Friday 29 June 2012
Interview with Amanda Norman
The Norman In Black
You know, ever since I first got involved with Twitter, initially to promote this blog, I’ve followed and met some pretty wild and wonderful people there. Gothic and Horror Photographer Amanda Norman is one of the more interesting people I’ve come across in my travels, mixing a larger than life personality, an eye for beauty and the juxtaposition of a certain dark attitude which permeates her photographs and grabs hold of the innocent, soon to be haunted onlooker right from the outset. She also augments and often combines her love of visually exploring the dark ambience she brings out in her subject matter with a thriving trade in tenebrous, but no less ostentatious, home crafted jewellery. I asked her a few questions about her inspirations and working methods because I thought my readers might be as taken with her work as I am and would lke to know a little more about her. Here’s what she came up with...
Hi Mandy. You obviously have a dark half living inside you which you utilise to take some pretty stunning shots. Is the photography something you can pick up and put down anytime or is it an outlet which you feel compelled to take? By which I mean, do you start getting twitchy if you haven’t taken some of your dark shots for a while?
Hello. I certainly believe that I have a dark half inside of me and I do get twitchy if I don’t do any photography for a while. There is no set time limit, I just get the urge every now and again and this is when I do my best work. I do feel compelled to state that when I refer to the ‘dark side’ or a ‘dark half’, I’m in no way evil. I just love to explore the hidden philosophies and explore the possibilities of things that most people immediately close their mind to, usually because of fear, and this is what inspires my work. When I’m out with my camera, I ask myself "is there something or someone watching me from the hidden depths of the shadows and why?"
Ha! Yeah, I’ve always found a certain amount of healthy obsession can fuel greater work. Fear, sex or the neccessity to explore something with fresh eyes. This voyeuristic “there’s something watching me” kinda attitude presumably only covers your landscape work. Do you let your “camera eye” become the “something that’s watching” or do you just channel the unease/paranoia of that kind of situation without becoming a literal translator? Or both?
It doesn’t just cover my landscape work, it’s all photography work that I do, even with the horror portraits. I’m always searching for the hidden, so in answer to your question, I’m never the watcher. I do channel the unease/paranoia and try to encapsulate that element in my work. A picture is just a picture unless you can capture the atmosphere and the emotion of the subject. With the horror portraits, the true monstrous soul remains hidden unless I bring it out. I’ll leave you to ponder on that thought.
You’ve gone on record that you don’t plan your shots in advance but, you’ve been doing this a while now. Has your working method changed at all? Do you ever sketch out something which is in your head and then seek it out or manufacture a specific vision for your lens?
I very rarely plan my shots in advance. I might see a poster or something on the TV that inspires me, for example the poster for the film The Exorcist is so iconic with the silhouette of the priest under the lamp. This inspired a photograph I took of my ex on a dark path. I never want to copy anything I’ve seen out right, but I do love to experiment.
Ok. So it would be true that you prefer to find your way to a shot spontaneously when you are confronted with your raw materials. I know a lot of the old Hollywood directors liked to “think on their feet” like that. Would it be true to say that you get a buzz out of that kind of challenge when you’re on location then? And that too much planning, for you, would be to dull down the experience and perhaps dumb down the shot?
I always think on my feet and very rarely plan a shot and yes, I do get a buzz out of it, especially when I put the images onto the computer. Sometimes I surprise myself with what I’ve taken.
The majority of your photography is in black and white and you’ve noted your inspiration can come from the old 30s and 40s Universal Horror movies (and I suspect Val Lewton’s stuff for RKO might also be an influence on your work?) but I know you also find a muse in the Hammer Horror films of the 50s, 60s and 70s. Now Hammer’s big thing when they got into the horror game was the bright colours...are you planning to explore more of your work in colour as time goes on?
