Earlier this year I featured a post on photographer Molly Harris and her controversial series of photographs titled ‘Closer to Heaven’. You can read it here. The post received a great deal of attention and a range of emotive responses. Molly’s intention isn’t to shock, but that she does brilliantly. When it comes to Molly’s photography, people will be sure to talk. Last week I met up with Molly over breakfast to find out what exciting things she’s been up to since.
In August, Molly travelled to Myanmar (formally Burma) to take part in a photojournalism workshop run by established photographers Stephen Dupont and Jack Picone. “It was an honour to work with Dupont. He’s a huge source of inspiration to me.” Along with three other emerging Australian photographers and three photojournalists from The Myanmar Times, Molly had the opportunity to work on a photojournalism assignment of her choice. The course involved seven full days of shooting as well as evening classes during which Molly and her peers looked at the work of other photographers and shared ideas and inspirations for their own projects.
Molly’s initial idea was to photograph an HIV hospice, but after two days she was inspired to look at birth and maternal health instead. She visited the local hospital, gained access to the maternity ward and was granted permission to start shooting. Molly was required to create a body of work with a narrative, “to make a story”. Upon discovering that numerous women were booked in to have cesareans the next day, Molly asked to be present during the surgeries. Both doctors and patients gave Molly and her camera permission to join them at the operating table. This allowed Molly to capture the graphic moments of cesarean surgery as well as the wonderfully emotional experience and reality of childbirth. The result is a collection of powerful and surprisingly explicit photographs presented in the form of a video.
Molly achieved more in Myanmar than an addition to her portfolio; she gained an interest in photojournalism that will impact her work forever more. In the future, she would “like to merge photojournalistic work and photography as art”. Whilst the primary intention of photojournalism is to tell a story, “artistic elements such as lighting and composition are still very important”. I asked Molly if childbirth and maternal health are themes she would like to explore further; “I would like to do a comparison and have the opportunity to shoot C-sections in Australia and compare the two standards…that would make a really interesting series”. Allowing people to see something they wouldn’t usually be able to is, ultimately, the essence of Molly’s role as a photographer.
“The beauty of the workshop was that it was quick; photojournalism is quick. [It took] over four months to complete ‘Closer to Heaven’, but in Burma I had essentially four days.” For Molly, there were many benefits to working under this time-restriction; “I was taught not to overdo it with digital, and to wait for that perfect moment. I found that interesting and strange because I usually go clicker crazy”. When asked of her preference for film or digital photography, Molly’s response is immediate: “Digital. If the lighting isn’t right, you have the ability to edit. If the composition isn’t right, you have the ability to crop”. At this stage, Molly isn’t opposed to digitally editing photos, “but I would like to be at a point, like Stephen Dupont, where I don’t always have to do that”.
So, what’s next for Molly Harris?
Following up from her photographic series ‘Closer to Heaven’, Molly’s attention has shifted to transgender. She is pursuing a project with Sandra, a transgender woman in her sixties. It’s going “slowly but surely”. Molly is creating a body of work to show what Sandra’s daily life involves as a transgender woman, and ex military and air force personnel. Molly found Sandra online, organised to meet for a drink and expressed her desire to share Sandra’s story through photography. “Sandra is fascinating”; she has blood clots through her brain, which is likely the result of her hormone therapy. “She refuses to stop taking it – Sandra would rather jeopardise her health than turn back into a man. Even with the possibility of death.” If the response to ‘Closer to Heaven’ is anything to go by, Molly’s transgender photographs will get people talking. For Molly, “that’s what it’s all about”.
Why transgender? “I always thought my ‘thing’ was marginalised people; drug addicts, prostitutes, poor women from a developing country like Myanmar. And I think that transgender people also fit in this category. I guess I’m interested in groups of people that aren’t always accepted by our society.” However, Molly does not want to paint these people in a sympathetic light; “I just want to document the reality of it all”. Although, “it’s up to you as the viewer to form your own opinion”. That, after all, is the beauty of photography – Molly’s in particular.
Despite her growing success and name as a photographer, Molly remains humble. “It’s hard for me to categorise myself. I am an artist in that I’m never wholly satisfied. But it’s hard for me to call myself an artist when I sometimes feel that my work isn’t as good as it could be.” What Molly would like most is “to have a presence and to make a name for myself in the photographic and art world, and for people to have respect for the work that I do”. It seems that’s already the case. Molly was recently awarded the highly coveted ‘Top Emerging Photographer (Student Category)’ by Capture Magazine. With a selection of other awards and grants under her belt, Molly Harris is one to watch. Whether you like her work or not (I must admit, I don’t always), you cannot hide your curiosity.
Watch this space.
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