Sandra Harper Q&A
I’ve been researching my family tree for years… My challenge is how do I document my ancestry and produce something visual? Well, the ancestors live on through my mother. – Sandra Harper
What does the Black gaze mean to you?
I have to break it down as my brain is quite a slow burner . The ‘gaze’ is from the viewers stance , a sense of awareness and perception of others. A fixed stare, to glare perhaps with wonder and interest.
A black gaze I can only tell you only from my perspective, my awareness, my stare, my wonder and my interest. I have no right to speak on behalf of other black gazes. You see it in my images, my voice, the words I write.
How does the Black gaze relate to your photography practice?
It’s how I see the world and how I interpret it but I’m still learning and so my gaze evolves with it.
What do you want to say or address with your photography?
It is simply about the people in the photos from beginning to end.
What influences and inspires you? How is this reflected in your work?
I take my influences and inspirations from many mediums. Books not just photo books, films (I watch a substantial amount of films), writings, poetry. Anything that comes to hand.
If a random idea comes to mind I write it down. I keep a somewhat a ‘dream diary’. When I wake up and if I remember my dream I write it down. Who knows, one day it may inspire me photographically but at the moment to a random viewers they are just ramblings of a dream at the moment.
I try to let my feelings guide my images. If something ‘feels’ right or not. I hope some of those feelings are reflected in some of my work.
Who are your favourite Black photographers from the past? Why?
It’s difficult to chose just one. Gordon Parks, Malick Sidbe, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Okhai Ojeikere to name a few. For me their photography is about the people. Always about the people.
Please describe the highs and lows of your experience as a Black photographer?
I would say the lows outnumber the highs. Last year I exhibited my ‘Hestelle’ story in Wales that was my ‘high’.
And lows – where do I start? Well this year of Covid19 hasn’t helped – adding to the tally of lows. You begin to question yourself. Overwhelmed with impostor syndrome. What would an artist be without that syndrome? Do people see me as a photographer? Who am I to take these pictures? Really! Who am I? I am honoured for people allowed to me take their photos. Part of me thinks why bother?
Photography was pushed to the back of my mind for a part of the first lockdown in March. Everyday feels like Groundhog day and my mind seems to be occupied in trying get through that day, sleep and then rinse and repeat.
Other lows, made stupid naive mistakes (however the high is I learned from them), projects fell through, plans not going to plan etc. It is what it is, I just have to move on I need to work on getting those highs again!
What work are you producing and what more would you like to do?
Covid this year has not helped getting out close to people this year
I am attracted to do more writing. It seems to go hand-in-hand with photography. Last year I attended a poetry workshop and wrote a poem inspired by a photo from the Windrush generation.
What I would like to do next is something on a personal level. I’ve been researching my family tree for years. It’s still ongoing but from that I took a direction on exploring my ancestry.
My mother is part Carib. There were two Black Carib wars on the Island of St Vincent & The Grenadines – my parents home country. Our ancestors fought two wars to prevent the British from taking over and controlling their island until they were exiled to Honduras. In the present day they are known as Garifunas.
My challenge is how do I document my ancestry and produce something visual? Well, the ancestors live on through my mother. Before Covid I made audio recordings, video recordings, writing and photos whilst visiting her. At the moment, all the jigsaw pieces are there for the project – it just needs to be carefully placed together.
About Sandra Harper
Sandra Harper, a self-confessed late starter in photography is based in Brighton, England where she focuses on self-funded and personal bodies of work. These include ‘Hestelle -The Carer’s Story‘; a beautiful, moving and timely documentary centred on her mother and late father that was exhibited in 2019 at The Northern Eye Photography Festival.
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