Anna McNay

Q&A with Emli Bendixen


Q&A with Emli Bendixen

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

New Art Projects, London

11 January – 4 March 2018

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

As a photographer, my interest is in finding beauty
in the everyday. I photograph other people’s craft and lives with respect and

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

None. In fact, the thought of a self-portrait goes against what I’m interested
in, which is other people – a curiosity of other lives lived. This exhibition
has given me a chance to investigate myself as a subject/object of my own
eye and lens.

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?

I’m fortunate to work with and amongst people of all genders and I see it as
part of my job to find strength and attractiveness in all subjects. It’s my
duty to convey their beauty in the way I find to be most true to both them
and myself. This applies to subjects of all genders – when I’m photographing, I
see it as part of my role to love whomever is in front of the lens. Truthfully,
I fall a little bit in love with everyone I photograph – It makes my job a
lot easier.

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

I don’t make self-portraits – I’m even shy to make selfies on my phone. It’s
something I should work on perhaps, seeing myself in the way I see others. That
is, with wonder and admiration and a willingness to find that which makes
them special.

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?

I do not. When I started my practice I still considered myself to be
heterosexual and my gaze then as now was one of respect and wanting to know
more. I applied this to all genders. As a woman who doesn’t look overtly
lesbian, I honestly enjoy interacting with all people that I photograph. This
is part of my job rather than my personality. Since becoming a mother, my gaze
has adapted, expanded, finding attractiveness, affinity with other parents
and our shared situation. A new focus on shared understanding of love of our
children rather than self-love or sexualised love. Having a child
has changed my gaze of the world in general. It has extended the way I
view my partner from sexual to one of deep admiration and beyond for
motherhood, parenthood.

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…?

EB: Here,
I portray myself privately, intimately but also slightly hidden (behind my
mother role). My gaze meets the viewer’s without fear but with a sense of
guardedness and protectiveness over my child. Although my partner isn’t
visible in the photograph, she is there, behind the lens and the portrait becomes
a family portrait, a queer family portrait of a mixed-race family. The image
however can be viewed without any of this being known. That is how I can
meet the gaze of the viewer. They think they know what they’re seeing but only
part of the portrait is visible, same as neither mine nor baby Robin’s
faces are fully visible. I suppose then I’m simply trying to portray that there
is more than meets the eye. I may pass for heterosexual, the scene in the image
may pass for heteronormative even – mother and child – but outside the
frame is the context which includes our queerness.

AMc: Do
you seek to portray yourself as object, subject, or both? How does this dynamic
come through in your work?

In this photograph – as an object, a vehicle perhaps to convey love for our
baby, Robin. The portrait was directed and edited by me but taken by my
partner, Julie Bendixen.

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?

I illustrate and write – both these outlets are much darker and less focused on
a subject, they’re abstract and often fantastical. My photography on the other
hand aims to be true, flattering perhaps but true. Loving but honest. I
can’t say if it makes it easier or harder – I see no conflict as the subjects I
explore are so different. If anything I would say my drawings and writing dig
deep while my photograph holds to the light.

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 you?

I think the first photograph that really moved me was Nan Goldin’s Nan one month after being battered (1984).
The sheer brutality and the way Goldin holds the viewer’s gaze was stunning and
defiant but also accepting. 

Emli Bendixen


Emli Bendixen

With R


Also published here