing of new neon works and has produced over 10,000 custom-built pieces of neon available to rent, one of the largest collections in the world.

Ten years ago, Schulte began creating her own personal artistic works in neon, pushing the boundaries of the medium by working in unconventional ways, including with natural materials.

Her most recent works, in a new style featuring an explosive synthesis of bright colors, shapes and text, are currently on display at the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster, California.

Anita Malhotra spoke with Schulte at her studio and showroom in Van Nuys, Los Angeles on Feb. 17, 2017.

AM: How did you first get interested in art and in neon in particular?

Lisa Schulte with her work "Untitled Wood Series #7" (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

Lisa Schulte with her work “Untitled Wood Series #7” (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

LS: I was always interested in art when I was growing up but I came from a family that didn’t think that you could actually pursue a career in the field of the arts, so I was not encouraged to do it. Now my father is very proud of me that I did not listen to him and continued to pursue art.

I always had a fascination with light from my earlier days. I was a lightboard operator in nightclubs and I designed and controlled the lighting system for the dance floor.

So at that early age of about 19 I became very fascinated with light and started to focus in on one particular light source, neon. Even though neon’s been around for hundreds of years in one form or another, it wasn’t really being used outside of signage. So to bring it into a nightclub atmosphere and get creative with it was the beginning of my experience with light.

"Line from Nowhere" by Lisa Schulte (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

“Line from Nowhere” by Lisa Schulte (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

AM: Where was that?

LS: It was in San Diego, California.

AM: You had an injury to your eye when you were a child. Did that influence your interest in working with light?

LS: I think it was a very unconscious thing. I was shot in the eye with a BB gun by my brother. At the time they didn’t have very good advancements in eye surgery so they put patches over both my eyes for several months in fear that the BB was still located inside my eye and may travel to the brain and give me a blood clot. I lived in darkness for three to four months and also with the fear of possibly never being able to see out of that eye again.

The moment of being able to see again and without having to wear patches and the moment of light hitting you when you’ve lived in complete darkness was such a powerful and joyous feeling I think it did have something to do with me going into the nightclub and deciding, “This is what I want to do – I want to control those lights.”

Lisa Schulte in a section of the 17,000 square foot showroom of her company Nights of Neon (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

Lisa Schulte in a section of the 17,000 square foot showroom of her company Nights of Neon (photo courtesy of Lisa Schulte)

I still have a lot of problems with my eye. I have to have laser surgeries all the time to relieve the pressure, so it is such a joy 50 year later to see light. I’ve created my own world of light around me. And shaping and bending light is a pretty powerful feeling. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH MARK SELIGER

By Anita Malhotra

New York photographer Mark Seliger (photo by Nathan Podshadley)

New York photographer Mark Seliger (photo by Nathan Podshadley)

Acclaimed portrait photographer Mark Seliger has photographed an impressive list of celebrities and public figures that includes Mick Jagger, Serena Williams, Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama. 

Starting his career with Rolling Stone in 1987, he served as the magazine’s chief photographer from 1992 to 2002. He then moved to Condé Nast publications, where he has shot covers for the magazines Vanity Fair, Elle, Italian Vogue and GQ, among others.

Mark Seliger has also released 11 books of personal work, the most recent of which is On Christopher Street: Transgender Stories. With a foreword by Janet Mock, the book features compelling black-and-white photographs of transgender men and women pictured on the iconic Manhattan street that has symbolized gay pride since the ‘70s. 

The photos from the book were the subject of an exhibition in New York City last fall and are now being shown again, this time in Los Angeles at the Von Lintel Gallery. Anita Malhotra spoke with Mark Seliger, who was at his studio in New York City,  by telephone on Feb. 1, 2017.

D’Jamel Young and Leiomy Maldonado featured on the cover of Mark Seliger's most recent book, "Christopher Street: Transgender Stories" (photo ©Mark Seliger)

D’Jamel Young and Leiomy Maldonado featured on the cover of Mark Seliger’s most recent book, “Christopher Street: Transgender Stories” (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: How did your project Christopher Street first come about?

MS: I live in the neighborhood, on Charles Street, and I’ve always enjoyed the theater of that block. It’s almost like an Ellis Island for anybody who is in a place in their world where they’re exploring. It’s just very open. And over the last couple of years I’ve really noticed that that area has started to homogenize and gentrify.

