Victoria Ginn is a fine art photographer born in New Zealand. Her work explores individuality, landscape, and culture. She has documented art, performance, and religious expressions across various regions. Victoria divides her time between Fiji and New Zealand. Below, we get to know her work better through conversation.
Your photography blends beauty and reportage, how did you develop this personal style?
Gradually! Through what might in archaic language be described as a series of initiations, or ‘awakenings'. The psychoanalyst Carl Jung would possibly describe my path as the journey toward ‘individuation – a psychic-spiritual search for ‘wholeness – or wisdom. However, in my situation I have sought to objectify my path to ‘awareness’ via creative expression. Photography – to my mind – is one of those magical art forms wherein exterior physical reality and imagination/perception can blend. At around the age of fourteen – some many years ago now – I ‘clicked’ as to the alchemical nature of the photographic image, as a purveyor of the symbolic within Life and the individual, when I took my first meaningful image. It was of a seagull attacking a person; the energy of movement and drama combining to express an archetypal relationship between human and nature; the biblical ‘Expulsion from the Garden of Eden’.
Through the years of sculpturing my vision the forces that shaped it were numerous; primarily I would say that I was a seeker of ‘truth’. ‘Beauty’ is a level of seeing arrived at through -and here I sound somewhat religious - humility; through obeying the, sometimes frightening, inner forces of the
psyche . My path to this level began as an embrace of the individual - the ‘outsider’; the ‘extraordinary’, the ‘different’... the ‘hidden inner self....
Your photographs capture movement and tradition through various forms of dance. How has this subject matter influenced your work and your process?
Hugely! I first became aware of the 'transcendent' energy within 'dance' in Afghanistan in 1978, when I was for a time imprisoned in one of Kabul’s very basic and dilapidated prisons. The 'beauty' of the prison in which I was held was that it was semi-autonomous; it had a queen and was hierarchically structured in a communally caring way, whereby the women/girls/children/babies shared and looked after the well-being of all prisoners. Soldiers roamed the roofs with their guns and roared at night, to signal ‘all’s well’. I became very ill from amoebic dysentery and was also subjected to psychological- emotional torture by court prosecutors who didn’t like seeing my 'freedom as a woman’. I might have died from the oppressive weight of hatred directed at me by these creatures, but for a secret way the women prisoners had to overcome despair: DANCE! They danced for me... to lift my soul and keep me alive. It worked, and when I escaped Afghanistan, it was to the beauty of dance, and to nature that I turned for healing and to express gratitude to be alive.
Your work incorporates both personal and cultural expression, how do you connect with your subjects?
Relationship. I believe it’s important to ‘share’ a moment of mutual connection by direct encounter; almost all my work is a collaboration between myself/camera and the subject, even if be a split- second connection. I also think my being a woman has assisted me enormously. I have been in many remote areas among peoples who haven’t experienced outsiders but my being a woman has for the most part been a blessing as I have never been seen as a threat, rather, a curiosity, and then someone whom villagers/individuals/paramount elders/sorcerers...have wanted to share aspects of their lives with. Over the course of my work as a fine-art-photographer I also realized that there was, at-times, a ‘dream dreaming me’ rather than the other way around. By this I mean that a photographic journey has come about as if my ‘magic’ and I have simply obeyed the creative force that compelled me into whatever area of the world and people I arrived in. When this has occurred there has never been a difficulty in my relating to the individuals/people/culture I have photographed, despite little or no shared verbal language.
How do the intertwined aspects of individuality and culture impact your art?
A complex question, which relates to the nature of being and belonging. I have visited sufficient and varied ‘old world’ cultures to understand that ‘culture – the social mores/beliefs... behave as a means to communality and as a counterforce to the otherwise aloneness of the individual. ‘Culture’ implies ‘tradition’ wherein the Individual is subsumed in a set of behaviors and dress codes and beliefs ‘passed down from the ancestors’ and repeated by each successive generation. The older and more isolated the culture the deeper its influence on the individual – in relation to individual free- will versus conformity. The trade-off for the individual is ‘security of belonging’. In essence it is a dichotomy but, as an ancient sect of Tibetan Buddhism revealed to me; truth lies in the paradoxical harmony of opposites. In summary, my interest in the ‘intertwined aspects of individuality and culture’ is in the context of individuality as a unique expression in the complex and layered map of humanity - symbolic, archetypal, emotional...
