The Human Relationship with Spirituality

Australian photographer, Sarah Walker uses photographic trickery to transform everyday life into a projection of something spiritual, playfully exploring the idea that seeing is believing.

Sarah Walker© Sarah Walker, from the series Second Sight

Sarah Walker's Second Sight is a project that interprets and questions the supernatural as a contemporary space. It negotiates and examines religious allegories and the human necessity to hold a faith. Looking into phenomena such as light, forms, and movement to unveil the many elements that help us comprehend the world beyond what we see, this project sits in a world where truth and representation is confused, and the unexplainable can allude, defy, and even exist.

In your project, Second Sight, you explore the idea that photography can capture the ephemeral. Can you talk about your experience documenting the invisible?

Second Sight observes the human relationship with spirituality, faith and ritual. It places a sceptical framework over our collective need for meaning, and through this lens the work examines the idea that seeing is believing. With this idea in mind throughout the making of this project, I wanted to utilise the trickery of photography in order to capture the ephemeral. The result is some kind of "miracle moment" but the reality is a tedious struggle to find that perfect balance between object, position, and light, or the capturing of a moment in gravity, repeated over and over until I’ve got the 'shot'.

Sarah Walker
© Sarah Walker, from the series Second Sight

In your statement you talk about your interest in photographing light and movement in order to reveal and comprehend a world beyond our understanding. How do you feel you have achieved this?

I looked at a lot of religious paintings as a source of inspiration for this project and those elements are a critical part of the depictions of religious narratives. We see gravity defied, halos appear around the head of figures, beams of light shooting down from the heavens, and the gesture and contortion of the body used heavily. This symbology became a big part of my work, and these repetitions of actions and moments seemed to somehow speak to the ideas I am trying to portray.

Photography itself is ritualistic, performative, and at times requires repetitive action to achieve its intended results. It has a creator. So, in the same vein, by taking these images I incidentally involve myself in something parallel to spiritual practices.

Sarah Walker
© Sarah Walker, from the series Second Sight

You were recently awarded the Perimeter Small Book Prize for your project. Can you talk about how the publication will be produced? Will it differentiate from the exhibition format? How are you looking to edit it? Please share some insights.

The book will certainly differentiate from the exhibition format. I often install the work in various sizes and positions on the gallery wall, whereas the book will aim to absorb the viewer into a more psychological state. This will be dictated by sequencing, dimension, and the democratic nature of full bleed.

The project almost feels as if you were conscious of an editorial edit - is that so? What are your thoughts on this?

With staged photographs there is an obvious element of design that comes into play that I think speaks to the consciousness of editorial photographs. I can’t say that my aim was to create editorial work so perhaps it was something that came to the surface through unconscious thought. I’m not opposed to that crossover!

Sarah Walker© Sarah Walker, from the series Second Sight

I understand the work also extends to the inclusion of found photographs, video, and even sculptural works. Can you talk more about the various features of the project?

There are some found or appropriated images within the work which I re-contextualised with the implication of new meaning. A lot of the work in Second Sight is looking at objects that are banal being transformed into something meaningful by the projection of something spiritual. I feel like the same is done with photographs every day - we all project our own experience, knowledge or belief onto the images we see.

Video and sculptural works are in their infancy with Second Sight but are something I’m currently developing and will include in future exhibitions. The video work is performative and plays more towards the ritualistic nature of religion and spirituality, drawing parallels to everyday routines. I think there are often sculptural elements to the objects I photograph, but there they live within an image – I’m working towards bringing those out of the image and into the gallery space!

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Sarah Walker is an Australian photographer currently living and working in Melbourne. As well as photography and the moving image, Walker also incorporates sound, sculpture, and installation into her practice. Follow her on PHmuseum and Instagram.

Verónica Sanchis Bencomo is a Venezuelan photographer and curator based in Hong Kong. In 2014, she founded Foto Féminas, a platform that promotes the works of female Latin American and Caribbean photographers. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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