Ami Sioux Interview
Beautiful words, beautiful images
I had always wondered why I was so drawn to Ami Sioux's work and after speaking with her I realized it is the joy and true passion she has for her work that truly demands your attention. Originally from California and currently based in Paris, Ami's incredible portraits and fashion work can be seen gracing the pages of Self Service, i-D magazine, Vogue Paris and the like. I was lucky enough to catch up with Ami for a chat to talk life, music, the photographic dance and her first two books Paris 48°49N and Reykjavik 64°08N.
Megan Christiansen: Can you tell us a little bit about growing up in California?
Ami Sioux: I was born in California, but moved to Montana when I was 4 years old. We returned to California when I was 12, moving to Nevada City first. I can remember delivering newspapers on my BMX in the early mornings….that everyone had feathered hair…i can remember gated communities and ashrams…and the river we used to go to up on the "Ridge"…Later on we moved more into the Valley near Sacramento when I was 14 and I discovered my first record shops..discovered punk and rock and roll. I can remember buying my first camera at a swap meet...setting up my first darkroom…working in a photo lab....driving away in my car the day I got kicked out of my parents house...the day my car got stolen and I hit the road, traveling and living with the Dead and the Rainbow Family…the day I was accepted to the SF Art Institute in North Beach….seminal years…
MC: What were your first memories of photography? When did you start taking photos?
AS: When I developed my first photograph in the darkroom of my high school. The image came up in the silver developing bath and something switched inside of me. I was 15. It was the light, the chemicals, the feeling of the darkroom. After that it was everything I ever wanted...it formed me entirely.
MC: Can you tell us about your photography at the start of your career, what kind of work were you producing back in New York the 90's?
AS: At that point, I didn't have my own equipment. I was working a lot with Maria Cornejo and her husband Mark Borthwick lent me his Pentax 6X7 with a lot of lenses as he wasn't using that camera anymore. I worked in a pretty traditional way. Studio lighting with soft boxes....the usual "photographer" style. I remember my favorite series I did with that setup though..I loved it....I shot a series of portraits of all my friends…..Kids in NY who were just starting to become famous.....I photographed all of them showing me their cure for Hiccups.
Later on in my work, I evolved to joining the group of photographers who were leaving "technique" and working in a more "snapshot" way as I agreed strongly that a good photograph is one that engages in way that has less to do with the "ego" of the photographer…. My hero in kind of photography is Ari Marcopoulos.
MC: You have moved around quite a bit and now you are based in Paris, why did you end up there? Has living in Paris changed your work at all?
AS: I started in San Francisco, and then moved to NY in the mid 90's, Berlin in 2001 and then to Paris since 2003. It's the road I'm on…. I'll keep moving for sure....not sure where to next....but the end of this road will be in a long time...Paris is an incredible city. When you first move here you walk all the time, and then after a while you become very "Parisian" meaning that you stay in your "quartier," the little village that is close to your home. I work all the time to keep my eyes fresh and see my city anew each day. It's a challenge. Paris defined my work in many ways.... I came here for many reasons but mostly to work on how the Situationist movement and the Theory of the Dérive informed the foremost part of my photography work.
MC: Your images are all about intimacy and capturing that moment on camera. Can you tell us a little bit about the process when you work with a model?
AS: I usually work very closely with who I photograph. I feel that the most important way to take a photograph is not to hide behind the camera, to be present in the moment and to find a way to relate. I talk about projects, about their life....I work to make who I'm photographing feel comfortable and respect their space.....I move a lot. It's a very engaged process…
MC: Your way of working is described as a "dance" can you tell us a little about this? Do some models not respond to the dance?
AS: I really dont know how any other photographers do it! Honestly! A lot of models I shoot laugh and say that I move just as much as them...I dont know....I'm talking, getting the set ready, talking with my crew, making the music right, then I start to work.... We start and then if I find things I like, I'll ask her to slow down for me and we focus on that until we find another direction. It's a dance for me. I'm showing her how to move and her movements direct my movements. I rarely find models that don't respond as I work very hard on my casting before shootings. This connection is one of the most important elements of my work.
MC: I just wanted to talk about your books which came out a little while ago, which are truly gorgeous. How did the idea for Paris 48°49N and the first book Reykjavik 64°08N come about?
AS: I was living in a squat in Berlin in 2001 after having left New York after everything that happened there, I had to take some time off. I had been a volunteer for 10 days at Ground Zero and this experience affected me a lot. While living in Berlin, I found that a lot of buildings were still deserted, and many times in order to get to a party, you'd get a hand- drawn map to get there. This was the initial inspiration. I felt like the map was a portrait of the person who had drawn it for me, and then I decided to do this book series as an extension of my portrait work.
MC: Tell us alittle more about the maps, what was it like discovering and exploring other people's special places?
AS: The first book, on Berlin, that I shot in 2003, which is still unpublished, was incredible, because I had already been living there for a couple of years, and I felt like I totally rediscovered the city through the eyes of each person who drew the map. It's a very private viewpoint that you get through my books. I feel like you really find the true city....an inner perspective.
MC: Will there be more books in the series?
AS: I am currently working in Tokyo right now shooting the third book in this series, entitled TOKYO 35°40N 139°42E. It's an amazing process and I'm really excited to be here. I'm working with my two amazing producers, Junn Hirasawa and Fumiya Hisakawa from SUKIMA PROJECT here in Tokyo. It will be published in Fall 2012. And yes I hope to shoot many more cities in the future...
MC: You are a musician as well! Can you tell us a little bit about your music and how you got into it?
AS: I grew up with a lot of musicians, but I was always the photographer....the one in the shadow. Basically, the story goes is that my boyfriend in Berlin was on tour and I started playing his guitar and he came home early from tour and sat in the kitchen and overheard me singing and then after that he started pushing me to make my own music. After I recorded a few songs...my friend Voin heard one and published my first song on a compilation he did…and I was on my way. It's been a very slow process….I am now finally taking it more and more seriously and have just released my first EP entitled " The Next in Line" and will go on to finish my first album by the end of this year. Cross Fingers.
MC: What influences your music?
AS: Stories of The Wild West, of Hobo's train hopping..of Tall Tales of gunfighters and lovers, of renaissance men and women, sunrises, my fears, my past.
MC: Does being a musician yourself help when photographing bands especially?
AS: It helps me when photographing in general. Getting up and playing music has been the most difficult thing I have ever done. It's made me more courageous and more dedicated. I give everyone more space and respect the "projection" that each person has when they put their work out more and more publicly. I don't manipulate someone when I shoot them. I try to give them the space to be able to explore their projection and to enable them to show themselves in a way that brings them higher.
MC: What's next for you?
AS: Well....I'm here in Tokyo shooting my next book, will go to LA in August to work on my first film project, and then in NY early September to work on a lot of new editorial projects. I'm evolving right now a lot, trying to delve deeper in my work and find out the kind of woman I want to show in my work as a fashion photographer and also working harder as a musician to develop my music. It's a Chrysalis process and I'm excited to be going through all these changes.
MC: Finally, best piece of advice you have been given?
AS: I was saying goodbye to my beautiful grandfather in California.....turned out to be the last time I saw him alive. He was walking up the stairs, and he turned back to me and said to me and my boyfriend at the time, "Be kind to each other". Beautiful words.
Photographer - Portrait by Visvaldas