We spent a lovely afternoon in the company of third year Photography student Becca Head talking about her journey into photography, her passion for dance and portraiture, the magical west Wales and her plans for the future.
Becca, how would you introduce yourself to someone who doesn’t know you?
I’m Becca. I like coffee dates, long walks on the beach and Saturday nights in. I’m a photographic artist living in Cardiff who loves to photograph people. I’m particularly interested in the collaboration of body with space and often work with dancers to explore the way that the body moves.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
I have lots of childhood memories, some are my happiest times. I have one in particular that I will never forget. I used to walk the dogs on the beach with my Nana. Always 3pm, back in time for tea and biscuits by 4pm. I think it was Winter because I can still feel how cold it was and I can visualise the sky being quite dark (still daylight, but cloudy and overcast). We had a thing where every time we saw an aeroplane, Nana would ask “where’s the plane going, Bec?” and I’d sing back “It’s going to America!” like the Neil Diamond song. A plane passed and we decided to follow it over to the rocks – it was Barbie’s plane! It was white with pink all over the roof and the tips of the wings and her ‘Barbie’ logo was printed on the side. I can literally see her walking down the steps towards us now! It confuses me to this day because in my mind it was absolutely real, of course I know it wasn’t, but it seems impossible for it not to have happened. To this day, we continue to tell the story and insist that it was real. Who knows? Maybe Barbie did make a trip to West Wales that day!
How did you get into photography? What was your journey like?
I’ve wanted to be a photographer for a long time now. I guess it started when I was quite little, we’d go to family events or days out and when Mum would develop the film from the old disposable cameras it would be full of my photographs. I’d take pictures of random napkins laid out in a certain way or party poppers made to look ‘arty’ and she’d get so frustrated! I just loved to focus on the little things that most people wouldn’t have even noticed. I kept taking photographs and it eventually became the answer I had to the typical “what do you want to be when you grow up?” question. I took Photography as an A-Level and at one point I actually nearly dropped it as a subject, but my teacher was insistent that I carried on. It was thanks to her (Mrs Rhonwen Jones, now Morris) that I pursued it and she helped with all the prep for my University interview. I know that without her, there’s no way I’d still be doing it today.
What does photography mean to you?
It’s a passion. It’s an escape. It’s made me who I am today.
Are there any female photographers out there who inspire you?
I have a fair amount of photography books in my collection, but I just realised that I only have one female photographer on the shelf and that’s Olivia Arthur’s book, Jeddah Diary. She was a visiting lecturer in my first year of university and she was really inspiring. She went out to Saudi Arabia to spend time with some of the women there and the book tells their stories. It’s an amazing body of work. She’s definitely a photographer that I admire but I wouldn’t say she directly inspires my practice. Someone who does is Arielle Bobb-Willis whom I discovered on Instagram. She’s really quirky and she dresses dancers in bright coloured clothes. They’re always warped into these awkward positions and she uses really interesting locations. I visit her work a lot because I’m interested in the way she photographs people. I know you asked about female photographers, but someone who really does inspire me is a male photographer called James Houston. He’s an incredible photographer who made a body of work called MOVE to raise awareness for AIDS victims. His imagery is exquisite and I can’t recommend his work enough. I tend to be inspired by locations and people in my everyday life rather than photographers though. I find stories more inspiring than anything.
A large part of your work is portraiture and you also collaborate with dancers and movement artists. Can you describe what you’re looking for in your composition?
It really does depend on the work. In terms of portraiture, it’s absolutely key for me to show the subject’s personality. My style is very simplistic, I’ll only change a bit of contrast in the post production. So, it’s important for me to get the shot perfect in camera. I try and personalise each shoot to reflect the personality of the person I’m photographing. One person might suit a bold, assertive pose. Whereas, another’s personality will best match a simple close up. My dance work is very similar in terms of the way I compose an image. It’s all dependant on who I’m shooting, what for, where it’s located, what atmosphere I want to create and so on.
What are some of your favourite shooting locations? What is it that draws you to them?
Some of my favourite locations have been away from the city. I did one recently on Penarth beach and I was in my element. Another one I really enjoyed was back home around town (which is still very rural). I think that because I grew up in such a remote area, I get quite overwhelmed in the city. When I get those chances to escape to somewhere more remote and have the opportunity to photograph there too, it’s the perfect mix.
What do you find is the hardest challenge when taking pictures?
