SAMANTHA WEST: The Rapture of Capture
SAMANTHA WEST was born into the concrete jungle of New York City on New Years Day. After two years spent studying History of Art at The University of St Andrews, Scotland, she returned back to home to pursue her love of photography. Samantha’s work has been featured in “Nerve: The First Ten Years”, published by Chronicle Books, “Rock Star Chic: The Dark Side of Fashion” published by Faremeh Media and holds a place in the permanent collection of WYNC’s Jerome L, Greene Space in New York City. Her work has been exhibited in Los Angeles, New York City, Philidelphia and Reykjavik, Iceland. Samantha has been a featured photographer on Tumblr’s Spotlight for two years running and was nominated for PDN’s 30 under 30 in 2012.
To view more of Samantha’s work visit : www.samanthawest.net
Interview by Emeline Loric
Let’s start at the beginning, were you creative as a child? When was the first time you picked up a camera?
I was a very creative child, yes. Encouraged to be so by my incredibly creative parents. I grew up down the the street from Lincoln Center in New York City. My mum installed a ballet bar for me as a little girl and I fell in love with Stavinsky’s “Patrushka”. I loved to dance, draw, paint. I loved going to museums, dressing up, living in a fantastical world. I was very dedicated to drawing as a child and as a teenager, but I started to share my love of the pencil with a newfound love for the camera around 12 years of age. It was then my mother bought my first camera at B & H Photo in midtown, NYC. It was a cheap Nikon with a 50mm lens that I continued to use until it died last summer. I loved Polaroids too and their instantaneous satisfaction. Photography was always a diary for me in a way. As a teenager I did not have anyone to photograph, so I regularly become my own subject. I honed in on a sense of self introspection without realizing it from quite a young age.
You have said that you try to create images where your subjects not only accept who they are, but understand that ‘personal strength is achieved with self-ownership’. Tell us about that particular moment when you feel that your models are truly opening up and allowing you to capture their true essence.
In my personal work, an ongoing project, entitled “Musings”, I aim to photograph women I know in an incredibly feminine, romantic, and sensual light. Sensuality does not have to be reflective of sex, rather sensuality is so much part of being a women, it is something that should be celebrated rather than demonized.
I think that quote can certainly be applied to me personally, I do not think that “reaching that point”, for lack of a better term, is so much a requirement or a guaranteed line in the sand that is crossed by each subject. I do believe that stepping over personal boundaries, or exposing oneself in any way can be in incredibly liberating and an empowering moment for the individual. Self-exposure, however, can mean different things to different people. Everyone is comfortable in their own skin in such a unique way. I will say that all the women I photograph are very strong people in their own right. I have only had one or two subjects, early on, who were quite shy or perhaps not totally confident in the moment, but to this day, six or seven years later, they still go back to those photos, which really says something to me. Every once in a while I have photos pop up on my Facebook feed that I took in 2006/2007, and I think that is just beautiful – To have taken a photo of a women who saw something so powerful in those moments, that they keep returning to the pictures it is a great compliment and something I am proud of.
I do not think I can point out, in a shoot, when that said moment of self-ownership is achieved, I think that it is more complex than that. I certainly have stretches of time, during 80% of these shoots, where I reach a higher plain with the subject and something magical starts to happen. I can equate it to running with someone and you reach a point your breathing aligns, you feet hit the ground at the same pace and you are galloping together. It is so exciting. It feels like you are giving them what they need to give you what you need. It is so special and makes me giddy.
To add to that thought- perhaps that feeling of self-ownership can come during the shoot, or after the fact, when you feel invigorated and beautiful and inspired, or when a subject see the images of themselves and they can say “Holy wow, I am gorgeous!”. It depends on the person. There is no right way.
Self-portraiture is a big part of your work, how do you overcome your own fear in order to embrace your vulnerability?
I do not think I ever will fully embrace it. I also do not think there was a fear I ever had to overcome. Confidence, whether it started out as genuine or natural, was something I had to get a lot of very quickly at a very young age. I was always tall for my age, I always looked older than I was and was treated differently because of it. You pick up and acquire what you need in order to go through life. Self portraits were the building blocks of my photography for very practical reasons, namely because I had no one else to photograph when I was younger. I distinctly remember wishing, as a young teenager, that could make a copy of myself so I could be both the photographer and model. That wish did not stem from a point of vanity, but rather, it would have allowed me to photograph someone who would give me exactly what I wanted in a picture. As I got older I gathered the courage to photograph subjects whoI new I wanted to capture. I began to have close girlfriends who became my muses. It was a slow process. Self-portraiture evolved into a photographic diary. When I had moments of intense depression or beautiful elation, I would take a self portrait. I can still look at photos of myself from six years ago, know where I was, how I was in love, remember the knot in my stomach, or other emotions. We are all vulnerable creatures, I prefer to embrace that reality rather than fight it!
Please share something that has had a profound impact on you creatively:
I think two things have really shaped me. First and foremost, growing up in New York City. You are never wanting for anything. You have the world’s flavors, colors and languages surrounding you on a daily basis. It is a city where people are forced to be on the same level at some point in the day. No matter your color or creed, you walk the same sidewalks and you will stand next to one another on the corner before you cross the street together. Sometimes I just watch people go and it hits me how different we all are. I know that might sound silly, but I think people forget there are so many different bodies, faces, features in this world. No matter how homogenous the media tries to make us, we are all SO different.
I also think going through depression shaped me greatly. It may sound cliché, but moments of despair encouraged some beautiful work, in my opinion.
Where do you feel most creative?
As I get older, that changes. I think it also depends on my head space. I love New York City because it is a place where you can realize ideas. Meaning, if I want to shoot a fashion story, I can get in touch with incredibly talented and opened minded people to collaborate on a project together. In a very practical sense, it is special to be in a city where you have so many creative outlets. However, I also see such inspiration in nature, in open and wild landscapes. Living in Iceland for a summer was wonderful in the sense that my earth mother side was allowed to flourish. To be near the sea, to have all the natural elements swirling around you on a daily basis does something to me. More than anything, if a place has beautiful natural light, then I am quite content. I will make it work.
If the universe inside you were to be contained in just one symbol, what would that symbol be?
Oh! Such a good question. I do not think I would be a symbol, if anything I would be a Jean Coteau drawing. Shaky lined at times, but clear and to the point, curvy but still linear, masculine and feminine balanced and intertwined, off beat, human and otherworldly all at once. Lines that give a sense of the shape but never 100% finished. A conclusion unreached.
Published: March 11th, 2014