Today the lovely Michelle Sank came and gave us a lecture on her voluminous photographic projects. Sank’s images focus heavily on the human condition and encompasses issues around social and cultural diversity. This preoccupation with humanity and social stances stemmed from the injustice Sank experienced throughout her young life.
Sank was born in Cape Town, South Africa whereby she and her family fell subject to immense injustice, forcing her to leave the country in 1978 whereby she spent many years residing in Greece. Eventually Sank came to the U.K in 1987 and has been living here ever since. Sank spoke of how the bright dynamic colours which engulf South Africa shape the way she visualises and colours her images, even today. The social injustices she experienced pushed Sank towards photographing people and wanting to document varied humanity’s.
Sank then talked us through her photographic series. All of Sank’s images, no matter what the series, possess a bold yet dream like quality and the concepts behind the photographs and subjects themselves are truly inspiring. The majority of her works were shot on large format colour film, emphasising a certain graininess and honesty within the subjects. Sank spoke of how people’s auras are what attracted her to her subjects and images being created. She spoke at length about certain images of people who she fell in awe of and felt compelled to take an image because of the aura she could see bursting from them. It was a really sweet and interesting thing to hear, how she could see beauty and charm in an utter stranger. One image that sticks out in my mind is of the overweight little girl, in a bright swimsuit smiling on a beach. Sank spoke of the girls shining personality, unfazed by her larger size wearing elaborate accessories and confident smile. I thought it was nice how many of Sank’s photographs captured moments that many of us would glance over and forget.
The series that moved me most was titled, ‘Young Carers’. Sank photographed children under the age of eighteen who were the main carers of their sick parents or siblings. In addition to performing daily household tasks like washing, bathing, cooking and shopping, the children also had to deal with their schooling, forming friends and doing their homework. Because of the children’s differences, many of the children in the series were exposed to extreme bullying whilst struggling to find their own identity. Am I an adult? Am I child? Sank photographed the children with their parents and then performing their day-to-day tasks. Sank would then photograph the children in a place they feel at peace or enjoy being, such as a park, whereby the children get to be just that, children.
“With these portraits, I wanted to empower these young people with a sense of their own identity and normality. I wanted to remove them from their home environment and place them within ‘light’ and outside spaces. By getting them to dress in something they chose and to be themselves, I think for that moment in time they felt special, grounded and free”
I found the series moving and quite difficult. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the children when seeing the images of their home lives but Sank creates hope in her secondary sets, with the children being themselves and happy. Again, I just thought it was a really sweet and moving concept.
Another series I found interesting is her on going series titled, ‘In My Skin’, whereby she creates portraits of people under the age of twenty-five in the UK who are challenging their body image. Sank has paid particular attention to those who have had plastic surgery, battled body image issues or have molded their body through vigorous training. Sank is challenging and highlighting Western society’s obsession with having the perfect body. She writes:
“I am looking at those who have had or are considering having cosmetic surgery in order to become more acceptable to themselves and achieve their ideal of being ‘beautiful’. Social consensus in Western society today is particularly focussed on physical beauty and achieving and maintaining the “perfect” face and body. Intertwined with this I am also documenting body dysmorphia as young people try and conform to this social expectation resulting in eating disorders and body transformation. Lastly I am documenting transgenderism and the struggle young people have to live within a body they were born into but have no affiliation with’
It will make for an eye opening series I’m sure and is the first series in which Sank has used a digital camera as opposed to film! I really like the story-teller notion Sank possesses and enjoyed the stories and concepts behind her images.