Anna McNay

Q&A with Bronac McNeill


Q&A with Bronac McNeill

on the occasion of 3×3: An exhibition of nine women photographers

New Art Projects, London

11 January – 4 March 2018

McNay: What are the key concerns or themes running through your practice?


AMc: How
much a part of your work does self-portraiture form?

BMc: In recent years my work has moved from never shooting people to only
shooting people. I love capturing reaction, emotion and people when they glow

with love, and especially capturing them doing what
makes them tick. So turning the lens on myself is a real challenge and one that
initially was an uncomfortable one.

AMc: As
a woman looking at a woman (herself – but perhaps also other women, if you also
make portraits of others), how aware are you of the conventions and load of the
male gaze? To what extent do you work with or subvert these?

BMc: I take photos of women in many different situations, from work
headshots, to parties through to portraits where I have more time to get to
know them and convey their personality. In the privacy of the studio I often
notice the difference in our relationship and even their stance if a male
assistant or their male colleague comes into the room. For this reason I
purposely try to have female teams in my studio. I regularly coach younger
women in business shoots so they

portray a more serious persona than their usual selfie
stance conveys. I want a truth that is them not what they have learned is
expected of them to be acceptable. All too often I hear women apologise for
their appearance and not being photogenic – what ever that means. I rarely hear
men saying this. So I want to practise what I preach and show that the sum of
my parts is strong like only a woman can be.

AMc: How
– if at all – does your sexuality influence or shape your work, especially your

BMc: I don’t think there is any way my sexuality can’t influence my work as equally
all my experiences and knowledge influences my work. My ability to relax a
person in front of the camera comes from how I relate to the world and in
particular the person in front of me. Interestingly it took me longer than I
expected to relax myself and really look at my image.

AMc: As
a woman who likes women, looking at women, do you feel your gaze is different
from the gaze of a heterosexual woman artist? In what way?

BMc: I don’t think I can talk about heterosexual women artists but I often
feel my gaze is more sympathetic, less competitive or critical, and more
encouraging than a heterosexual woman expects. My subjects leave my studio
feeling better about themselves and have voiced that they enjoyed learning how
to control their learned patriarchal ticks or idiosyncrasies to their

AMc: Can
you say something about the work you are submitting for this exhibition? How
are you seeking to portray yourself? What are the key aspects you’re drawing
forth? Physical, psychological, sociological?

BMc: I was once told by a lesbian friend that I am a ‘140 footer’. Allegedly

means you can tell I’m a lesbian from, yes you guessed
it, 140 feet away. On hearing that a small part of me thought: ‘Oh no! My poor parents
must be so upset.’ The rest of me laughed and was slightly proud. My gender is
only part of me but one it’s taken a long time to embrace. I’d like to give an
honest representation of myself but I’m struggling with what that actually is.
I know I wear my heart on my sleeve and now I am seeing that in this work. I
know I can hide my sad eyes from those who can’t be bothered the look but not
from those who care for me. I don’t want the happy selfie that I do so well. I
want to show a depth that is reflective of my life so far plus the contentment
I feel in my life

right now.

AMc: Do
you seek to portray yourself as object, subject, or both? How does

dynamic come through in your work?

BMc: This is only the second time I’ve worked on a self-portrait. The last
time I was definitely an object, as I was so disconnected from the situation, I
took the shots and left them for a year before I felt secure enough to work on
them. Now I am a subject as I am very connected to the work, which I hope will
be apparent.

AMc: Do
you work in media other than photography? If so, how does the gaze offered by
the camera differ from the viewpoint obtained through other media? How does the
experience as artist differ? Does it make the act of looking easier or more
difficult? If you don’t work with other media, what is it about the gaze of the
camera that attracts you to working with photography?

BMc: I work in both stills and film, I’m not talented enough to paint or
draw and so concentrate on what I love. I love it because what was once thought
of as honest recording has now become as multi-layered as any artist’s
impression. I record moments that otherwise would be lost forever. I refuse to
over-photoshop and prove to clients that it isn’t needed – I want to capture
the unique life in a subject and therefore the beauty of their life. That
beauty doesn’t

always need to be happy.

AMc: What
one work of art, depicting a woman as object – or subject, have

you been
most influenced/impressed by and what is it about this work

that captures

BMc: Sorry I have no answer for this at present.

Bronac McNeill


Bronac McNeill

Observe, Examine, Judge


Also published here