Edie Sunday prefers the in-between state of dreaming and waking life. This is probably why her analogue photographs are pure magic. Whether black and white or colour, double exposure or mixed media, or altered in pre or post, she manages to create a beautifully obscure, hauntingly surreal and downright bewitching mood. David Lynch would be impressed. Not just by her mesmerising stills, but possibly by a recent end-of-the-world dream of Edie’s, which she tells us about below and hopes to make into a film one day…
Do you draw more inspiration from dreams or waking life? Which state of consciousness do you prefer?
Oh, what a difficult question. My first inclination is to say from dreams, as well as day dreams, but I also draw so much inspiration from waking life. I would have to say that the atmosphere of my photos, including colour, textures, and the surreal elements are born in dreams. But the reasons I create come from waking life; often I am working through some issue within my own psyche, or I’m immersed in deep conversation with my friend (model) and the photos are a reflection of that intimacy. I prefer the in-between state of dreaming and waking life; awake, present, but always accessing some other realm of consciousness.
Are you able to tell us about an inspirational dream you have had lately?
Actually, yes! I’ve wanted to tell someone about this dream since it happened a few days ago. Ever since I was a child I’ve had ‘end-of-the-world’ dreams, and I think a lot of us do. Mine were always full of absolute terror and they’re incredibly dark. I can’t find the people I love and I end up facing the end of the world alone, and I can’t accept it. I never find peace, I am frantic and desperate, and I wake up and am off for the rest of the day. This is obviously not the inspirational dream!
The other night I again dreamed that our earthly existence was coming to a quick and confusing end. But this time I was in nature, in some wilderness that I’ve never actually visited and it was beautiful in a way words can’t describe. There was a deep blue lake surrounded by mountains, and suddenly I was floating in the middle of the lake with the knowledge that everything would be over in seconds. I was alone, and I was at peace. Then, I turned around and someone was there with me, some unidentifiable being, and we held hands and took one last gasp of air before sinking underwater together. Somehow I knew we were going somewhere else. And then, I woke up. I believe I’ll make a film out of this dream one day.
What would you say makes a photograph special? Has this changed over the last few decades and with the rise of the internet?
I’m very confident in my answer to this: what makes a photograph special is how much of the artist(s) you can feel inside of it. This has definitely changed with the rise of the internet and the digitalisation of life in general. What makes a photograph special now is how much it appeals to the masses, and that’s sad. I’m just glad that I’ve found this little pocket of people on earth that feel the same way about photography as I do, and so now I know that the real art will never die.
You are a graduate student pursuing your Ph.D. in Psychology. Does this influence the way you shoot in any way? Maybe how you interact with your subjects?
I am! I think people are often surprised that I can manage both school and art, but in reality I don’t think I could do one without the other. I think studying psychology only influences my work in the way that I perceive and understand people. I am very close with the girls that I shoot with, and I think that closeness enables me to have a certain intuition about who they are very deep down. I hope to convey these intimate, real parts of my friends in my photos.
You only shoot analogue and often use double exposures and expired film. Can you explain your obsession with obscurity?
Maybe! I can’t remember ever not being interested in the obscure and things and people who existed long before I did. I’ve always wanted to understand things that aren’t easily accessible. I blame it on my mother in part — because of her I spent a good half of my childhood in antique stores. When I was eight I told my very Texan family that I was supposed to have been born in the 1800s in London, and I only listened to music that was made decades and decades before I was born. They were only a bit confused!
I also collected old books, cameras, and jewellery. I don’t know exactly how this ties into my artistic style, but it must in some way. I’ve never wanted a digital camera and for a long time I only wanted to shoot with the oldest cameras I could find, and the oldest films I could find (that’s still true). My brain has just always gravitated towards things that I found mysterious, things that felt more authentic and like they had a story to tell. A story that could transport me somewhere else momentarily, and so maybe that explains how I ended up on this path.
I read in one of your blog posts that you used to be quite self-conscious about putting your work on social media and that it influenced the way you shoot. Is this something you’re still battling with? Would you say that social media has the ability to kill creativity?
I battled with this a lot in the last year, but I think I’m at a good place with it now. That doesn’t mean it won’t sneak back up on me someday, but I’ve made some sort of peace with social media. For a long time I blamed everything on social media – it was the evil thing that took art and infused it with jealousy, competition, and an eventual mundaneness. But one day I realised that social media actually wasn’t to blame, instead it was the humans (including myself) who used it that were to blame. It was our perception of social media, and our perception of each other, that was the culprit. You can allow social media to kill your creativity if you buy into the myth that what you create isn’t as good as what others create because you have less ‘likes’ and ‘followers’… Yet the second you start to value yourself as a person and become proud of the art that you make because it’s a beautiful representation of who you are, all of that disappears.