So it started off as me shooting portraits of some of the neighborhood color and circus and fun, and re-introducing myself and asking people on the street if I could photograph them. And after about a dozen portraits, it became apparent that we were working on a more in-depth story specifically focused on transgender.

A portrait of Soya by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

A portrait of Soya by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: Was there something in particular about the transgender subjects that interested you?

MS: It was very intuitive the way that it worked out. I think that makes the best kind of project, where you just spend time in one place and then you see what it becomes.

The most active and the most visually interesting moment on the street was a mixture of the normal theatrics of the area and a lot of very early morning people working the streets and on the streets. But also it’s obviously the hub of gay pride, and Christopher Street has a historical placement as well with the LGBT community and with Stonewall, so it really is a destination.

Amos Mac photographed by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Amos Mac photographed by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

Fifty percent of my focus is always a process. So we were shooting with one kind of camera that I tested out and figured out that was what I wanted to do, and sticking with an environmental background on just one street. And then choosing black-and-white and just focusing on that.

AM: What camera were you using?

MS: A Hasselblad. It’s an analog, square-format camera I’ve had for many years.

AM: Was there a particular process you used to print the photos?

MS: We were printing on silver gelatin, so darkroom. Everything was done through an analog process.

NiTee Spady in a portrait by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

NiTee Spady in a portrait by Mark Seliger (photo ©Mark Seliger)

AM: In your work for magazines, I believe you usually come up with a concept or an idea for a photo. How did you go about conceiving these portraits?

MS: The portraits are really done from the street. One of the alluring aspects for me was just go on the street and meet people and take their picture. Some of them didn’t last more than six to ten frames, and sometimes we shot two or three rolls on somebody. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH CRISTIAN MUNGIU

Romanian film director Cristian Mungiu (photo © Dan Beleiu)

Romanian film director and Cannes award-winner Cristian Mungiu (photo © Dan Beleiu)

By Anita Malhotra

Romanian film director Cristian Mungiu has distinguished himself with a series of award-winning films that explore social issues in Romania in a highly realistic style. The best known of these is the riveting drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, about a young woman going to great lengths to help a friend obtain an illegal abortion during the late Communist era. It won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007, the first time a Romanian film had won this prize.

He followed it with two more Cannes award-winners: Beyond the Hills (2012), based on a tragic incident that took place in 2005 in a Romanian monastery, and Graduation (2016), about a doctor who uses a corrupt system to ensure his daughter’s academic success.

Poster for Cristian Mungiu's film Bacalaureat (Graduation), which shared Best Director prize at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival

Poster for Mungiu’s film Bacalaureat (Graduation), which shared Best Director prize at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival

Mungiu, who was a writer before becoming a filmmaker, is also internationally known for the six-part black comedy Tales from the Golden Age (2009), which he wrote and produced.

Anita Malhotra interviewed Mungiu, who was at his office in Bucharest, by telephone on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016.

Director Cristian Mungiu on the set of <em>Graduation</em> (photo courtesy of Mobra Films)

Mungiu on the set of Bacalaureat (Graduation) (photo courtesy of Mobra Films)

AM: I wanted to start by asking about your latest film, Graduation [Bacalaureat], which won a Best Director Award at Cannes this year and had its Canadian premiere in September at the Toronto International Film Festival. What are the next steps for the film?

CM: The film was bought as a screenplay by many countries and was later sold during the Cannes Film Festival to some other territories. Now I’m in this period when I have to travel and accompany the film because the film starts theatrically in the 40-something countries where it was sold. I started doing this in August in Italy, and I was very happy to see that it was the best-performing art house film in Italy this year.

Still from Mungiu's 2016 film Bacalaureat (Graduation) (photo courtesy of Mobra Films)

Still from Mungiu’s 2016 film Bacalaureat (Graduation) (photo courtesy of Mobra Films)

I will start tomorrow with a small trip accompanying the film to the London Film Festival and New York Film Festival screenings. And by the end of the year it will start theatrically in 15 to 20 countries and I will probably be present at 10 festivals. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH BENJAMIN VON WONG

Canadian photographer Benjamin Von Wong (photo by Ian Chang)

Canadian photographer Benjamin Von Wong (photo by Ian Chang)

By Anita Malhotra

Toronto-born, 29-year-old photographer Benjamin Von Wong pushes the technical and artistic limits of photography like few other photographers do. His elaborately staged, fantastical photographs – often set in unconventional locations – look like they were created using photo editing software but are the result of painstakingly planned and executed real-life shoots.

