“I love the idea of documentary photography and I love that any moment, anywhere, could be and is beautiful, depending on how you see it.”
INTERVIEW: LANI SPICE
PHOTOGRAPHY: MELISSA WILLIAMS
Where does Suzy Snakes come from?
Well it’s kind of a long story combining old writing pseudonyms with girl gang names and cheesy movies and not wanting to be found by old high school friends on Facebook and kind of wanting to be a bad ass, but actually just taking photos of flowers, haha.
Each of your images are thought out from your subject to your composition. Did you always photograph this way within the app? When did you start taking it more seriously?
At first I was definitely a happy snapper. I was just kind of documenting the things that I was doing with Black Lung and The Pit mostly. I always tried to make a rad photo and thought definitely went into it, but I feel very differently about it today. I’m not sure when it all changed, probably a bit more than a year ago when I started taking care of the RVCA Instagram account. It made me think more about culture and communication, which probably made me rethink what I was doing with my own account. I guess I started valuing Instagram more as a legitimate channel of communication, and more consideration started going into what I “published”.
These days people upload images taken from other devices such as SLRs and even analogue cameras. What are your thoughts on that? Do you feel people should rather stick to the availability and the capability of the particular phone they’re using?
Ja, it really bummed me out in the beginning. For a long time I didn’t have a film camera or a proper digital camera so my only tool was my phone and I spent so much time taking photos with it that I felt I really learnt how to manipulate and use it to get some really good imagery out of it. I loved the challenge and I loved that I was able to produce something good using something so basic. With everyone only posting iPhone photos on Instagram there was obviously a very clear quality level and it was great to be able to take photos that pushed those boundaries. So when people came out posting fancy camera photos I felt a bit sad because I definitely think a unique thing was lost along the way. But now I use the Fujifilm X100T and it’s changed my life. It’s incredible to be able to shoot with the same portability but to have way better definition and light sensitivity.
Photography plays a big role in your life now, did you have any formal training?
Growing up as a kid and then teenager, photography was my way of being a part of something without having to actually play in a band or skate well. That’s where it all started for me, loving bands and music and skating and graffiti and street art, but not being able to do any of it. So when I was 16 I picked up a cheap film camera (in those days there were no such things as digital cameras) and started sending photos to Blunt Magazine and making punk zines with friends. I was going to study photography after school but I started working full-time at Blunt Magazine a week after I finished school, so I just picked things up along the way. I still have very little technical knowledge.
Do you make plans to shoot any subject matter ahead of time or is it purely imagery that presents itself to you at a certain time and place?
I very much shoot whatever presents itself, which I guess is why I have so many flower photos on my account. I love the idea of documentary photography and I love that any moment, anywhere, could be and is beautiful, depending on how you see it. It’s super fun and it makes me incredibly happy, haha.
Taking into consideration all the effects and filters that come with photography apps these days, is there still such a thing as a “purist” within the Instagram community?
I am such a sucker for VSCO filters, it’s really bad, I can’t stop myself from over-editing most of the time, haha. I don’t know, I guess it’s just that we live in such a filtered visual world I feel like you need to keep up and be on the same level. But this also comes from picking up bad habits from shootings just with my phone and having to compensate for bad quality with cheap filters, haha. I’m sure there are still loads of purists out there, but I say, heck do whatever makes you happy.
You once made up a zine of iPhone photographs called “Tranny Tramp”. Could you tell us more about it?
I once went on a skate trip with a bunch of friends and the Anker Rampen crew, who build incredible concrete skateparks all over Europe. We went from Germany through to Norway and Sweden to skate all of Pontus Alv’s spots. Hannes, who started Anker Rampen, took us to something like 3 incredible tranny spots or parks a day and we skated our brains out for over a week. I’m a big fan of transition spots (thus Tranny Tramp) and because we didn’t really have any spots like that in South Africa, I was losing my mind and photographing everything with my phone along the way. Every transitions was unique and beautiful in its own special way. So by the end of the trip I had an incredible collection of tranny porn basically, haha, so I decided to do something with it and released the zine to be able to share the experience with people.
You’ve just spent some time traveling, where did you go and were you inspired?
I just went on a trip to Sri Lanka and it was definitely inspiring, particularly for surfing and nature adventure. We traveled from the West Coast to the East Coast and back again through the South Coast. It was such a unique place, I’ve never experienced anything like it before. It was incredibly beautiful but also very third world and rural at the same time. I found the people to be really nice out there and it was pretty rad sipping’ coconuts on the beach. I thought that I was going to take a million photographs there because it’s a tropical, exotic, Buddhist, far off island in the middle of nowhere. In the end I took very few photos and struggled with the ones I took because everything around us was just too obvious; a local at a rural fruit market, palm-tree laden prestige beaches, huge Buddha statues, local fisherman. I don’t know, I just felt like a tourist taking tourist photos to go and show off to my western friends at home. It was a month ago and I still can’t bring myself to post a photo from the trip, haha. As you can see, I’ve totally over-thought this, but it was a super inspiring trip, it’s an insanely beautiful place with great food and surf and truly incredible local people.
Within photography, is there a particular discipline you like to shoot the most, such as cityscapes, people, nature etc.?
I probably enjoy shooting people the most, but in the context of something like a skate trip or a skate mission where you are photographing more of a lifestyle and a culture that’s pretty raw and real. There’s a lot of visual stimulation there for me. I also think that the imagery is so interesting because skateboarding is so shut off from the rest of the world. No regular dude is going to stumble upon a backyard pool session or a ghetto street mission. In contrast I actually really love photographing flowers in nature, they’re obviously super beautiful and I enjoy the challenge of finding that unexpected, hidden angle. I also love taking photos of food, I do a lot of the stuff that’s up on the @clarkescapetown account at the moment.
How do you think Instagram is changing the field of photography?
Well I suppose because the platform is fast and hungry, the speed at which photographers have to create content is much faster. I would say that people are generally posting once a day, so that’s a huge demand for a large quantity of content all of the time. I can’t really speak much for the photography industry because I don’t know that world, but definitely for me it’s just incredible to see photographers having a platform for showing their work and being able to communicate and reach people that they would otherwise never have reached, with their art form. I think it has probably encouraged a lot of people to take and share photos a lot more, which I think is pretty damn cool.
What would you say are your biggest influences when it comes to photography in general as well as in the Instagram community?
I don’t have any great classic favourite photographers or actually even any favourite photographers really. I don’t really follow that stuff too much. I had spent a lot of time watching what the RVCA photographers were doing, because that was my job and that was really interesting to me. It’s also always cool to see what people are doing over at Monster Children and Huck Magazine as well as people like Deadbeat Club and Ed Templeton of course. A lot of photography coming out of surfing at the moment is super cool, so I follow people like Morgan Maassen. Locally I love the work of friends like Danielle Clough, Adriaan Louw, Lani Spice, Leon Bester, Anke Loots and Pinkhard to name but a few. I could probably do with a bit more education.
Oh, inverted world
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