In Dialogue with Photographer Ted Oonk

Ted Oonk is a photographer based at Liverpool, UK. I found her work a bit unconventional, not something like beating around the bush and got curious about her photography. Beides doing her personal documentary projects, Ted collaborates with artists and photographer to cover and document their works. Photos posted with this short interview are from her projects ‘This is not about you’ and ‘Possible Islands’. ‘This is not about you’ is an ongoing project since 2006 and has sub-projects as well. It is a research about the representation of her sister Pim, who is affected by Down syndrome. This project has parallel themes and concepts of abnormality, stigmatization and various other issues as well. A short Q&A with Ted follows:

Please tell us about yourself and your relationship with photography:

Well, I’m a Dutch artist currently residing in Liverpool, UK. The question about my relationship with photography is honestly always a difficult one because I didn’t grew up with a lot of photography around me and only seriously starting doing it in University. Also, although I use photography in my work I find it sometimes hard to believe in the medium because it is so flat. This is why I also work with video quite often and sometimes like looking at film and video more than photography.

Ted Oonk photography (2)What does photography mean to you?

For me photography is a method to introduce a larger theme or subject. I often use photography because it has many possibilities but also evokes questions about reality, truth and social realism.

I found on both your websites that most of your work is pretty unconventional (not routine portrait/landscape/urban work) and it also deals with collaborating with and documenting other artists as well. What kind of work do you like to do and how much does the economics of photography matter to you?

In my artistic work I usually focus on larger themes and long term projects, these works go very in depth and a lot of theoretical research often is needed. This in contrast with my commercial photography in which I’m specialized in working for cultural industries. This means documenting exhibitions, artworks and campaign images for example. I keep those two practices quite separate because I think they are very different things. Obviously I need to make a living by doing commercial photography, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun!

Tell us about your methods or critical approaches of shooting?

For me it is very important to be fully immersed in the subject matter ,mainly theoretical, before I go of photographing. I’m prepared on a theoretical level but photographing happens always intuitively. This is because I believe that everything that you read is unconsciously present while photographing.

Ted Oonk photography (1)-2Please tell us about personal project “This is Not About You”. What are the emotional burdens and challenges of such a project and what kind of reconciliations do you expect the viewers to achieve?

‘This is not about you’ is obviously a very personal project and that is also the part that makes it the most difficult. It is so close to you that sometimes certain important decisions in relation to the outcome of the project don’t appear to you. Luckily I’m a rational person and always try to look at the larger picture of how the project can be improved in relation to the interest of the audience. Most important in this project is the collaboration with my sister and the equality of images and people. The viewer can reflect in many different ways on this project, whether it is about family life, matters of normality or the notion of a perfect portrait. I think it is a versatile project.

Ted Oonk photography (2)-2What do you think about contemporary photography (current trends, social media, photography as a career choice, etc.)?

There are always certain trends and waves in photography, whether this is in the arts or commercial photography. Nowadays with digital cameras everywhere and everyone being a photographer it is hard to stand out. But not everyone with a nice camera is a good photographer. Therefore I think it is important to stay true to yourself, see your qualities and use them.

Ted Oonk photography (3)-2What are your future plans/projects, and your published works/photobooks:

Concerning my artistic practice I’m working very hard at the moment on a re-interpretation of an older video work to be finished in summer 2016. For this project I work together with two foundations in Belgium. Beside this I keep on working on various projects, like ‘Possible Islands’ a project I started in 2014 with artist Su Jung and has the form of a growing archive. I also have a couple of exhibitions coming up in England, so that will keep me busy as well.

Ted Oonk photography (4)What are your favorite stuff? (Photographers, books, movies, etc.)

I’ve read a couple of books lately but they were all in Dutch unfortunately. I like to read non-fiction informative material. Now I’m reading an English book of Michael Foley about the age of absurdity and why modern life makes us unhappy, quite interesting!

Ted Oonk photography (3)All photos © Ted Oonk : WWW.TEDOONK.NL | WWW.TEDOONK.COM

About Nishant Mishra

Nishant studied art history and literature at the university during 1990s. He works as a translator in New Delhi, India and likes to read about arts, photography, films, life-lessons and Zen.

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