His photo shoots have featured people dressed as superheroes posing precariously on the edge of a skyscraper’s roof, a model dressed as a shepherdess in an underwater cave with sharks swimming nearby, and fire used for dramatic effect in a variety of settings. All his shoots are documented with behind-the-scene videos that are as fascinating as the photographs themselves.

"Salvation," a self-portrait by Benjamin Von Wong (courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

“Salvation,” a self-portrait by Benjamin Von Wong (courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

Von Wong (he added the “Von” when he discovered there was another photographer with his name) also has a strong interest in altruistic causes. In 2013, he produced a Go Fund Me video for a girl with a terminal genetic disease that brought in one million dollars in donations in a month, and he is currently using his unique style of photography to highlight environmental issues.

Anita Malhotra interviewed Benjamin Von Wong by Skype on Wednesday, June 22, 2016.

"Home" by Benjamin Von Wong, featuring Ka Amorastreya (photo courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

“Home” by Benjamin Von Wong, featuring Ka Amorastreya (photo courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

AM: Where are actually you Skyping from?

BVW: I’m currently in San Francisco. I recently decided that this was going to be my new home base. And I just got back from about six weeks of travel though Europe less than a week ago.

"Deadpool" by Benjamin Von Wong (photo courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

“Deadpool” by Benjamin Von Wong (photo courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong)

AM: Why did you move to San Francisco?

BVW: I wanted to be surrounded by dreamers and entrepreneurs who are trying to make the world a better place. I used to be in Montreal, and as much as I love the city, my feeling was that every time I came back home nothing changed. Whereas I can go away for two months and come back to San Francisco and it’s a whole new world every single time. It’s only been about nine months now, half of which I’ve spent travelling, but it’s been an amazing choice for me to move here and have the opportunity to interact with all these different companies and corporations and individuals. Continue reading

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INTERVIEW WITH HONJI WANG AND SÉBASTIEN RAMIREZ

Sébastien Ramirez and Honji Wang in their 2010 duo AP15 (photo © Nika Kramer)

Sébastien Ramirez and Honji Wang in their 2010 duo AP15 (photo © Nika Kramer)

By Anita Malhotra

In the six years that they have worked together, Europe-based dancers and choreographers Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez (Company Wang Ramirez) have created an innovative body of work that blends hip-hop with other dance styles while exploring themes like relationships and cultural identity with freshness and humor.

Frankfurt-born Wang is of Korean background and studied ballet before discovering hip-hop. Ramirez, an award-winning b-boy, has Spanish background but grew up in the south of France.

Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez interviewed on Feb. 27, 2016 at the Elgin Hotel in Ottawa, Canada (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez interviewed on Feb. 27, 2016 at the Elgin Hotel in Ottawa, Canada (photo by Anita Malhotra)

Starting with a short piece submitted to a hip-hop competition, they began creating larger scale works that established them in the contemporary dance scene. These include AP15 (2010), winner of a New York Bessie Award; Monchichi (2011), an exploration of their own relationship; Borderline (2013), featuring five dancers at times suspended from cables and a rigger; and Felahikum (2015), a collaboration with Rocío Molina that juxtaposes hip-hop and flamenco.

Frequently appearing in Europe, North America and South America, they were selected through auditions last year by Madonna to work on her 2015-2016 Rebel Heart Tour. Anita Malhotra spoke with Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez on Feb. 27, 2016 in Ottawa, where they were in town for three performances of Monchichi at the National Arts Centre.

AM: How did each of you get into dance and what were your first experiences?

SR: I started in ’95 as a self-taught dancer. I started in the south of France, and with year after year of training and being in the underground hip-hop scene, competing and battling, I got to know dance. I wanted to grow out of this and develop. I was interested in choreographic work, so I started to create my own work. I created my own company in 2007, and with this company I started to create more theatrical dance pieces. Continue reading

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