INTERVIEW WITH SASHA HITCHCOCK
by Alice Oliver
Sasha Hitchcock is a UK based photographer whose work is an investigation into her own psychological landscape and the role of creativity within expression, emotion, self-analysis and development. SOLA Journal founder, Alice Oliver, discusses with Sasha, her body of work Skeleton Woman which examines the phenomenon of dissociation, intergenerational memory, and childhood amnesia. Hitchcock uses the camera as a tool to explore her subconscious and repressed infantile memories and analyses the subject matter, whether somatic or atmospheric, that she is continuously drawn back to throughout the project.
AO: Could you tell us a little bit about your early life, where did you grow up and how did that environment shape you and subsequently your practice?
SH: As a family, we have always lived rurally but we moved all over due to Dad’s work. We spent a stint living in North Carolina, USA, and I do find myself drawn to the lazy type landscapes that I associate with my memories of that place and time. My relationship with the countryside is complex. I find it simultaneously embraces and supports me through my journey to finding my true self, but there is also an element that it can be isolating and lonely. I respond strongly emotionally to the atmosphere of the landscape of the countryside. At its best, it can feel like being a part of something greater, that I am at one with all the hum and energy of life moving around me. At its worst, it is like being stuck within a continuous loop of film that is familiar in its harshness and brutality.
AO: Can you tell me a bit about how your photographic practice started? What were some elemental moments in your photographic education that helped or hindered the shaping of your practice?
SH: I took photography at school and then subsequently University for the Creative Arts, Farnham. I would say that studying at University actually greatly hindered my photographic journey in many ways. Strangely, my journey as a photographer thus far has been a 10 year process of moving away from and then ultimately returning to the photographs I took as a teenager, or even before then on disposables as a child. Education of the arts has become so process driven, a series of tick box exercises. There was always this notion that you had to have a fully thought out and researched reason for your projects, which for me removed the expression from the creative process. The joy of Photography is that you can use it as a vehicle to express your subconscious thoughts, fears and desires, and that means being comfortable with sitting within the unknown. My aim within my life and my creative practice is to be comfortable with being thrown around by the tumultuous sea, and to be open minded about where I might end up.
AO: Can you tell us a bit more about your body of work Skeleton Woman and the starting point for this project?
SH: I had been working editorially since leaving University and was starting to question the ethics of the industry. I felt incredibly uncomfortable about the power dynamics of portraiture and I was tired of every story being for profit. My photography felt meaningless and I couldn’t justify some of the borderline abusive acts I saw play out repeatedly by the companies that I worked for, all in the name of ‘getting a story’. I started the process of photographing myself as a way of playing with that idea of consent and realised over the course of the project that consent was multilayered and extremely complex. To think about it, one of the driving themes of the project is the development of my understanding of consent and the realisation that simultaneously an individual can consent with part of their being, whether that is verbally or mentally, but perhaps not consent with other parts of themselves, such as bodily, spiritually, emotionally. Skeleton Woman is the exploration of the “splitting” of multiple versions of myself in which I use a camera to explore the parts of myself which had been repressed and were experienced as disassociation.
AO: Was Skeleton Woman a new step within your practice or something that evolved out of earlier concepts or themes that you had worked with in the past?
SH: There are definitely echoes of my early childhood work in Skeleton Woman, but that is something that is being expressed more fully in my current project that I am working on. I would say that Skeleton Woman is a visual representation of a time of a “blockade” in which disassociation was the dominant experience. The project documents the journey back towards freedom of expression, both personally and creatively. I think for many, including myself, life can be a series of layers of events that can either repress expression, or cause us to use our creativity as a coping mechanism - a way to revisit and repeat those traumatic experiences over and over again, to reinforce the belief systems that have come from those events. My childhood work represented a less layered version of myself and so creativity flowed easier.
AO: Can you tell me a little about your relationships with the people and places that you photographed for Skeleton Woman?
SH: My partner Mark features within the project. As a child, one of the main tools in forming a secure attachment with our caregiver is through eye contact; it provides the stability and security to go out into the world as an individual. That mechanism is then repeated later in life with our partners, we become surrogate parents for our lovers. We subconsciously choose our partners based on their ability to mirror the relationship our parents had. Stan Tatkin in ‘Your Brain on Love’ notes that it is highly likely that you will repeat your parents relationship, unless you do the work to address the intergenerational belief systems. Our relationship was a vehicle for looking at our own childhoods, but also through work was the tool to address our own imprints. It was his presence and stability that supported my journey of shedding the belief systems and moving out of disassociation.
AO: Some photographers prefer to work with photobooks and publications, while others feel that exhibiting their work is the most effective way to resolve and expose their work. Based on your own personal practice, what do you think suits your work best, and how have you come to this conclusion?
SH: I think I would like to eventually publish the project as a book. For now, I want to sit on the body of work so that when I do publish it, I have some distance from it. I think the book format works to reflect “chapters” of a life, an idea I would like to continue with for future projects.
AO: As a woman photographer, do you have any advice to offer others on gaining exposure and making a name for yourself, in what is considered quite a male-centric industry?
SH: I am very much a feminist, but I must say that I have never felt my gender has held me back from getting jobs when compared to other industies that I am a part of in different ways. I do think that I came into the industry at a time when there was more awareness about an imbalance, and when I was working editorially being a woman actually opened doors because there was an active drive to broaden the types of photographers they had on their books. However, I do think that feminine qualities (noting that all genders have a spectrum of feminine/masculine traits within us) are not encouraged or valued, in the same way that introverts aren’t valued vs extroverts. It would be great to see a wider range of qualities and approaches to creating. Creatives have much longer careers than the average worker and so we have to figure out how we are going to continue enjoying it over the long term. One of the big things that holds women back is imposter syndrome, and it’s certainly something I have struggled with repeatedly over my life thus far. I would advise anyone to broaden their horizon of their definition of success, photography can be so much more than aiming towards getting a feature within a magazine or exhibiting somewhere. And whilst I acknowledge that accolade is something we all aim for, once you move your work to satisfying yourself in other ways, it provides you with the resilience and enjoyment to keep at it over the long course of your career.
AO: Finally, please can you share with us some of your favourite photobooks or bodies of work that have influenced my practice?
SH: Leonard Freed’s “Handcuffed” was the first photograph I saw as a teenager that completely captivated me. As I sat in the garden the other day, I realised how much of my creative expression previously was born out of a state of being fearful of a moment passing, and that fear leading me to take by force. I wrote in my diary: “Photography is respectable to the environment when there isn’t a chasing, grabbing, taking of what is being presented to you. Its beauty is found in the moment that is allowed to pass and not be captured. The act of photographing is intensely sexual – it is the framing of a fraction of the intense life force that is splurging out everywhere, where my body becomes a participating partner responding with delight. I can only ever be a consenting partner, for if I am to take by force, I must cut myself off and forget I ever once existed.” I believe that sexual expression and creativity are intrinsically linked and Freed’s photograph is the epitome of that. Off the top of my head, Collier Schorr’s Nachbarn, Alasdair Mclellan’s Ultimate Clothing Company and Raymond Meek’s Halfstory Halflife also have these qualities.