Currently shortlisted for 2017’s Aimia | AGO Photography Prize, Canada’s most significant award for photography, Liz Johnson Artur is the photographer capturing the wonderful spectrum of Black life. One of the few awards where the public can pick the winner, also ONLINE. C& spoke to the London-based Russian-Ghanaian photographer about her 30-year career and what still moves her after so many years in the business
C&: You have traveled the world for your photography series. From what you saw, what are the defining differences and similarities of expressing Blackness?
Liz Johnson Artur: I try to take my pictures wherever I am…I don’t carry a camera all the time… but if I do carry one, I am looking out for people… for me every person counts and what I look out for is a sense of “Self” in a person… as a photographer I try to catch a moment of “Self Presentation”… observing Black communities for the last 30 or so years… I believe that how a Black person presents themselves is part of their “Survival Kit”… the difference for me is in the individuality of the “Self”.
C&: You have Russian and Ghanaian ancestry. How do you negotiate your identity? What do you do when people expect you to justify or prove any part of it?
LJA: Who I am is what is familiar to me… it sometimes surprises people… but it’s normal to me… I don’t prove myself… but I do have some good stories to tell…
C&: What have been people’s reactions to your project? What were your interactions like with the people you photographed?
LJA: I like to think that my encounters with people are based on… ”One to One”… when I started out… I felt very shy approaching people… through the years I learned that showing interest in a human being is the main reason why I take photographs and why I want to dedicate my archive to these moments… in terms of reactions… even after all this time… I am still very touched when a stranger allows me to take their photograph.
C&: How have you seen your work as an artist morph from your early years, both technically and conceptually?
LJA: I started my archive without any concept… I was hungry to meet people… and my camera opened up the chance to dive right in… technically… when I am on the street… I try to travel light… but looking back, I guess I was always driven by the idea of creating photographs that will withstand the test of time… my cameras are still the same as when I started out… what has changed… is that I take what I do very seriously… my archive is the source for my artistic work.
The Aimia | AGO Photography Prize jury selected four international finalists including Hank Willis Thomas. The public voting ends on 5 November 2017. You can vote online HERE