Because I mostly shoot on location, I’ll often take dancers in the middle of the street or a very public place. Sometimes the biggest challenge is to make the model feel comfortable because often people will shout remarks or make fun of my models due to the unusual situations we create. For example, I recently wrapped a model in cling film and asked her to dance in the street. That’s not something you usually see, and some people will vocalise that. So, it’s just a case of reassuring your subject, making sure they know they’re doing a good job. Also to reassure myself that I’m doing well too. Sometimes it’s difficult to look past the silly comments people shout in the street and I just have to remind myself that I’m confident in my work. I’d say that’s the hardest thing.
What’s a must have in your gear bag?
I pack lightly. I will generally only take a camera and maybe a reflector if I’m feeling ambitious! The simpler, the better. I like to end a shoot with a coffee, if that counts. It’s a nice way to round it up and it means I get to spend a little time getting to know my model too.
Tell us a bit about your work with moving images. How do you strike the balance between photography and video and which one do you feel closest to?
It’s a weird one, I feel closer to photography and that will always be my passion, but I keep leaning towards moving image for a lot of my projects. I think because I’m working with dancers I feel like I want to do them justice by documenting their full movements. My dissertation studied whether a still image can capture a dancer’s movement and I definitely think it can. I guess it just depends on what type of project I’m working on and what I think would suit it best. I’ve taken to capturing stills as well as moving image in one shoot so that I can compare them later, but sometimes it’s hard to choose! I’m struggling with this at the moment because my final project will be a moving image piece, but I’m adamant that I graduate with exhibited photographs, so I’m working on finding that balance and distinguishing when it’s too much or overcrowded. Maybe by the time of my grad show I can give you a better answer!
You currently live and work in Cardiff. As a photographer and city-dweller, can you tell us a little bit about your relationship with the city and its people, and how does this relationship influence your lens-based practice?
If I were to put my relationship with Cardiff on my Facebook profile it would be labelled as “it’s complicated”. I’m from a small village in Pembrokeshire called Llandudoch. It’s the most beautiful place you could wish to live, I have a beach literally on my doorstep, everyone knows everyone, the independent business outweigh the chains by a mile and every person you pass will say hello. It’s my favourite place in the world. Cardiff is the total opposite. It’s busy, loud, mostly concrete and the people aren’t as eager to greet you on every corner. Saying that, I love them both. Home is home, but so is Cardiff.
One thing that I have to say about Cardiff that makes me miss home is the lack of Welsh Language. We are a patriotic city, we love our country and aren’t afraid to show it, the Wales games prove that! But I grew up speaking Welsh everywhere I went, it’s rare to find someone who doesn’t know any Welsh back home. Whereas, here it’s almost alien. I miss it, a lot.
In terms of my practice, it doesn’t really matter where I am, I try and find locations that can tell a story or somewhere that my dancers can collaborate with. You can find beauty wherever you are, even if it is mostly concrete!
What are three questions you don’t have an answer for?
Why are people who pursue careers as artists frowned upon when our lives revolve around art?
Why do people like pickles?
Why does money go out of my account when I buy things?
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
It was in the notes section of one of my first feedback sheets in Uni. My lecturer had only written one sentence which was “Nothing to it but to do it”. I haven’t forgotten that.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m really excited about this one. I’m working on a group moving image piece which explores bodies in space in an environment that restricts movement. It stems from my own experiences of claustrophobia and so the main objective of the piece is to make the viewer feel the anxiety and restriction of movement that is felt by someone who is claustrophobic. Although that’s the initial inspiration for the project, I intend for the piece to also imply a metaphorical sense of claustrophobia. As a society, we’re restricted by rules and borders and are dictated by decisions made by other people. It gets inescapable and I think that, particularly right now within the UK, we are feeling trapped or closed in. But the work can be perceived in many ways. I’m starting the process by leading a workshop with my dancers to make a routine for it which I’m also really looking forward to. I can’t wait to see the end result!
What’s next for you? Do you have any upcoming projects that you’d like to share with us?
I’m finishing up my degree at the moment, I don’t have long left now! I’m currently coordinating our final exhibition and printed publication at the moment, which is both hectic and exciting. Our grad show launches on the 7th June, 6pm at Bay Art, Cardiff Bay – you’re all invited! We have some busy months ahead, but I love it! I’ve also just started a project about young creatives in Wales which I plan to launch online soon. I’m so passionate about where I come from and in my experience, almost every young person I know who has grown up in Wales is adamant that they have to leave and live in a big city in order to be successful. That’s simply not true and creativity in Wales is booming now more than ever. So, I think it’s really important to promote young creatives here. Eventually, it will become a printed magazine as well as an online project, so I’m really eager to get it going. That’s me at the moment, taking it a step at a time.
Thank you, Becca for your time and lovely company.