Cherine Fahd

I like to find images that tell a story, difficult stories that are perhaps so private they don’t usually enter the public realm.

Tell us a little about your background – what did you study and what path led you to what you are doing today?

I studied painting (BFA) from 1993-1997 at the College of Fine Arts UNSW, followed by an MFA from COFA also, from 2000-2003. From 2012-2015 I did a PhD at Monash University Melbourne. I never painted after art school and instead started using photography as a documentation tool to record one off actions, ephemeral sculptures and performances for the camera. I taught myself photography with the help of a few friends who had studied it. I love reading and writing and enjoyed undertaking the doctorate very much, this also feeds into my life as an academic. I was a lecturer at Sydney College of the Arts from 2012-2017 and I am currently Senior lecturer in Photography at UTS.

What are the key themes, concepts, and ideas that you engage with in your work and how do you express these visually and physically??

More recently my work has become very much focused on people, photographing others for portraits. I am interested in the way photography, in terms of portraiture, presents an appearance, how we appear to others. This appearance is a signifier of so many things such as race for example. This in and of itself points to photography’s history as a tool used to classify people. I am interested in this classification system and the ways in which it was exploited by colonialism through pseudo-sciences. I work in series’ using this classification system as a logic for repetition, for creating typologies of people that may focus on physical characteristics such as noses or beards. For this reason, I am often drawn to photographic archives that classify people. I am also working with family photo archives, mine and others. I like to find images that tell a story, difficult stories that are perhaps so private they don’t usually enter the public realm. Often, in interrogating the archive I find ways to intervene into the existing photographs either through digital manipulation or through text. I am working on this kind of project for The National: New Australian Art 2019 at Carriageworks. The photographs depict images and text of my family grieving and mourning at my grandfather’s funeral and burial in 1975.

Who or what are some of your influences? What other artists and creatives in general do you admire?

So many artists have influenced my thinking about the possibilities for photography to exist as a playful, experimental and critical medium. Artist’s such as Roni Horn, Gabriel Orozco, Broomberg and Chanarin are key contemporary artists whose works I love, while historically my influences are broad and include religious painting from the 1700s to 1960s conceptual art, but in terms of photography I find myself returning to Mary Ellen Mark, Diane Arbus and Walker Evans. I would also consider many of my friends to be influential to my creativity and thinking.

What is your workspace like?

I have a studio in my backyard in the Sydney suburb of Marrickville. It has a white wall to photograph against or to pin prints onto, as well as a desk where I do a lot of writing. I also have a big table to lay work out on, to imagine new things and to ponder work in progress. I have had this studio only since 2014. Prior to that I worked on the kitchen table from my laptop. Having a studio after 20 years of practice is a wonderfully generative thing. Mind you, so much creating happens in my mind, in my thoughts, especially when I am writing. Often an idea will have resolved itself in the workspace of my head and I have to simply execute it physically. I share this studio with my husband Todd Robinson who is also an artist. Being in our backyard, the studio becomes an extension of our family life. Often our children use the space to make things and our dog has taken over the space under my table as his bed. So, my studio also doubles as his kennel.

What do you want the viewer to experience when they’re experiencing your works?

I can’t say…I know I have no control over what the viewer will experience. If I did, I suppose I would hope that my work may provoke them to ask questions or to simply see something as it is. Often, my work makes the viewer laugh, I have witnessed this often, and yet it is never a set intention on my part. Once the work leaves my studio, it is no longer mine in a way, it has its own life out in the world. It’s healthy not to be attached to what the audience ‘could’ or ‘should’ experience.

  • Cherine Fahd