This months Artist Feature introduces Alana Holmberg, a photographic story teller who uses her haunting imagery to push social awareness of issues relating to family, feminism and body image. Alana works with non profit organisations and tutors at Photographic Studies College (PSC) in Melbourne. She joined Oculi, an Australian based art collective in 2016 and is also a member of Women Photograph.
Welcome to our interview Alana! Could you begin by giving us an insight into the world of Alana Holmberg?
Sure thing! I’m a freelancer mostly, working mainly with non-profit organisations on photography and visuals storytelling projects. This year I have also been teaching – I ran an independent storytelling workshop with Morganna Magee in February and March and have also been teaching a documentary class at Melbourne’s Photography Studies College (PSC).
Your images are very journalistic; do you have a background in journalism or did it just develop through your work?
I studied visual storytelling at the Danish School of Media and Journalism so my approach was very much shaped through that experience – it was incredible.
How much of your process is driven by a creative desire and how much is driven by the hunt for truth?
For my personal work, my process is driven by a desire for understanding and an unravelling of myself I would say, rather than a hunt for the truth. The starting point for all of my projects is a topic or issue that I am grappling with in my own life. I’m intensely interested in challenging and improving myself, to see beyond the narrow ways my culture, society and race have socialised me to see the world.
You have won many photographic awards, most recently being the finalist in the 2017 National Portrait Prize. How important is it for you to be a part of these awards and what do you get out of them the most?
I try not to put too much emphasis on them – judging processes and outcomes are so subjective. But of the few that have come my way, I do very much appreciate the confidence boost and the opportunity to meet people who have become good friends and mentors.
Being a documentary photographer and storyteller is it more important for you to spread your story through a more immediate format for example online or through the printed medium?
It’s very important and exciting for documentary photography as a genre I would say, but personally I’m not so interested in immediate sharing at the moment, I prefer long-term projects. I am really drawn to online self-publishing as a way to combine multiple mediums (sound, video, text, images) in interesting ways. I also love the idea of anyone with an internet connection being able to access my work, and being able to share the work with each other quickly. So immediacy in that sense is important to me. Printed medium remains wonderful, intimate, tactile and long-lasting. Thinking about how online and offline can work with each other for projects is something I’m doing a lot of at the moment.
When photographing in countries such as Zimbabwe, do you feel that more images of impoverished nations are making a positive impact to increase exposure or do you think there is an issue with an oversaturation of these kinds of images?
Oversaturation is for sure an issue. Or at least, oversaturation of a particular type of imagery about impoverished nations is an issue. I hope in the future we will see a shift in how such stories are told and by who. If we have diversity in storytellers (ie people from such countries telling their own stories) and courage from media organisations and NGOs to step away from a particular style of imagery, then I feel we can avoid oversaturation and instead engage audiences in different and positive ways.
Your exhibition “Resist Laughter” is an extremely interesting take on women’s fight for freedom in an ever oppressing country torn by political and cultural restraints. You mention that a lot of the women were divided in their personal ideas and issues, do you feel that photography has the power to cover such a complexity of opinions? Also, do you think the exhibition was successful in translating these women’s struggle?
That’s a good question. Ultimately, no I don’t think photography alone can convey that complexity and is probably the reason why I am so drawn to using text, sound and moving images in my work.
For Resist Laughter the images alone are certainly not enough to communicate such struggle and complexity, so I’ve made a digital exhibition guide to accompany the work in an attempt to address this issue. For each woman photographed there is a short story to read that explores each of their experiences and thoughts. There is also an essay from a leading academic in Turkey about feminism in Turkey today, to help the audience understand how politics impacts the women’s rights movement.
My hope was that people would read the stories as they navigated the exhibition, or took the information home with them to read in their own time. I was happy to see many people doing just that, and reporting back to me on what they had learned or what had surprised them.
When using social media platforms such as Instagram, what is your thought process behind the curation of your feed? What do you feel attracts people more to an image?
Instagram isn’t really something I’ve mastered yet! I think the most successful feeds are ones that use the platform as a specific medium for a particular project or idea, rather than a feed of self-promotion or another avenue for publishing a portfolio. At the moment my profile is on hold until I figure how to use it better.
What is your biggest motivator for exhibiting?
A tangible, tactile outcome for a lot of work and an opportunity to share what I’ve made and learned with others in person (and to witness their reactions).
If you could travel back in time and meet yourself when you were beginning your photographic career, what would you tell yourself?
Pay attention to what interests me rather than what others tell me is interesting. I was so influenced by others in the early days, I’m only now just starting to really go deep into things that actually interested me in the very beginning but I had pushed aside at the time.
Written and edited by Georgia Quinn
Photos by Alana Holmberg