Siri Kaur – SHE SAYS EVERYTHING, Practice and portrait
This week, we find Siri Kaur, artist of the Photographer’s Showcase, with a special interview about her project, SHE SAYS EVERYTHING. SHE SAYS EVERYTHING is a deep dive into the wondrous emotional worlds of the witches of Los Angeles with the artist as our guide. Learn more about the series here!
Photography is often described as something “magical”. Usually it refers to something like an image appearing in the developing chemistry of a darkroom tray or a single lens flare, but Photographers Showcase artist Siri Kaur takes the idea of magic in photography to a higher level with his project, SIT SAYS EVERYTHING.
Inspired by the level of performance required to present a contemporary witch, Siri began photographing the witches of Los Angeles. Her work has historically focused on the ways in which identity is signified and communicated to those outside of island experiences. I sat down with Siri to talk about portraiture, performance, and practice. Learn more about this fantastic artist and his unique work below! Our interview has been edited for length and clarity.
– Delaney Hoffman, photo-eye gallery associate
Delaney Hoffman (DH): So, SHE SAYS EVERYTHING apparently finished in 2019, are you continuing? Or did the project come to its natural conclusion?
Siri Kaur (SK): So pretty much my whole project as an artist is to explore different identities and different communities and also how these are represented visually. I was raised Sikh. And I grew up in a community, part time in Boston, part time in India. And then we moved to Maine in the 80s. And my parents wore white robes and my dad wore a turban. And I think that kind of instilled in me a permanent sense, or even a sensitivity to costumes and how that identity is portrayed in how we present ourselves to the world. It’s this very strange way of life that I was born into. I didn’t choose that! I grew up at this very strange intersection of rejecting cultural norms, religious norms, spiritual seeking, and 1970s colonialism. It’s just kind of all mixed up.
DH: I was interested in talking to you a bit about colonialism! SHE SAYS EVERYTHING features this extremely diverse group of people practicing what looks like various forms of “New Age” spirituality, and I’m not reducing these topics to a TikTok trend, but it was interesting to me as someone who grew up on the internet. In terms of thinking about intersectionality and colonialism, how did these things fit into your thinking for SHE SAYS EVERYTHING, when you conceptualized the project? Was it something you thought about?
Sask.: I thought about it a lot! The way the witch’s identity is interpreted visually is so cliché, and sometimes I’ll kind of operate at the intersection of cliché, truth and performance. In my work as celebrity impersonators, for example, my subjects had this very strong idea of what their visual identity was and how to present themselves. Witches generally had a very strong presentation of themselves. I also live in Los Angeles, which is, as we all know, the center of film industry glamor and media construction. I mean, all the influencers live here!
DH: Well, speaking of influencers, I have to ask you about the image of the doll!
Sask.: So here’s Patty’s doll named Belle, and she’s haunted. You know, I’m not necessarily a skeptic, but I’m not necessarily a believer either. I have a lot of spirituality, but I believe in a kind of essence. I always try to understand what I really believe, but Patti, for example, she believes 100% in what she does. You go to her house, and it’s staged – it’s like, everything there is what you’d imagine a cliched witch’s house. Her costume, she really gets into it and fully embraces it.
|Siri Kaur, Patti (Earth Beautiful (R), 2019, Archival Pigment Prints, Edition of 3, $2000|
DH: It’s incredible. I feel like your position as someone who’s not quite a skeptic and not quite a believer is what makes these images part of your portrait practice.
Sask.: I mean, I would say I’m really a portrait painter. I have this big project that I’ve been doing for 10 years. It’s about my family, not specifically about us being Sikhs, but about our sort of magical relationship with nature. It’s a portrait of me, you know! It all depends on how I feel about myself and how awkward I am in the world. When I photograph people, I think it’s such a privilege to have someone’s body and presence to photograph, so I always try to be very respectful and really don’t judge anything. I think I’m just fascinated. I’m always so happy to take pictures of anyone!
DH: Well, I think there’s something to be said for a genuine interest and a genuine relationship in this context. In fact, feeling comfortable is the only way for the subject to actually “play” as they feel. Totally.
Sask.: And it’s like, if they’re clumsy, that’s just as well. If that’s how they feel, I never have a prescribed agenda. It’s just like, I’m trying to put together! My students asked, “Well, how do you get these people to let you do that?” and I was like, I just asked them, you know, and then I think they’re amazing! And so it pleases. And I also think you can always find people to photograph, if you have genuine curiosity and kind of an open mind, I think you can always find people to photograph. Because they will feel it.
DH: Can you describe your process of making a portrait? Are there any tips and tricks you’ve learned along the way for photographing strangers during this time frame? Or do you prefer to build a relationship with a person before photographing them?
Sask.: So the way I approach a portrait is this: I will think of someone or I will have a spark of an idea of who might be good for a portrait or who might be interesting to photograph. I will contact them either via Instagram or I saw them somewhere and I will approach them. I would say, “Okay, I’m serious. I’m a portrait photographer, I would love to photograph you!” Nobody ever says no, honestly I think people like to be seen, and they generally feel good about it. Sometimes I’ll meet them before, I’ll go have a coffee with them before and I’m not going to photograph them because, ethically, I always have a bit of guilt because I make objects and photos and I always want to honor the person in a way that doesn’t just translate them entirely onto film and then onto a print. I would like to talk to them a bit before photographing them. However, having said that, sometimes I do a portrait where I go to meet the person, and I photograph them right away. So, for example, the work you presented to photo-eye, A photographer is looking for portrait subjects, I would meet them first. And I would talk to them for an hour – half an hour, that
depends. If they seem nervous, I’ll talk to them more and kind of try to figure out who they are, what interests them, what they think about photography, what interests them. Then we will take the pictures right away. It’s really fun to go to a new place and see it or walk into someone’s house and fix it up and kind of like find a way to do a portrait.
DH: Yeah, that sounds like a really collaborative process for you.
Sask.: It really is. Me, I like my subjects. I still love them. I will honestly say that I don’t really photograph people anymore if I don’t want to spend time with them. Yeah, I was doing that a little more. But you know, now it’s like, I want to be with them, I want to talk to them, see them, and I feel like it’s kind of an exchange between the model and the camera.
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Printing charges are in effect until the time of publication and are subject to change.
For more information and to purchase Siri Kaur prints or books, please contact Gallery Director Anne Kelly or Gallery Assistant Delaney Hoffman, or you can also call us at 505-988-5152 x202