On Censorship, The South Australian Professional Photographer of the year and Doing the Work

The toughest part about photography never is the process. People ask me all kinds of questions about the nerdy things. What camera? What aperture? What programs? What tools? How many layers? Which lens?

And the truth is, that stuff is the easy part. That’s the bit I find myself switching off too. I don’t care about it. I don’t want to waste my time on forums debating what lens choice is the best. Myself, and many photographers will agree – that does not serve the work.


The work – being photography begins to really happen, like really truly say something, when you get past all the technical stuff and start exploring. My job as a photographer who works in the genre of art is simply to do things that serve that purpose. My job is to explore, to learn the visual language and to use that language to communicate effectively. Some of that is technical. Most of that is emotive. It is my job to share stories, to talk about the human experience in the best ways I know how. I believe that stories are signposts placed by people who have walked before us. I believe in sharing stories. I believe its not just about telling a story, its about sharing the human experience. For me, those stories have been powerful in my own life.

Once you hit that realm of seeing, once you have tackled the technical and start learning to speak emotively and in stories, the photography the ballgame changes. Now instead of being questioned about aperture and shutter speeds, you begin to be asked: “What does this mean?”

For me personally I know I’m onto something someone asks that. It means they cant see the photography anymore, it means I have done my technical job right and they are starting to understand there is more to this. They like me, begin to no longer see f-stops and shutter speeds. It becomes about the work,

That’s my job. I make the work.

Sometimes I tell the story well enough that people get it straight away. But for me that’s the point where I may have failed. Its not my job simply to have someone see the work and move on.

One of the most important lessons I learned from art school was that bad art just is and good art keeps asking questions every time you come back to it.

Art school also taught me never to tell people what to feel about the work because when you do, it answers those questions. I personally don’t want to be told how to feel about anything – we all know that’s counter productive. Art is as much about the viewer telling their story as it is the artist telling theirs,

Lets use this as an example. When you are angry at someone, and that someone tells you to calm down, does that calm you down? No – probably not. It may just piss you off even more.

Its not my job to tell you what to think, nor is it my job to expect you to think the way I do. The most beautiful and poetic thing about art – my absolute favorite part about it, is that based on your own point of view, you will read the work you are seeing however you choose. Nothing thrills me more than hearing how people read into it.

Sometimes however, my favorite part about this process is also the part that hurts me deeply. Sometimes, peoples perceptions can also get in the way. Sometimes people tell me what to feel about my own work, sometimes people don’t give me the courtesy I choose to give to them.

This week facebook has blown up with outrage as myself and other artists have had our work censored in the South Australian Institute of Professional Photography exhibition at the Convention Centre here in Adelaide.

The censorship is essentially a piece of baking paper that covers the work up and allows the viewer to peek underneath should they choose. It simply states “This work is covered as it contains nudity”

Me with my image at the Convention Centre

Me with my image at the Convention Centre

When I walked into the convention center that night, I admittedly was sad to see it had happened, especially since it was a topless female that was covered up – yet no topless men were covered. Its the deeply ingrained ideal in our society that a woman’s chest is a sexual object, however a mans is not, even if nipples of all genders are an erogenous zone. This debate keeps coming up with breastfeeding, birth photography, free the nipple and lots of feminist social justice. Whilst being an artist, I also heavily associate with the feminist movement – so from that standpoint I was admittedly disappointed.

This rise in censorship has come not long after some work (I wont name names, that poor lady needs a freaking break) was pulled off the wall at the national wine center. My own professional body, The Australian Institute of Professional Photography has been thrown under the bus on this issue.

I haven’t spoken to anyone nationally and I don’t want to speak for any of the other artists whos work has been censored, but here at home in Adelaide, the support for what I do is overwhelming. I wont lie, there are a few dickheads but the positives outweigh the negatives. I know its pissed some people off. I know some of the work I produce isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – but that’s what I chose the moment I became an artist. I choose personally not to let other peoples views get in the way of the thing that really matters. Ill talk more about that part in a minute.

I felt for a while I had to yell at people who didn’t “Get” my work. I had to be there to tell people how and what to think. Then I saw others doing that and I couldn’t help but see that’s an after effect of someone trying to care for a bruised ego and it was my job instead to listen. Then I remember feeling like I had to be the “woe catcher” and take on every piece of critique anyone gave me. I used to believe that I had to take on the words of my harshest critics and better myself endlessly. I hunted out perfection. I hurt myself this way. My work suffered, I felt voiceless. I felt like people were telling me what to think. I got lost in there, under the weight of negativity, but I felt like this was the way to grow. I was taught that toughening up and listening was how we get better.

The weight of all that critique got very heavy. So many “shoulds” and not enough humanity. So many people telling me what they would do without an inch of understanding about where I was coming from.

I had to ask myself what mattered.

“Who are you Gee?”
“What do you care about?”
“What forfills you?”
“Whos opinion really matters?”
And the hardest one “What do you love more than you love yourself?”

