Sarah_Rhodesartists lunchThis is my interview with Sarah Rhodes.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? I never considered being a photographer but must have always loved people’s stories. When I was in primary school I wanted to own a newsagency. In high school, I wanted to be a psychologist. Photography seems to marry the two.

What traditions from your childhood do you continue? My mother is a purist and approaches everything using first principles. That philosophy seems to have had a large influence on how I approach my life. Technically, I shoot on a Hasselblad film camera. Conceptually, I am interested in identity and how people explore the creative process to understand themselves.

What other jobs have you had and what situations or people influenced you to start photographing? My first career job after university was working for Goodman’s Fine Art Auctioneers and Valuers. I was the receptionist and had opportunity to learn to value Australian Art. Rex Dupain would photograph the works for sale for Tim Goodman and it was then that I realised I wanted to be making pictures rather than selling them.

What’s the best part of your job? The freedom to pursue personal projects is very stimulating.

What’s the hardest part of your job? Freedom means I can only rely on me.

Who was the first and also who was the last person you photographed for this book? Jason Benjamin and Tim Storrier agreed to be in the two chapters we made to pitch the idea to publishers. Alice and I stayed the night at Tim Storrier’s home in Bathurst in a couple of his swags. It was nerve-wracking and thrilling at the same time. We wanted to prove to the publishers that we could produce a chapter on big-name artist but in retrospect I wonder why we set the bar so high. Margaret Olley was the last person I photographed for ‘The Artist’s Lunch’ even though she was the first to agree to be part of the book. She would never commit to having her photograph taken, saying she preferred to wait until the book almost finished. Margaret would tell me that she never knew what would happen in the future. She wanted to make her chapter when the book was ready.

Do you have a favourite image in the book? During the making of ‘The Artist’s Lunch, I developed a special friendship with the only photomedia artist in the book, Anne Zahalka. Photographers often have a similar personality trait which is hard to describe. We clicked straight away and I was excited for the opportunity to learn from her. Anne staged the formal portrait of her with her mother, Hedy and daughter, Alice. We call it a collaboration and for that reason the framed work hangs in my hallway by the kitchen. It represents the turning point in my career –– from then on I saw photography differently. Recently Anne photographed me with my son to mark his first birthday.

What was the best thing about photographing this book? Being invited to lunch at the homes of some of Australia’s most celebrated artists and learning from them.

What was one of the best things that happened because of this book? Gathering a long list of remarkable life experiences in three years: visiting Jeffrey Smart in his home in Umbria and having tea with Penelope Seidler, meeting the best providores in Paris with Tim Maguire, visiting a Buddhist retreat where talking is forbidden with Nell, Alice and I sleeping in swags on the floor in Tim Storrier’s home and most importantly, having the opportunity to learn from Margaret Olley and have her blessing throughout this project.

What are you working on next? I have two ongoing projects: ‘Home / On Country’ (2011 – ) is a series of portraits of Victorian Aboriginal Elders wearing possum skin cloaks at home and on country, illustrating the challenges in negotiating two cultures. ‘Home / On Country’ is currently being toured by Albury LibraryMuseum and NSW Elders are being added to the series as it travels, see Culture Victoria.

‘Play’ is a story of survival and coming of age. The work dances on the line between fact and fiction, following a group of Tasmanian children as they grow into teenagers. They build cubby houses, light fires and chop down trees with machetes. The images are titled with quotes from William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’. The series is currently being exhibited in New York at The Visual Storyteller.

There are a couple of ideas at concept stage but I am always on the look out.

Read my review of ‘The Artist’s Lunch’ here.

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