How have your travels inspired or impacted your work?
Each journey has been an ‘unfolding’ of creative vision. Each unique in its challenges and outcome. My first major foray was when I adventured into a remote area of Papua New Guinea in 1977, when I was in my early 20’s. I stayed among supposed ‘heathen cannibals’, who in fact were among the most playful, imaginative , spiritual peoples I have ever encountered. There was no shared language, other than one’s eyes and body language. The experience revealed to me a universal language that I nurtured and subsequently used whenever amongst very foreign places and languages. As a photographer I have also needed to cultivate a ‘clean soul’ when entering cultures and foreign realms. By this it is understood that it has been vital to be free of ‘blockages’ in my emotional being, that could otherwise cause trouble when amongst a highly sensitized remote tribe or persons; the ancient Australian Aborigines come to mind here. What in essence I can say to your question is that; whenever my heart/dream-vision/creative force has compelled me to fling myself into unknown places and realms it always encountered wonderful persons/theatrical personages/supra-personal-energies, ready and inviting of the mirror my photographic skills granted. As if I had been ‘called’!
The elements of landscape and culture appear to be intertwined in your photographs, is identifying this connection an important part of your creative process?
Culture, in the context of my photography and philosophical stance, does not stand apart in vainglorious triumph of human over nature. We, in this freakishly speeding modern culture, are in danger of spinning out of this world due to an attitude that harkens back to the Old Testament, wherein patriarchs declared Nature was subservient to Man. Thus, establishing a frightening separation from All on this Earth, as had formerly been nurtured . Again, I look at the Australian aborigines – their 50,000 plus years of protecting their sacred knowledge – the Dreamtime, wherein all life forms are related.
In my photographic essay titled The Spirited Earth – Dance, Myth and Ritual from South Asia to the South Pacific an underlying theme is the relationship between nature and humankind. A place of belonging - a river, mountain, field... is wherefrom the original seed of religious consciousness evolved and along with this consciousness arose ‘art’, performance ritual, costume, the mystical realm of the spirits and , ultimately, the gaining of transcendent wisdom. In the 1960-70s the ethnologist Joseph Campbell , among others, wrote of the psychic/cultural evolution of ‘man, and in particular the ‘Age of the Hero’ wherein the human (male) ego identifies with a god-self that has no relationship to nature. Humankind has become stuck in this narcissistic isolation. A tragedy, when there is a more expansive ‘awe-inspiring awareness available that puts nature/environment/ culture/ self/soul in a happy togetherness , albeit when the ego is tamed. In my book (essay) I structurally reversed the ‘evolutionary progression/regression into god-man-separateness’, back into ‘nature-embrace’, through a small shift in chapter structure. This then allowed for the completion of the self into wholeness, or ‘illumination’.
What part does natural or found light play in your photography?
Natural, ‘found light’ is and has been the only way I work. I became adept at visually assessing/reading natural light, which is different in different areas of the world, and seasons. This was useful back in the day of light meters and manual light/aperture/speed settings, particularly when my Weston light meters failed, usually in remote areas.
Is there a formula to your photography, or is it spontaneous?
Aside from the technical knowledge required; the accumulation of awareness; in particular – ‘sensitivity to the moment’ – which took years of ‘seeing ‘ to master, my photography is spontaneous.
But, only in so far as to ‘how’ I might arrive at finding the subjects for the camera. Otherwise, as earlier explained, my photography is a collaboration between myself/camera and subject.
Early work was portraiture- the many faces of the self as revealed through Individuality. It then expanded into an exploration of the visual/aesthetic/symbolic...relationship between the natural environment and the human body-imagination. A deepening awareness of the importance of this theme – particularly the religious/artistic relationship of Humankind to Nature - led me to visit indigenous cultures within Southeast Asia-South Pacific . This was followed by a soulful exploration of ‘religious grief’/ sensuality/love/dance, juxtaposed with historical architectural elements, as found in areas of Europe. To, various purely nature studies. And finally, coming full circle, a quirky essay on the beauty of one of our genealogically very ancient relatives – tropical mold – and its effect on the photographic image, ditto the human face.
Spontaneity? Goodness knows what’s next!