In conversation with UK-based artist Simran Kaur.
Can you talk about your journey into or interest the arts?
I was born and raised in Italy with an Indian background. I currently live and work in the county of Essex in England. Presently I’m a second-year student studying photography at the University of East London (UEL) having started studying photography in sixth form at The Forest Academy. I have been doing photography since I was a child when I got interested in the sky’s changing colours. I used and still take photos of, as I always found the sky magical almost surreal.
Can you talk about the influences upon your work?
As I grew up my interests started shifting, I got more interested in objects and food photography. My interest in still life did especially grow after finding out about Irving Penn, an American photographer known for his still life, fashion, and portraits photography. Irving Penn‘s still life photography was really inspiring for me especially the work ‘Frozen Food’, I found interesting the way each block of frozen food was reminding me of Lego blocks cause of the way it was styled.
From this piece work created by Irving Penn, I started styling foods and objects to transform them into other objects and foods, for example, I created this piece of work where I did cut an apple in two parts and added some oranges between this parts to create an ‘Apple Burger’. At first, I didn’t really know about Surrealism even if I was creating surrealistic pieces of work like the ‘Apple Burger’ part of my photography collection ‘Junk Food’, therefore I started looking at what is it Surrealism
From my researches between books or museums such as the V&A Museum, I started understanding more about surrealism and how it is can relate to still life photography. Surrealism was always with me, I would actually say that surrealism is always with us it lays in our dreams and nightmares created by our imagination and memories. Therefore, I thought to keep applying my surrealistic imagination and dreams to my still life work, I would often imagine things like the moon as an origami from which I did create my photography collection ‘Folded’ or perfumes as jewels. I did also start keeping a journal in which I write about my researches and sketch my ideas instead of keeping them inside my mind to then get lost and forgotten.
Recently I did discover about Man Ray which was an American visual artist known for his fashion and portrait photography and he did also have an impact in the Dada and Surrealist movements. Fashion and portrait photography is out of my comfort zone something I never tried, therefore I wanted to experiment it after studying one of my favourite pieces of work made by Man Ray called ‘Glass Tears’ which for me it is a surrealistic fashion photography work as it presented a fashionable aesthetic created with the mascara and the glass tears which are the surrealistic element of the picture. I recreated ‘Glass Tears’ in my own way first by using a model and then by using myself as a model, to understand how I could blend surrealism with fashion and portrait photography.
After these experiments, I started particularly enjoying practicing surrealistic portraits and fashion photography to understand principally how to style a model which helped me see the objects and foods as my model that I needed to style for a certain aesthetic in order to convey a message and emotion. From this I did also start creating fashion illustrations more often, in order to learn more about styling and the various aesthetics out there that I could apply to my surrealistic still life photography.
What themes are you exploring through your work?
In my journey, I did learn that surrealist photography involves various types of photography and it also takes the shape of various meanings depending on the person’s perspective. From my perspective, surrealist photography is a way to showcase your deep imagination or even describe your dreams by using realistic elements present in our world.
I’m mostly exploring surrealist still life photography since I want to showcase those objects. Food can be intriguing if you look at it at 360°, therefore acknowledging that some perspective can be seen, and others can’t. In order to show the unnoticed perspective hidden in the objects and foods, I style and transform them by using my imagination to make the unseen more noticeable.
My current journey includes also some side works such as canvas painting. I started painting in a stressful moment in my life, which was quarantine. I was stressed and anxious all the time, painting did save me from this phase of my life, and it became a way to archive my memories.
I often paint by referring to my memory, to things I saw, and I loved, but couldn’t capture a picture at the time. I did then also start to apply surrealism to my paintings, to remember some dreams that touched me and stayed in my mind.
Some other side work I have been practicing is collage, which I use to express my deep emotions regarding our society. I always saw collage as deeply connected with surrealism as you can create the most surrealistic landscapes, portraits, situations and many others with paper or even by adding other objects. I decided to practice collage to convey my thoughts about our society, for example, many people still think that a man must not be emotional and should always be strong and the pillar of the family.
This type of thinking is the one that destroys the mental health of man, what I wanted to convey with one of my collage is that it doesn’t matter what is your gender, we are all unique humans capable of feeling various emotions and talking about our emotions and feelings must be normalised in order to help each other.
Can you talk about your process of working. How do you work, how often, is there a particular pattern?
I often write in my journal about my researches, ideas, photo shoots and I do sketch some drawings that I want to draw digitally later. I do this in order to archive what I learned to then go back to it later in order to understand it better or add something new to it.
Behind my photo shoot there is most of the time a research, I usually first start to brainstorm my idea and write down whatever I’m thinking and then I start to research more about it and in the end, I sketch the photo shoot. When I sketch the photo shoot I write down which background I should use, how to set up the light, how should I style the object or food I’m using and many others things that could help me while shooting, but I don’t write to much just simple things and then if I want to add or change something during the shoot I just do it. I divide my work into bits for each day therefore my day is balanced, and I don’t end up overworking myself or even get stressed.
Do you find the process of creating work relaxing or therapeutic?
I’m an overthinker – I do tend to overthink a lot during the day which makes me stressed, but since I started making canvas, I started overthinking less, therefore, I don’t stress that much as before.
The process of creating any type of work from photography to even sculpture can make a person feel better, by feeling less stressed or sad, it can even make you overthink less than before, this probably happens because you get distracted from a feeling or situation you don’t want to think about, it could also, happen because you start playing with colours while painting and it just feels good to mix them up with a brush or even your fingers which reminds you of your playful childhood.