ZOOM: Maddy Bazil
In ST.ART’s new ZOOM series our photography editor, Ania Juszczyk, sits down with St. Andrews-based photographers and recent graduates to discuss their work. This week, we feature Maddy Bazil, a recent graduate currently based out of South Africa.
Maddy, what’s the first picture you remember taking?
I remember shooting a disposable camera on a family holiday to Ireland when I was 9, and then coming home and getting it developed and making a scrapbook. Half the roll was under-exposed snaps of horses in meadows and the other half was blown-out flash photos of my cousins sporting foam mustaches from tasting all the adults' pints of Guinness... so yeah, nothing has really changed.
How would you describe the type of photography that interests you?
On the broadest level, I'm interested in candid honesty and a lot of natural light.
Film or digital?
Film! Pulling my first print out of the vat of developer several years ago was the first time I ever saw photography as "art" in the same way that I always considered painting or drawing to be. And I got back into shooting film after a long hiatus at a really crucial time about a year ago when I was feeling very burnt out with photography. Film brings me back to the magic of creating, it feels more tangible and forces a level of thoughtfulness. Virtually all of my personal work at this point is analogue. So the next challenge is getting to the point where I can get away with shooting film with clients - that's a tougher sell as a deliverable, definitely riskier on my end, but I'm keen to bridge the gap to work in a medium I'm passionate about.
Tell me about the most recent project you’ve been working on.
Lately I've been laying the groundwork for a long-term multimedia project focused on the diversity of the female lived experience here in Cape Town, where I'm living now. It’s very early days and I'm excited to see how it develops.
How do you choose your subjects?
I'm drawn to compelling stories. That's the main thing.
According to you what makes a “good” photograph?
I grew up studying studio art before ever picking up a camera so the photos that appeal most to me are usually ones that have some painterly quality in their gaze - an attention to colour and composition and depth of field. But I'm far less concerned about technical perfection than I am about telling a narrative or expressing a feeling. Or maybe I just say that so I can get away with messing up my exposures all the time... I'll never tell.
To me the perfect photo is "Nan and Brian in Bed" by Nan Goldin - Goldin is subverting the viewer's perception of intimacy in quite a dark way but visually the photo is so quiet, warm, and unassumingly cinematic. I think that duality is the most fascinating thing in an image.
To what extent do you feel that your work is influenced by other photographers? / Do you look at other photographers’ images for inspiration?
Absolutely I'm influenced by other photographers. I literally don't trust any artist who's like, "Oh, I just do my own thing and stay away from other influences." Like, that's bullshit and you're only hurting yourself. Obviously you want to develop your unique creative voice, but for better or for worse I've also always been the kind of person to try to wrangle the world around me into a curated mood board for whatever aesthetic I'm pursuing - and not just with photography but also with fine art, film, books, music. I like seeing what's come before and what cool work the people I look up to are doing, I think that’s hugely important and contextual. I’ll get off my soapbox now.
In terms of personal work and portraiture I'm inspired by early Ryan McGinley work, Olivia Bee, Tony Gum, Caroline Mackintosh, Zanele Muholi, Stephen Shore, Rosie Matheson, Sîan Davey, Justice Mukheli, Théo Gosselin.
For documentary and photojournalism work I admire Robin Hammond (whose NGO, Witness Change, I do social media for), Bieke Depoorter, Sarah Blesener, Lynsey Addario, David Goldblatt, Yagazie Emezi, Sanne de Wilde, the Bang-Bang Club, Tanya Habjouqa, Ashley Gilbertson, Bruno Barbey, Malin Fezehai, Pieter Hugo, Sarah Waiswa, Anastasia Taylor-Lind, Pete Souza, and so many others.
A big priority for me lately has been that I'm really seeking to diversify and de-Westernise my personal canon of whose work I'm looking to and what images and stories I'm exposing myself to. So that's an ongoing process.
How do you feel about being photographed yourself?
I secretly love it. I know most photographers are the opposite! What can I say, I'm a raging narcissist.
Do you know what you want to focus on in the future?
I'm dying to start shooting on medium format - the minute I have the money for it, I'm buying a Hasselblad and diving into 120mm film. Generally speaking I want to focus on getting more experimental with form and media, taking more risks - I'm finally feeling lately like I have the space for that, the capacity. Beyond that, who knows! We'll see.
As I’ve been settling into my life in South Africa lately, I’ve been shooting a lot of humanless images in an effort to get my bearings in a landscape (urban & natural) at once highly familiar and gloriously new. In so many ways the natural world feels more tangible and knowable here, a character in all our lives. I’m interested in how the man-made world engages with that. Sometimes it’s an uncomfortable interaction. But Cape Town is a beautiful city - even the concrete and steel and glass hold magic.
I've been thinking a lot lately about where we stand amid the natural world. We do this whole commodifying dance of distilling natural elements into unnatural entities which we then bring with us into the world of the human as pale replacements to the real thing. I wanted to investigate these degrees of separation. The junctures where these worlds cross over. What we bring with us, and what we leave behind. What continues to bloom.
This is a frame from a series I shot in 2016-17 called Township Holiday. I was working with an NGO, the Amy Foundation, following along for two years on their biannual holiday camp programmes for a group of township youth in Cape Town. In Township Holiday I was telling a story of students at play, capturing moments of exploration, culture, sportsmanship, and camaraderie – sentiments part of any childhood but rarely focused on by photographers when working in indigent communities. These were really joyful images to make.
This is a personal photo. It’s the view at dusk out the kitchen window at the house my grandparents built 30 years ago on a hill in the woods of Western Massachusetts. It’s my favourite place in the world.
Maddy Bazil graduated from St Andrews in 2018 with a first-class degree in English Literature. Originally from Washington DC, she currently lives in Cape Town, South Africa, working in digital content for women's entrepreneurship startup She Leads Africa, and pursuing photography. Her work has been featured at Aint-Bad, Between 10 and 5, Passion Passport, Private International Photo Review, Musée Magazine, and elsewhere. She considers her photography to sit at the intersection of journalism and fine art in the pursuit of honest and captivating storytelling. Find out more about her series documenting the Western Cape water crisis here https://10and5.com/2018/05/04/cape-town-artist-depicts-water-crisis-in-photo-series-waterless/ .