Sam Ferris, b. 1985, living in Sydney, and originally from Melbourne. I work full time as a high school teacher and have a young family. You’d think that would be enough, but I still take photos every day. It’s a passion, an obsession, a sickness, a calling, I don’t know anymore.
I call it ‘street photography’ but that term is having the piss taken out of it a bit lately. Maybe it’s due to ongoing and meaningless debates of ‘what is’ and ‘what isn’t’. Or maybe it’s because it’s a buzzword that’s easy to capitalise on with repost accounts on Instagram, the blind leading the blind in ‘workshops’, or the slew of vlog style channels on YouTube. There are all these so-called street photographers out there, who are so insecure and so keen to assert their authority and plant their flag that they need to ‘define’ the ‘rules’ for others. I’m not interested in that. I have my own self-imposed, fairly stringent parameters that govern what I do, and others have theirs. What I care about at the end of the day is if a picture is actually any good, rather than if it fits a particular niche.
Anytime I can. Really, it’s the most important thing. It takes time to get good – time to hone your skills, time to learn how to put yourself in the right spot at the right time, time to become intuitive with composition, framing and timing, time to get lucky or make your own luck, time to edit, time to interrogate yourself and draw out your ideas and what you want to ‘say’ with pictures, time to sequence, time to make photos, time to MAKE photos and repeat again and again, and again.
Sydney. It’s a beautiful city to look at with its sparkling harbour, picturesque beaches, and brilliant sunshine year round. Yet, all that glitters is not gold. It’s a disorienting rat-race, where the cost of living has never been higher and the sense of anxiety never more acutely felt. I often get the impression that there’s this pressure here to live an ideal life, but it’s all a mere fantasy for most – the appearance versus the unsustainable reality.
I guess a lot of the work I’ve shown relies heavily on the Sydney light. Bit of a cliche, but the light here has shaped my style. In the city, it spears through the gaps between buildings and cuts through long, dark shadows. It renders colours more brilliant and creates shimmering reflective patches that make some streets look like a movie set. I’m not the first photographer to ‘chase’ the light here, and many more each year seem to be adopting the ‘Sydney aesthetic’ of exposing for highlights and crushing the blacks. But I don’t want my work to be perceived in such simple terms or to be simply about the ‘beautiful light’. Light is the artifice through which I can delve deeper; it is the disclosing tool that can lift the facade. It punctuates my experience of life at this time, in this place.
No one really cares all that much about my images other than those firmly encased in the weird ‘street’ echo chamber. I’d hope that some of my work is interesting or transcendent enough to escape the bubble and be embraced by a larger photographically/ artistically minded audience. But that’s probably wishful thinking.
To be real though, photography is everything to me. In many ways, it saved me. It allowed me to connect with a city that initially I felt overwhelmed by, and learn to see it as my home. Loneliness is powerful, and I believe the desire for connection is there in my images. Photography has kept me going through loss and in my darkest moments of existential dread. It’s made me a more empathetic person, a better partner to my very understanding woman, a better father to two small boys, and a better teacher to my students.