Through their Eyes: Elize Strydom
When emerging Australian photographer Elize Strydom booked an 11 week visit to New York she wasn’t content just being another tourist with a camera, so she rented a room in Brookyln, enrolled in a photo class and hit the streets. The result is this immersive series of dream-like glimpses into summer in the city. “Each day, with a renewed sense of wonder and curiosity, I would sling the camera over my shoulder and set out to explore a new neighbourhood, chase the the shimmering, golden light reflecting off skyscrapers and observe the comings and goings of beautiful strangers,” she says.
Elize was nice enough to give us some background into her approach and gear and how to avoid photographic cliches. Scroll down for a Q and A.
I’ve long been fascinated and intrigued by NYC and its ability to capture the hearts and minds of people from all over the globe. In 2009 I skipped over for a three week holiday, to see what all the fuss was about. In a matter of days the city had wrapped itself around me and was refusing to let go. I resolved to visit again and to devote a decent chunk of time to getting to know the place. In June this year the time was right so I found a room to rent in Brooklyn and jumped on a plane headed for JFK Airport. I wasn’t super keen on the idea of simply being a tourist for 11 weeks so I enrolled in photo journalism course taught by French photographer Frank Fournier at the International Centre of Photography.
How do you decide what gear to bring (bodies, lenses, flash, tripod, bags)? Do you try to pack light? or What’s your minimum must-have gear?
The gear I pack is determined by where I’m going and what I’ll be shooting. For this trip I figured it would be fine to include most of my kit as I’d be staying in one spot the whole time; not traipsing from city to city, lugging bags. I knew I’d be covering a bunch of gigs and festivals and that I’d be dong a great deal of shooting for my course, so the digi (Canon 5d Mk II) was a must. I’m in love with film so there was never any doubt that my analogue SLR (Canon EOS 300) and medium format camera (Yashica 24) would make the cut, as well. My lenses of choice were a 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.2 and 70-200mm f/2.8. All of that, plus my MacBook, fit nicely into a backpack. When I was out and about I tried to travel as light as possible; just a canvas bag over my shoulder and the camera in my hand with the strap wrapped around my wrist. I favoured the 50mm for day to day photography and only used the 70-200mm at gigs. I continually found myself reaching for the analogue SLR or the Yashica. There’s something raw and honest about film that resonates with me. Having 36 shots forces me to slow down and focus on actually making a picture, rather than just taking one. I adore the aesthetics of film photographs, too – the grain, the desaturated colours, the occasional light leak. Yes, buying and developing film can be expensive and inconvenient at times, but the fulfillment I find is well worth the dollars and the time.
How do you avoid taking travel photography cliches or “postcard” shots?
Sure, I visited tourist-y spots and took photos there, too. But by focusing primarily on people and light it’s quite simple to make pictures that give a subtle sense of place while at the same time revealing something unique about the subject/s and the way they interact with their surrounds.
Have you ever planned a series before you left, or do you just wait and see what happens?
I often have a list of places I’d like to check out but rarely have a clear idea of exactly what I’d like to capture. Shooting personal work sans a strict brief means I can let the light and the action guide the direction of my lens. In my ICP course I was given weekly photographic assignments which did require planning. Often that meant going to the place I was required to shoot and just observing. One assignment was a story on the Number 7 train from Times Square to Flushing, Queens. There was a lot to cover, both physically and culturally, so numerous trips, hours of wandering on foot and conversations with strangers were needed to help me find an angle and settle on a way to ‘tell’ the story.
What would be your ultimate travel photography destination?
It’s impossible to pick just one! India for the colour and craziness, Iceland for the isolation and extremity and France for the love and light.