Tiah Bullock is a student of Photography, English Language, and Film. I came across her work on Instagram and was struck by the strength of her images and the assurance with which they were made. I wanted to find out some more.
Tiah – thanks for agreeing to the chat. Can we use this image as a starting point please? It’s one of a series of images that features blood. I’m hesitant to say the series features young women because I don’t now how your subjects would identify themselves – perhaps you can tell me that – but in this work I recognise an echo of a certain 80s fashion aesthetic in which women were exploited in violent images with the aim of selling clothes. It seems to me you’ve flipped that; that you’ve given the power to your subjects.
“Of the two subjects in this series one is female and one is non-binary. In these pieces I wanted to explore the abject; and one way of understanding the abject is that it’s opposed to the object; something that exists within a liminal space, not quite one thing nor yet another; the in-between of two things. Things like piss, vomit, shit, and yes, like blood. A lot of people argue that if we’re going on from Post-Modern terms, if there’s no sense of subject any more, then the abject is what is understood to be the true sense of self. It’s the stuff that we can’t help ejecting. It almost seems comical; that stuff that we can’t help; it’s a true, strange sense of being. For the most part men are empowered by the abject, and for women, or for people who lie between or out of gender, that’s not the case. Period blood for example is taken as being embarrassing, while if a man shows blood it’s violent and powerful. So I wanted to explore it this visually, by having these people being completely unapologetic and confrontational about blood without being too on the nose about it. It wasn’t about being scary with blood, it was just being calm and empowered by it.”
Thanks, that all makes perfect sense. One thing I’d like to take up is my observation that these are good, strong images. I mean, it’s one thing to be worthy and have noble intentions. You can have the most worthy thesis in the world but if you’re trying to expound that with boring images then who cares? A lot of the images that you produce are very strong. Not just in this series, but I’ve come across some other work of yours that is very different but also very strong. There’s a real quality and assuredness to it. I guess I’m old and crusty enough to just say that. You’re able to produce things that in their aesthetic are on a level above a lot of what I see out there, and I’d just like to ask if you see that yourself; if you feel it yourself, and perhaps to say how it happened.
“I don’t personally feel that I have a set aesthetic yet. I’m still exploring it. I’ve only been shooting for about a year. I guess it started when I’d seen images floating around, and I suppose Nan Goldin is my biggest inspiration. My mum was cleaning out her wardrobe one day and came across a tiny little point-and-shoot film camera. I’d never shot film, and there’s more of a ceremony to using a film camera than using your phone, and I was excited by the idea of making an image and the anticipation of seeing if it worked or not. I’ve always been drawn to visuals. As well as studying Photography at the CCP, I study English and Film at Adelaide Uni so it just made sense and I wanted to give it a go.”
Ha! Yes, I can see Nan Goldin in there; I’d actually written Goldin in my notes when I was looking at your work before speaking with you. To come back to the strength in your work – it’s a belief of mine that you can’t start with a worthy idea and expect people to read a thesis first and then come to appreciate a mediocre image because of it. By then it’s too late – they’ve moved on. And your work drew me in; you opened with something that arrested my attention and the work made me want to find out more about it.
“It’s nice to hear that you’re seeing my images without context. I think the goal has always been to create images where you want to know the context, but you certainly don’t need that context to enjoy them.”
You’ve expressed that so well – thank you. I’d like to talk a bit about composition. There’s an assurance – a sort of boldness in your composition. I guess if you’ve only been shooting a year then either it’s innate or you’re bringing it from somewhere else. Do you think much about composition?
“Absolutely. I’m a big mood-boarder. I’m doing mood boards all the time. I’m always looking at images, seeking them out. I think I’m very much shaped by the culture I surround myself with. I try not to over-think it while I’m shooting. I’ll go in with intentions but I’ll just go with how it’s feeling on the day. So composition is absolutely thought about, but I’ll then use my setting; assess that and go from there. I’m quite a conceptual thinker; I don’t like to simply approach a shoot without something in mind. In the future I might like to increase the production values; obviously I don’t have a production team at the moment, but I’d like to take more time and think about the composition and lighting in a way that is really striking. I guess at the start I was just taking photos in a way that was a bit arbitrary, but I also think that’s an area where in the future I can plan more; where I can improve. I would like to have a team where can work on that sort of thing; the staging, the lighting.”
This moves nicely in to where you think you might go with your photography, and where it might take you in the future.
“Oh, I absolutely want to keep going. I’m lucky – I have some friends in bands and they use me as a photographer for that, and that’s always helping improve my skills – diving in to gigs where it’s fast paced and stressful. You have to get the image now – so that’s helping me learn to work quickly. I’d like to become a quicker, more assertive director I guess, of the images I want to make. I love commercial photography but I’d also love to do my own thing – whether that’s prints or zines or whatever. That’s the direction I’m going, but I still have uni and everything to get through first, so it’s all just on the side of that. I genuinely love photography but I’m also a writer as well, so I’m trying to combine that; whether it’s me putting out images with words; prose or poetry or whatever. I just take it day by day I guess.”
Thanks Tiah – that was a such a good chat, and please accept my best wishes for your studies and your career as they progress.
It was instructive for me to see that the quality of Tiah’s work did not come out of nowhere; there is a great deal of thought and effort behind it. At the moment the best place to see Tiah’s work is on her Instagram account, but I feel there will many different places to view it before too long. For now, check out https://www.instagram.com/tiahbullock/