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Joshua Sim is a Melbourne portrait photographer who creates stunning visual narratives exploring the complexities of the human condition. Joshua's formal education lies in anthropology and philosophy, allowing him to deeply question and de-construct the world around him, and craft meaningful concepts to communicate through his work.
Through photography, Joshua aims to bring visibility to diversity and to expose the harmful power structures prevalent in society by amplifying the voices and experiences of his subjects.
We've been a big fan of Josh's work since he started printing with us almost a year ago, and in January we had the pleasure of sponsoring Josh's first ever solo show at Off The Kerb Gallery, "T.A.O". Read on as we delve deeper into the philosophies behind "T.A.O" and chat about his biggest creative influences.
Tell us a bit about your educational background. How and when did you decide to pursue photography and what drew you to portraiture in particular?
So I actually have no formal training in either art or photography – instead, my field of study lies within the realms of philosophy and anthropology. Although these two subjects are rarely associated within the practice of photography and portraiture – I actually use these fields as a way to inform my work.
Within the realm of philosophy – I utilise this study to help in creating conceptual and meaningful work. For each of my photographs is an attempt to illustrate a message and story – and the act of philosophising, of questioning, and of attempting to de-construct the world around you aids within this visual messaging.
As for the anthropological practice, this helps in informing my relationship with the models that I shoot. I aim to use my lens as a way of capturing the human element – and for me, this means that I have an interest in encapsulating the human experience through photographic portraiture. I see my practice as almost a study then – where each project acts as a way to help contribute to my ever-growing interest and curiosity about how we as humans function in this world around us.
You are exhibiting your first solo project “T.A.O”, which is currently showing at Off The Kerb gallery in Collingwood. Tell us more about this series and how it came to fruition.
This series was months in the making. It all began when I came into contact with Prince, the model, through social media - discussing the possibility of doing a photo shoot and how that would look. It had been a dream of mine to photograph Prince as well, as his looks and features were basically made for the camera - hence his success within the world of commercial modelling. When it came to the shoot itself that was the real difficulty - with it being postponed about six times, and all because of different reasons, be it the lack of transport, weather, timing, etc. It seemed as if the universe didn’t want this shoot to happen; but for me, I knew that if I kept on pursuing it, the final results would be well worth it. As if it were a test to see how badly I wanted to do this.
The shoot eventually happened: photos taken, legs frozen from the snow, and most importantly, memories made. I knew from the instant that I clicked the shutter that there was something different about these images; photos that I knew couldn’t just be posted on social media to be eventually forgotten. The idea then came to me to have this work showcased in a gallery; knowing that if such images were in this space, it would be treated with care and viewed with patience. And then came the experience of trying to secure a position at a gallery; which proved to be harder than the shoot itself. But that’s for another story.
How does your personal and cultural history inform your work?
That’s an interesting question, because I don’t know of anyone within my family timeline that has ever been an artist. And funnily enough, it is this thought that really helps to drive me work. I identify as Asian, and when I say that, I specifically refer to my two cultures. On my mother’s side I am Goan Indian, my father’s side, Chinese Peranakan Singaporean. So, from the Chinese and Indian identity, I see that neither has had a large and monumental storytelling presence within the West. Essentially, I am using my work as a way to amplify the voice and experience of my peoples, both past and present, and share to the wider audience to intricacies and nuances of the Asian experience. More so - I am motivated each day by the thought that the infrastructure for an Asian artist still lacks in the West - and I use my platform as a beacon to change and break these barriers that have been placed upon our people. To give a voice to those who have been silenced in the past.
Your photographic practise works within the realm of portraiture, which traditionally aims to capture the essence of the subject. Do your feel your work challenges or aligns with the boundaries of traditional portraiture?
Yes and no. Yes, because a large part of my work is informed by classical painting techniques - be it through the composition, subject matter, and lighting - I treat my work more as a painting I would say, as this is what I am specifically attempting to emulate.
However, my work differs from traditional portraiture when it comes to the subjects themselves. For I am using my light to shine stories of the untold - specifically capturing people of colour in my work as a way to change and shift the current discourse of portraiture. I am therefore capturing those who have experienced the troubles of being on the peripheral of modern-day beauty and importance - and challenging the ideas of who gets to have their story heard and captured.
If there was one thing you would want your audience to take away from your art, what would it be?
I create my work as a way to reflect my world and my experience - so I guess if anything, I want my audience to be able to take a piece from the world in which I live in. I am aiming to create disruptive and challenging art - and if the audience is left having their values and beliefs challenged and/or strengthened, I know I have done my work well. The same reason we read a book - it isn’t to escape reality, but to understand it deeper.
Who or what has been your biggest creative influence?
In all honesty I would have to say that my work is really informed by the experiences that I have had in my own life. I look to the unique life experiences that I’ve come across and use it to inform and shape how and why I am creating my work. I think that’s why I can label my work as individual and different – for it is informed by my life, and no one has lived my life before except for me.
Walk us through your creative process. Does the concept for each series come to you fully formed or do they unfold organically?
Organically for the most part. I never really sit down and say to myself ‘I have to leave this table with an idea’. I often go about my day to day business - reflecting on my trials and tribulations and dissecting their value. My greatest ideas have then come from long walks, train rides, or even showers. In honesty, I see my creative mind as an outlet for my inner child - and if anything, a child cannot be free if it is constrained and burdened, so I aim to channel my ideas as naturally as possible.
What are your long-term goals for your photographic practise?
To be in Melbourne has been a blessing because of the access to a plethora of diverse cultures and beings - but I still have a desire to go deeper. My goal is to be able to travel the world and share the stories for those untold - capturing the diversity of the human experience and the different ways we have come to inhabit this world.
If anything, I want to shift the attitudes of photography itself - for it is an art form that has been labelled as less. Just as painter uses their brush, I use my camera to as a tool to express and capture the world around me - the greater art world must understand this.
If you could collaborate on a project with any other artist, who would it be and why?
I’m not sure if this applies to living or not but I would have to say Rembrandt. His work has always been an inspiration to me due to the way that he captured and used light within each or his paintings. Photography, then, is the art of capturing light - and to see through and work with the eyes of the painter would prove to actually be a masterclass in photography just because of how he valued the use of light within visual imaging and storytelling.
How have you found having your work printed with Image Science?
Working with Image Science has always been a great experience for me as an artist. Be it their quick turnover, professional service, and industry insight, their aid in my career has proved invaluable. This was especially reflected on the night of the opening - where I was met with countless comments from attendees of the quality and detail that they saw in the prints; proving the utility of Image Science adaptability, for the shoot itself was filled with dark and heavy blacks that no ordinary printer could replicate.
What’s next for your artistic practise? Are there any exciting projects or exhibitions in the pipeline for 2020?
I’m always secret with what I have next because I like to share my work when its ready to be seen. But know this: expect travel, the sharing of untold stories, the amplifying of voices, growth, and most importantly, a return to my roots. Just know that each project will be bigger and greater than the next.