An interview with Bex Saunders

Bex Saunders is a 23 year old multi-award winning photographer from the South of England. She has had success in over 70 awards, which include the ZSL Animal Photographer of The Year and the Times’ Young Photographer of The Year. You can follow her on Instagram: bexsaundersphotography.

In our conversation we discuss how Bex began her photographic journey and the point of photography, the ways in which food can become subversive and suggestive, and the My Chemical Romance reunion.

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When did you first start working with photography?

I’ve actually been taking photos my entire life. I started with a pink Barbie camera, and then slowly upgraded my equipment over two decades. I first started to take photography seriously when I was around 11 years old; I uploaded my portfolio to Bebo (the British version of Myspace.) I then switched over to DeviantART at 13, which I still use to this day. It wasn’t until I was around 15 that I started entering photography competitions.

Your work is very captivating in the way it seems to push the boundaries of what is deemed beautiful, often placing decay in visual dialogue with life in bloom and experimenting with form to produce an uncanny effect – how would you describe your work?

I tend to think of my photography as fitting into two categories: digital and film. My film work revolves entirely around urban decay. I started to focus on urban decay out of malcontent for my hometown. I had witnessed it die slowly over a number of years, which depressed me. I wanted to document what I saw in order to show other people what was happening.  Whereas my digital work tends to focus more on portraits, with an emphasis on conceptual self-portraits. I always tell myself that I want to create work that looks how Placebo, a band, sounds. I’m always striving to create work that is theatrical and depressing. I’m basically too edgy for my own good, which reflects entirely in my self-portraits.

Here’s a link to one of their songs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uB_6OM8H6Ng

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The subjects and compositions of your photography are incredibly varied, can you tell us a bit more about what makes a subject compelling for you?

I have so many interests and so much love for different photography styles that my portfolio is very diverse. I love experimenting with different techniques. I simply base my subject matters on whatever catches my eye and whatever I find intriguing. As for composition, I never want to be stuck doing the same thing over and over again which is why I try different things constantly. I like to think of my portfolio as a visual diary of an artist finding themselves and their art style.

Who (or what) inspires you?

My biggest inspiration has and always will be My Chemical Romance. I first discovered them when I was around 8 years old, and I have been a massive fan ever since. Nothing has ever had a greater impact in my life, which might sound facetious but it’s true. They’re the only consistency I’ve ever known in my life. I am entirely who I am as a result of them. As an extension of my love for the band, I love all things weird and spooky. The more disturbing, the better. I find great inspiration from horror films, dark documentaries and true-life oddities. This doesn’t always reflect in my work, as I also love all things kawaii. I’m a walking contradiction.

You must be so excited about the news of MCR’s reunion! They played a not-insignificant role in my formative years, though I was much more of a Fall Out Boy girl myself.

I am so excited for the reunion! I never thought it would happen!

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We’re huge fans of your self-portraits with food, can you tell us a bit more about them?

I started taking photos with food because it’s such a powerful concept to me. Food can represent so many things such as greed, gluttony and sex. This means that a simple photo of a girl with a banana can become so much more than that. The viewer sees whatever their subconscious associates with food.

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Now for a slightly provocative question: what is the point of photography? What should photography do? In other words, what makes a good photograph?

Obviously, art is subjective, but for me a good photograph is something that makes you feel something when you look at it. This means that any style of photography, and any execution has the potential to be “good” to me. It’s all about the visceral response.

I am inspired by the words of Arthur Tress: “So much of today’s photography… fails to touch upon the hidden life of the imagination and fantasy which is hungry for stimulation. The documentary photographer supplies us with facts or drowns us in humanity, while the pictorialist, avant-garde, or conservative, pleases us with mere aesthetically correct compositions—but where are the photographs we can pray to, that will make us well again, or scare the hell out of us?” 

Do you have a favourite or favourites of the photographs you’ve taken?

I’m particularly found of this self portrait because of how magical the lighting looks in it. It’s a reminder that sometimes the most simple of concepts can be the most powerful. I’m also wearing a dress in it that cost £2.50, which proves that money is not always required to take a great photo.

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There’s also a special place in my heart for all of the photos I have taken of the band, Dead!, over the years. They’re my second favourite band, after My Chemical Romance obviously, and I had the pleasure of seeing them all over the UK. They’ve sadly broken up now, which makes the photos even more special to me. I first started experimenting with film at their shows, as I couldn’t take in my Sony SLR, which has now become a major part of my work.

What would your advice be to anyone looking to get into photography?

I think it’s important to know that it’s okay to learn and grow as an artist. No one starts out as an amazing artist; it’s a journey. Don’t be afraid to experiment and to fail. Don’t be discouraged by others around you that you perceive to be better than you. Just keep shooting and keep learning.

Images courtesy of the artist

Words by Nora Selmani

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