This is such a difficult area for me to explore. I prefer black and white as most times more detail is kept, but sometimes my images look great if they have striking colours. I take all of my shots in colour and then convert to black and white, but sometimes I will keep colour ones if I can’t decide. I now have a gallery titled ‘The Darkside’ (http://www.amandanorman.com/shop/index.html?folder=folder/) that has quite a bit of colour photography in it. I sent you an image of one of Antony Gormley’s iron men on Crosby beach that I took recently. I prefer the colour one. Also, you’re correct in your assumption of RKO influencing my work. I just love the old black and white movies and I can watch them time and time again.
When you work on portraiture, I’m guessing you make a lot of adjustments to the setting via lighting etc. Is this so and do you ever artificially alter the environment on your gothic, atmospheric landscape work to fit a shot? For instance, do you ever use reflectors, or a makeshift version of such, to change the lighting of a shot to any extent?
I’ve never studied photography and I’ve never had the opportunity to perform studio work. I’m quite lucky in the fact that all I require for a portrait shot is a plain dark background and enough light to get the desired result. I’ve never used any photography props such as reflectors. Most of my work is tweaked afterwards and I emphasise the word ‘tweaked’ as the pose and the lighting is the most important part of the portrait.
Ahh... yeah okay. I was going to get around to asking you this anyway. So it would be fair to say that your shots are, like pretty much everything these days just by the nature of the beast in the age of a digital venue, enhanced in a programme like Adobe Photoshop after you’ve got the original shots? I’m assuming it’s Photoshop? I’m guessing you play around with the levels to some extent and also, possibly on your colour shots, enhance the saturation of some of the image content? I say this because I know I have to fix a lot of photos in my day job and try to get them decent enough for print reproduction and I do all of that same kind of tweaking myself. Take us through one of your shots. Pick one and tell my readers how you might get it sorted... unless that’s demistifying the process too far? Don’t want to spoil the magic.
As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it’s interpreting what one sees into digital format and how well they do it. Take for example the image of my shadow and a friends. The original is to many, a boring image, but for me there was something there, but I had to bring it out, without altering the original image. Therefore the finished result is a play on levels and colours, just like you mentioned in your question. The original image is exactly the same and yet the finished result is a brand new image, but with a splash of dark passion. Both versions pictured above.
Do you find the people who are drawn to your work to be similarly dark in nature? Also, do you find the percentage of your portraiture subjects who request that you “do them” (for want of a better term) to be of a similar dark type of personality or are they quite a diverse bunch?
Another tough question, as most of my contacts are people from Twitter who obviously have the same or similar interests as myself. Some of the horror portraits that you see in my gallery (http://www.amandanorman.com/shop/index.html?folder=portraits) are of friends and family who don’t generally like horror so really, you don’t have to have a dark personality to have your portrait taken.
Ha! Fair enough... so you add the darkness yourself a lot of the time. Yes, I understand that your contacts would be drawn from a similar world view. What do your friends and family who sit for some of these portraits, and who don't share that view, think of the end results?
Good question as friends have a laugh and love the finished output, but some of my family have a strange reaction.
I’ve sent you the dark portrait of my mother aptly titled ‘Dark Mother’ and I’ve also sent the original. Both versions pictured above. I had this image on my home page just before last Christmas and I also had it as my desktop background. To cut a long story short, my mother came to visit and I was showing her something on my computer when she suddenly asked "Who the Hell is that?"
I looked at her shocked as I couldn’t believe she was asking me that question and I thought for a moment that she was joking until I realised she wasn’t. I told her that it was her and she was so shocked that she demanded that I take it off, but then I had to tell her that I use it on my website and business cards. She’s OK about it now, but it was just the shock for her seeing it first time. She really couldn’t believe that it was her.
Well I’d say that was a pretty interesting result and says everything about the way your personal touch brings something entirely new to your subjects.
Mandy Norman, thanks very much for your time.
You can see Amanda Norman’s dark corner of the internet here... http://www.amandanorman.com and you can follow her on twitter here http://twitter.com/AmandaNorman