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Interview of Emma Matsuda by Sophie Pellegrini

Tell us a bit about yourself, Emma!

I usually hate questions like this, but I’ll start with the specifics. I’m 25 years old (26 in May) and born in Melbourne. My mother is Japanese and my father is British. I shoot full time for a fashion and homewares label, but when I’m not at work you can find me listening to music, watching movies, reading, and doing anything that sparks the imagination. If it were up to me I would spend all my time making art and experiencing beauty, but unfortunately the world doesn’t work like that… My ideal night would be one where I go photo-taking at 3am in the morning, with my analogue camera and headphones. I like rain, travelling, tea, airports, being alone but also connected, cats, John Frusciante, pizza, and sleeping in.

How did you get started in photography?

When I was about 14 my dad bought a (what would now be considered extremely shitty) Olympus point and shoot camera. It didn’t have many megapixels and the quality was rather average, however I took some of my best photos to this day on it. I realised that through this point and shoot camera, I was interested in capturing the things around me, and altering them afterwards to look the way I wanted them to. This became a form of escapism; I was never satisfied with what was around me, so the camera became a tool to create my own reality and make things beautiful. Photoshop and post production has always a big part of my photography from the beginning, as I was never interested in realism.

So basically, it all began with the point and shoot camera, where I would document everything around me – the streets in my neighbourhood, myself, random objects, nature, and people. I didn’t limit myself to any subject matter and I think that’s why some of my earliest photography was the most expressive.

What’s your favourite thing about photography? What’s one of the harder things?

My favourite thing about photography would have to be that you can capture a single moment or thing, and “use lies to tell the truth” (as Picasso puts it) in the editing process. With video, it’s harder to convince or confuse the viewer as to what they are seeing… especially when you are trying to create abstract or ethereal works. With photography you are altering a single frame, so it becomes infinitely possible to create a world, tell a story, or evoke an emotion. I also love altering colours in Photoshop to create a certain mood – I would say this is about 50% of my photo taking process. One of the harder parts about photography would be the editing or culling of images after a photoshoot. Sometimes it’s easy to get super excited after a shoot and want to include everything, but often it’s only after a few weeks or months that you look back on the images you selected and realise you could’ve been more critical in the selection process. It’s also very hard because photographers love to take photos, but unfortunately in order to create great work, a lot of time will need to be spent behind the computer.

You do fine art, fashion, and music photography. Do you have a favourite (and if so, why)?

I would say that fine art would have to absolutely be my favourite. There’s nothing like creating something from nothing, using the medium as a tool for self expression,

and playing with one’s own curiosity of the world. Like I said, in the beginning I used photography to express myself, and not to make money.

However, I like photographing people – so fashion and music photography naturally interests me. I like artistic fashion photographs that do more than just sell an item of clothing, such as some of the editorials you’d see in Vogue. As for music – listening to music is my favourite thing in the world, so it only makes sense that I love to photograph musicians and bands. In particular evoking the mood of the music in the photographs, especially in live music photography where it can influence you on the spot. I’ve always identified myself as an artist above everything else, so if I do commercial work it has to be somewhat artistic or I’m typically not keen to do it. I have dabbled in other subject matter such as lifestyle and wedding photography, so what’s on my website is definitely a culled selection of what I want to focus on from now on.

Tell us a bit about your work process

When I’m taking photos, I tend to go a little crazy and take heaps of images. Then when I come home, I need to sort out the images straight away so as to not to lose focus / inspiration / vision with them. The sorting out process is perhaps my favourite part, as I get to see what I have to work with. Then comes the editing process, which is about 50% of the finished product, sometimes even more. A ‘dull’ photograph can look amazing after some colouration, and I sometimes even think of this step as adding paints to a canvas… photography is ‘painting with light’, so really it’s possible to change the colours of this light. Photoshop is my best friend, colour balance, levels and curves baby. I then edit about 3-4 versions of each photograph; because I need to be sure I’m capturing the right mood. After I’ve finished all the editing (this can take a while), I then look through all the different versions of each photo I’ve edited, and put them in a folder called ‘final’. After this I continue to cull the ones I don’t want in my finished product / series. It’s a strenuous process with a lot of images, but I wouldn’t do it any other way.