I wrote the answers down on a piece of paper

“My name is Gee, Gee is a creative, sensitive emotional being who really likes drinking coffee with her boyfriend, cuddling her dog Jontie and mucking around with arty things”
“I care about peoples stories. I care about story telling as a vessel for healing”
“Connection fulfills me, long beautiful conversations about art and life makes me glow”
“Who’s opinion matters?” – I wrote 5 names on a 1 inch piece of paper – in the same way Brene Brown teaches creative’s to do. I had to be very clear about who this work was for. Ill give you a hint… there are over 4 million people in Adelaide alone – so chances are if your reading this, the work was not made for you.
“I guess I love photography more than I love myself, I keep coming back even if it hurts me, that has to say something”

With that in mind… I had a solid basis for my art practice. Nothing else mattered except the answers to those 5 questions. And to keep me on track, I had 5 people who’s opinions mattered enough for me to listen to. I had to limit the playing field. I had to make work only for the people who mattered. I could no longer make work for my critics. They wont ever give a shit any way, they will always find a reason to dislike my work. It is not my job to impress them. If people along the way like the work… then that’s their business, I’m grateful, but I don’t need the fans to praise this work for me to keep doing it. Even without the people who like this stuff, Id still be making it.

In fact – its my job simply to show up and do the work. That’s it. Its really that simple. The work that day may be deep emotional thoughts about the stories I need to tell, the work that day may be listening to a story from someone else. The work may be as simple as researching a new lens or buying some new props. Whatever the work may be that day – its my job. Success is the sum of many small efforts… and if I make one small effort that day, I have done my job.

Once the work is done, once its out into the world, its not my job to stand there with my hands on my hips getting pissed off about how people respond. Ill leave that to everyone else. Its simply my job to return to work, to continue making small efforts, whatever that may be.

My small effort on this censorship issue is this…

“This work is covered as it contains nudity (But don’t worry… we Photoshopped Boy Nipples on it)” – note by myself
I said what I needed to say. I don’t agree with the censorship, but its not my job to give it too much thought. It doesn’t serve this work for me to worry about what anyone thinks. If they want to cover it up with baking paper then so be it.

I love a quote I learned in the punk scene, it was at the time about the insane influx of Christian punk bands.

“We don’t mosh in your church so stop praying in our mosh pits”

I adore that phrase. The truth is, by entering the work that I did, I unintentionally moshed in a church. The convention center isn’t the space for that work. However if you really want to see it, please go to Flinders City Gallery to see the actual artwork hanging on the wall in its full 1 meter high printed beautiful glory in a space gutsy enough and appropriate enough for it. Have a read of the artist statement, see the set of three of them hanging together. Take that in. I beg of you – Lets mosh in mosh-pits. If the AIPP exhibition is in a church – and I disagree, its my job to help them find a moshpit. I’m okay with that. I’m not here to tell anyone what to think, I’m not here to be pissed off about a piece of baking paper. Will it change the fact that I will wake up tomorrow and carry on making small efforts?

No. I will continue to do the work with all the love I have for it. Because that’s MY JOB

I refuse to place blame on anyone but the society we have constructed. If it takes some baking paper to discuss issues of feminism, a woman’s right to bear her chest in public and the absolute absurdity of it all? Then fuck yeah! I’m really excited that my work has been a vessel for that. Should it have happened? Probably not. But it did. I’m not going to be a Rundle Mall street preacher about this. I choose not to yell at everyone and point fingers. I refuse to bring down the name of the AIPP family I adore, who have had a big part to play in my own journey of being secure enough in myself to allow myself to say the very words I type – In fact knowing the fight one individual behind the scenes in the exhibition process put up for me and on my behalf in the awards – I have nothing but love. We have all fucked up at times, we have all said shitty things to one another. But together on that stage, the moment I was given the award for the South Australian Professional Photographer of the year – I was greeted with warmth. Ben, Victoria and I held hands as the winner was announced. Hilary walked on stage bare foot and Ben chose to honor that beautiful moment by taking his own shoes off. I madly texted my biggest supporter Mark Trumble – the man who has helped me enter since my very first awards “WE DID IT”

I walked off stage to be greeted by Rocco, a photographer who was at the very first seminar I ever went to ten years ago – telling me my portfolio was the most challenging he had ever seen in all his years – that I made him think. That I should be proud.

There – right there – my job here was done.

That is what family is about. That is what art is about.

I choose to be Gandhi about this. I choose to live and lead by example. I will make the work that’s in my heart of hearts to make, I will mosh in moshpits not in churches because that serves the work. This isn’t about me. This isn’t about how I feel.

I wont let that bother me. I wont be angry. Ill just carry on doing the work because THAT IS MY JOB.

Kindly let me do it.

In lieu of posting yet another image of the censored artwork… I'm going to post an image of my favorite image from my work in the SAPPAS. It didn't do as well as I had hoped… but do I let that dictate how I feel about it? Fuck no.

Love is love man

We are star stuff