Feb 17, 2020
Chanel is a South African documentary photographer currently based in London. Inspired by people and ordinary moments, Chanel's work focuses on scenes that are reminiscent of older, simpler times, which persist seemingly unaffected by the advancements that continuously transform the world we live in. In her series 'An English Summer', Chanel explores the "quintessentially British" as identity creator and unifying concept that opposes the turmoil and divisions that Brexit created in recent times in the British society.
am - First of all thank you very much for your contribution to our project. Can you please introduce yourself for us?
CI - Thank you for featuring my work! I am from South Africa originally, but lived in Australia for 17 years after moving there when I was six years old. I am currently based in London. I recently finished a Masters of Professional Photography, specialising in documentary photography, after completing a Bachelor of Politics, Philosophy and Economics, where I focused on questions of social and global justice. At the moment I am working on my own personal, long-term projects that document the tension between preservation and change. I am also a freelance writer for "Foto Femme United" and copy-editor for the German magazine "WUNDER".
am - How did you start in photography?
CI - I can’t remember when I first felt the urge to document things with a camera, but I know I was very young and the result filled me with an intense fascination and joy - I learnt that I could make a single moment last in a tangible format. My first photographic subjects were my primary school friends; I attempted to capture the naïve silliness of our morning tea and lunch breaks. When I began travelling more broadly after school, my photographic interest shifted to architecture and landscape, and finally moved to the interaction between people and place. It wasn’t until I completed my Masters that I felt I had begun to establish my visual identity as a documentary photographer.
am - What inspires your work?
CI - People, and ordinary moments. I think people are endlessly fascinating, in all of their interactions, and so I don’t think I’ll ever have taken enough “people photos.” I am especially inspired by moments that I find quite timeless, as my observations tend to focus on scenes that are reminiscent of older, simpler times, which persist seemingly unaffected by the advancements that continuously transform the world we live in. As a result, I like to think that my photographs reassert the importance of “the ordinary” as a photographic subject and highlight the beauty that can constantly be rediscovered in the everyday. This focus enables me to find fulfillment in photographing anything, anywhere – as my eyes have been trained to recognise the value in all things that are otherwise easily overlooked - and I constantly find artistic inspiration there.
am - What is 'An English Summer' about?
CI - ‘An English Summer,’ is a body of work I produced over the summer months in England in 2019 - three years after the referendum that saw 51.89% of the population vote to leave the European Union, with 48.11% voting to remain. From the very beginning of the campaign, and still persisting today, there has been an incredible amount of uncertainty and conflict regarding the issue.
With these images, I wanted to turn away from the visible political tension and outrage and focus instead on the subtle and simple things that make the English summer months so very nostalgic; unguided by place and unaffected by the political climate of our time. Drawn to the “quintessentially British”, I hope that these images offer a sense of consistency that wasn’t reflected by the government’s negotiations, communication and promises over the last three and a half years. Whilst uncertainty surrounding Brexit continues to shake and unsettle the nation, this body of work was created to give viewers an opportunity to pause and consider the timeless British joys that will remain, despite everything we stand to lose in leaving.
am - Who are your favourite photographers / artists?
CI - I’ve been inspired and motivated by so many photographers that have shaped the world of documentary photography, but I particularly love the work of Tish Murtha, Dorothea Lange, Willy Ronnis, Sheron Rupp and Alec Soth.
am - What is your favourite movie?
CI - I don’t think I have one... recent films that I found very visually inspiring were ‘Call Me By Your Name’ and ‘Little Women.’ I wanted to jump straight into the screen to photograph every single scene.
am - What is your favourite photo book?
CI - ‘Mothers, Daughters, Sisters’ by Tom Wood. I bought it after seeing the exhibition at Rencontres d’Arles last year... phenomenal.
am - Thank you very much for your time and your contribution to analog magazine.
CI - Thank you again so much for selecting my work.
All images © Chanel Irvine