What’s difficult about being a female artist? (Totally fine if you can’t think of anything for this)

Well, I think it’s hard because sometimes men assume you can’t do things. I was once taking production stills on a music video shoot, and some guy who was doing the focus pull for the cinematographer was questioning me heaps on my knowledge of photography and even said “I’m judging you…” as a half joke when I was taking photos. However I also noted that he was mainly only half joking, and that he felt seriously threatened by this female ‘butting in’ to an all-male film crew.

Unfortunately much of the film industry is also like this. I’ve actually always really wanted to pursue cinematography properly (I’ve filmed a feature film on my digital SLR, just not on bigger cameras), however knowing how male-dominated the film industry is it makes me feel a bit intimidated. That’s why things like all female cinematography schools etc like one I heard of in America in an online article, are fucking fantastic!

Who are some things that inspire you and your work? (Other artists, books, movies, music etc)

Well John Frusciante is my favourite musician ever, he is a big reason in who I am today because his music shaped my life. However when it comes to inspiration, what I listen to when I’m editing needs to be dreamy and atmospheric – stuff like The Cocteau Twins, Max Richter, CocoRosie, and Slowdive. Other music I love would include The Mars Volta, PJ Harvey, Elliott Smith, and Bjork.

My favourite writer is Charles Bukowski, he was my best friend growing up when I felt I didn’t have a friend in the world. Haruki Murakami is my other favourite for creating such beautiful and surreal dream worlds.

Movies would be too hard to narrow into a small list, but some favourite directors would be Dario Argento, Takeshi Kitano, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Andrei Tarkovsky, Richard Linklater, and Michel Gondry.

As for artists they would be Bill Henson, Francis Bacon, Eleanor Carucci, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Frida Kahlo, Ana Mendieta, surrealists like Chirico and Magritte, and oh god this list could continue forever…

What are some of your other hobbies?

I like playing guitar and singing, watching movies at Cinema Nova, drinking cider and eating burgers, painting, drawing, making mixed media collages, writing, reading, going to galleries, and doing anything that makes me feel alive. I can’t really watch TV just to see what’s on – same reason I’m against the radio – when I do things it’s almost always intentional. Time is precious.
Especially when you work full time, you’ve got to fight to keep the you within you. I have so many creative interests that it’s almost frustrating, sometimes I wish I could stick to one so I could focus purely on that!

List five things that fascinate you.

  1. Alejandro Jodorowsky, the filmmaker. What an interesting guy. The Holy Mountain is such an amazing movie. As an artist he really inspires me, because he’s so crazy and whacky and out there, but his vision really makes sense to me – and he believes in it despite what people say or think.
  2. Dreams. I’ve always been super interested in dreams, and I love how the subconscious conjures up absolutely crazy imagery that somehow correlates to your emotions and inner thoughts. I’m also particularly interested in lucid dreams, and the infinite possibilities within them. I think being an oneironaut would be the best job ever.
  3. Music. Because I don’t make it myself (minus my shitty acoustic singer-songwriter recordings), I don’t understand how such beautiful sounds can exist sometimes. It must be something like Da Vinci said about drawing, “where the spirit doesn’t meet the hand, there is no drawing”. I feel that for amazing otherworldly music to exist, there has to be some kind of correlation between human and spirit.
  4. Human existence. I think because of my natural interest in philosophy, I often wonder about not only how humans came to be, but more so what our purpose in life is and how we can best utilise ourselves for this current lifetime. This is why existentialism appeals to me so much, because it addresses the restless angst and endless freedom of being an individual in today’s world.
  5. Nature and the natural world. It fascinates me how things grow and are born again, and how we fall asleep at the end of each night to awaken to a new world effectively. Everything in life is like a cycle, both physically and mentally – nature especially is relentless, and nature can overtake manmade devices. I like to think of it as a testament to the human spirit.

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