Would you say that being hard on yourself is always a negative thing, or could it perhaps lead to a more perfectionist approach?
I think there are two different types of being hard on yourself. The first kind is that really negative kind, where you tell yourself everyday that you aren’t good enough and that you have to try harder. That’s damaging and kills any and all inspiration in my experience. The second type is a bit more positive, instead of ‘being hard on yourself’, I’d call it, ‘believing in yourself to the extent that you honour your own talents and ability by never giving up and always moving forward’. It’s knowing what you’re capable of and taking responsibility for that. I’m not a perfectionist, but I have an obligation to myself to keep on creating as long as it fills my soul and the souls of others.
Do you believe there is beauty in spontaneity? How often are you pleasantly surprised by the way your photographs come out?
Absolutely, and all of the time! I am not a planner. All of my photographs are the result of spontaneity and intuition, and while I have some idea of what I’m working with (film, camera, etc.), I never cease to be surprised by what comes out. I don’t want it to ever be any other way, which is why I’m always taking on new experiments and can’t do the same thing twice.
A lot of your photographs have very abstract and contrasting colours. How much work goes into pre- and post-production?
It varies – sometimes none…sometimes the film and the lady in front of the camera alone produce the result. But sometimes it’s a lot – I spend a lot of time ‘altering’ my films before I shoot them, and then I spend a lot of time altering the negatives and prints even further by means of chemicals, mixed media, and heat. But I don’t do post-production in the digital sense aside from compensating for what the scanner takes away (brightness, contrast, saturation, etc.). Shooting and pre- and post-production are two different processes for me that serve two different functions. When I shoot, I’m connecting with another human, sharing energy and experiences and capturing those moments. When I work on my negatives, it’s an intimate process with myself – that’s where I find myself on some other level where I’m able to access parts of my subconscious and infuse those elements into my work. It’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to meditation.
What’s the most challenging thing about shooting film?
Hmm. I suppose sometimes you end up with blank rolls because the film was just too old or damaged — that’s always a bummer, but it’s part of the process. Oh, money. Yes, it’s definitely an expensive habit, especially when you choose to work with obscure and sometimes unreliable materials.
Your work is part of the World Wide Women Collective. Feminism is a much-debated term that scares many people away. What’s your definition of feminism and how does it come to the fore in your work? What can we do to empower feminism through art?
That’s so funny to me, that feminism scares people away. It’s just one other way of saying that all humans are beautiful and valuable. I don’t have a hard definition of feminism that I go around preaching, but to me it simply means valuing myself as a woman (and valuing other women) and embracing the beauty and power of femininity in general. I didn’t realise until I was much older that I had grown up in a society that pathologised femininity. A society that was terrified of feeling anything but numbed-out bliss in front of a TV screen, and that my behaviours would always be interpreted through this lens of ‘oh she’s crazy, she’s a girl, she’s young, don’t trust her’. I believe in the power of emotions and I believe that as women we have a certain advantage in utilising our emotions to make meaning out of life and transcend this mundane existence that society has tried to force feed to all of us, including men.
What photographer would you ask for advice and why?
I’m not one to ask for advice, even though I don’t see anything wrong with it (I am a psychotherapist-in-training after all). I’m just introverted and prefer staying inside of my own brain most of the time and solving my own puzzles. But if I could go back in time, I’d ask Lee Miller how she navigated being one of the only female surrealist photographers of her time – not because I am alone in my journey (there are so many wonderful female artists that approach things similarly to me), but I’d be interested in how gender affected her experience. I think women have more than made their mark in photography since Lee’s time, but men still take us less seriously – especially because we tend to express emotion in our work and care less about the technical side of things. We aren’t trying to master a machine, we’re trying to create art that holds a little part of who we are inside of it. This is a sweeping generalisation and there are certainly women who approach photography more mechanically and men who approach photography with more beauty and emotion than is comprehensible to me (i.e. Davis Ayer).
Do you have any interesting projects, work or exhibitions planned that we can look forward to in the future?
World Wide Women put on the most glorious show, Ritual, which included my work in London at the Cob Gallery this past week. That’s by far the greatest thing that’s happened to me as an artist. My boyfriend and I are having an exhibition together in February (he’s a painter) and it’ll be in Austin, Texas, at Canopy Studios’ Little Pink Monster Gallery. I’m really excited because we’re going to show our individual work but also work on our first collaboration pieces together. Also, I’ll have a black and white series out in Pacific Dissent Magazine’s January issue, which I believe is available for purchase in museums/galleries in California. I’m sure you can also order it online. I’ll have a feature/interview in Developed Magazine Issue 4, and then World Wide Women will put out their anthology (which is always so beautiful) in 2015, along with an exhibition of all of our work in Paris…and a couple of other places I’ve forgotten! Hopefully I’ll add to that list but that’s all I’ve got for now!