An interview with Prue Stent
Australian photographer and multi-media artist Prue Stent won our recent theme ‘Colours’ with her mesmerising, sensorial image ‘Flutter’. It struck us with its juxtaposition of boldness and detail, simplicity and ambiguity, creating something powerful and memorable.
These themes run through Prue’s work. She flirts with ideas of femininity, the mainstream media’s view of beauty, power and submissiveness, but in a bold, playful and ambiguous way. There’s a pop-art feel to her work – serious messages obscured within graphic, immediate, sugary visuals.
We sat down with Prue to ask her about these ideas, along with her process and what it’s like to be an up-and-coming photographer in Melbourne. Like her art, her responses are bold and thought-provoking.
Prue – congratulations on winning our sixth theme ‘Colours’ with your wonderful image ‘Flutter’. Can you tell us a little more about the image and the series it comes from?
‘Flutter’ was the first image taken for the ‘Moulding’ series done in collaboration with Honey Long. In this image we play with fabric as an extension of the human body. It’s fascinating in the way it interacts with the bodies and how external elements determine and take control of the form. The obstructed identities create a sense of ambiguity to challenge the viewer as to whether the subjects are liberated or repressed. Flutter captures a dynamic moment, transporting the viewer into an alternate reality. Like the rest of the ‘Mouldings’ series we intend to tap into the subconscious mind and present an otherworldly beauty.
Photography is so often a solo-pursuit, but it seems like a real team-effort with Honey. Can you tell us a little bit about working with her? How did you start collaborating and what does each of you bring?
I’ve been working with Honey ever since we became close friends at the beginning of high school. We share many of the same interests and conceptually are very likeminded. Our artistic process has always been flexible and spontaneous with our roles constantly shifting. We are both interested in every aspect of the process from photography and sculpture to costume design and performance. Neither of us are merely a ‘subject’ – our involvement is equal. We are interacting with each other throughout the entire process.
From the series ‘Moulding’
There’s an apparent spontaneity in the images from ‘Moulding’ and also across your other series of work. Many of them seem playful and unforced, and have a spur of the moment feel, but I’m sure that a lot of thought and planning goes into them. What’s your working style? Do you go into a shoot with a clear idea of you want to get out of it?
Like many of the images from ‘Moulding’ the final result was derived from both spontaneity and quite meticulous planning. We often go into a shoot with a number of possibilities and well thought out ideas, but the outcome is often heavily influenced by external elements that we have no control over. I find this really exciting and never resist when practical circumstance intervene on the day. The shoots flow easily since we have usually spent weeks discussing and developing our ideas and concepts.
“I want to create a sense of ambiguity, to challenge the viewer as to whether the subjects are liberated or repressed”.
And from a technical standpoint, can you talk us through how you captured ‘Flutter’?
This image was based on our conceptual interests but the impact of the dramatic cliff-side location also contributed to the energy of the shot. Honey and I had spent hours gathering a diverse range of props and materials that intrigued us and experimented with them over a number of days – in many ways the process was like a performance and the photograph is a form of documentation. The weather on this particular day was in our favour allowing us to capture colour and movement in an exciting and bold way.
From the series ‘PINK’
Your work has been described as feminist, and there are certainly strong ideas of femininity – recurring motifs of the obscured female form, and of course heavy use of the colour pink. Some of your images suggest serious ideas of subverting beauty, celebrating the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the female body, free to be expressed outside of the narrow constraints of what mainstream media shows us. And then others just make me smile and are, dare I say it, a bit weird! Are you thinking about these or other ideas when you work? Are there messages in your art?
I find it interesting that most female artists are automatically categorised or labelled as a ‘feminist artist’ – of course I am a feminist but this doesn’t necessarily mean that everything I say or do is linked directly to a feminist cause. I explore femininity because it is what is closest to me. It’s personal and honest and comes very naturally. I am fascinated by the human body and enjoy exploring its power and diversity. There are often serious undertones but I also intend for my work to be accessible, approachable and enjoyable. There is a fine line between weird and surreal art. I love both.
Do you have a favourite image you’ve taken?
I don’t really have any favourites. Every shot that expresses the intended idea is very satisfying. I am usually most attracted to the current projects I’m working on. I also get really nostalgic about some of the first images I ever took.
I’ve read interviews where you’ve mentioned taking photos for as long as you remember. I imagine that a lot of your craft has come through those years of experimentation, trial and error, and yet I believe you’ve had a formal college education in photography too. What has that formal education given you that you hadn’t learnt outside of it?
I moved from Sydney to Melbourne 5 years ago to Study photography at RMIT. Having a really good technical foundation has allowed me to bring my ideas to life. I am able to execute my images so that are conceptually and visually stimulating. I think it’s really important to learn the science and history behind photography to fully understand and appreciate its role as a communicator of ideas. It has also allowed me to move in the direction of printing and film making. The most important lesson I have learnt though, is that you need to be constantly producing work to really learn and find your feet as an artist.
And what about Melbourne – How’s the creative scene there?
Really great! I love living and working in Melbourne because of the exciting creative scene, it’s very supportive and encouraging. It’s a great place to meet and work with other artists – there is always so much going on.
From the series and exhibition ‘FLUSH’
And what about outside of photography – what inspires you?
I am most inspired by second-hand and discarded objects. I spend a lot of my time scavenging through op shops and markets. I am continuously inspired by the unexpected items I find.
Your ‘Flush’ exhibition was beautifully put together – creative and immersive. Do you have plans for new shows?
Thank you! That was a project I worked on with Clare Longley and Honey Long for Sugar Mountain Festival in 2016. I am now at the beginning stages of putting on a show with Honey in March next year. This show will be an immersive exhibition bringing together photography, performance, sculpture and moving image. I am also involved in a show that Clare is curating revolving around the idea of ‘massage therapy’. The concept for this show was a result of a performance based residency called ‘BUOYrr’ the three of us undertook in Connecticut earlier this year.
Thanks for your time Prue. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for supporting me and my work. It was great talking with you!