LOOKING THROUGH THE LENS OF INTIMACY
IN CONVERSATION: 01 Seb Charles
We sat down with Seb Charles (he/him) for extended interview on intimacy through a visual medium and the power his work holds.
This blog continues on from our Instagram post 10.10.23 //
Kia ora e kare Seb - thank you so much for holding space to mahi tahi.
I like to think of intimacy as peeling back the layers of an onion; really getting to know someone’s inside -
their passions, motivations, reasons why. Who is Seb on the inside? What defines you - e.g certain quality(ies), an experience or how you perceive the world?
I enjoy my own company and am happy keeping to myself most of the time. Philosophy and space fascinate me. My social media is less of me - and more of my client projects, landscapes or street photography. Otherwise I love to read, cook and exercise and spend time outside - usually with a camera and taking photos.
Visual learning comes naturally to me - so it’s fitting that I’m now a photographer. I’m grateful that I can use photography and video production as my tools - to help people celebrate their story and present the best version of themselves to others while moving through life with a little more confidence.
I know in our previous conversations we’ve talked a bit about identity, and how sometimes photographers experience a fragmentation or a loss of identity when they are apart from their camera. Have you always known who you are aside from your medium? Or do you see yourself and your camera as one?
Self awareness is definitely present in photography. We might drift away from it and return to it again. When we work with subjects it helps to become immersed in their world. Looking and listening, before speaking. Practicing empathy and appreciating what might be shaping a world view before considering how we might look to present them.
I don’t necessarily see myself and my camera as one - although it does feel like it sometimes. It’s a tool and extension of my thoughts. My identity is separate to - but can align with photography. I recognise that who I am today can complement photography and may continue to in future. I also recognise that I might be a different person tomorrow.
You tell a lot of stories - about creation, culture, expression and more - what is one quality or technique that you believe all storytellers should possess.
I believe good storytellers have an appreciation of time and ideally encourage us to view our world differently. Illustrating what has been, what is and what could be - it might also draw attention to the present moment and frame the opportunity to participate or expand on that story. It asks us to look inwards and question ourselves and our behavior. To imagine worlds where we see opportunities to act differently and change for the better.
When you meet clients who might begin as strangers, how do you foster intimacy and a sense of connection with them in order to encourage them to feel at ease and be authentic? E.g do you achieve this through conversation, aura/energy, body language etc.
We can project the energy and body language we want to share and encourage between ourselves. If we can be warm and present and communicate a sense of trust by being vulnerable - then it can give others permission to do the same. This is really important if we want to feel safe enough to share authentic stories.
When you spend your days sharing other’s stories and their truths, do you feel as though you share your own enough? What has your journey been with this?
I enjoy producing work that celebrates the stories of others. There’s plenty of photographers who choose to share content and stories about themselves and that’s ok. I’m happy that my work can be in service to others and I don’t think sharing other people’s stories affects our ability to share our own. They aren’t mutually exclusive.
You mentioned there have been times when you have used storytelling to connect with others more deeply/intimately, can you provide us with an example or anecdote of this?
When we sense someone close to us is going through a hard time and is reluctant to share anything - we might anticipate what is affecting them and try sharing a story about our own experience in a similar situation.
It’s tricky because we might be crossing a line by sharing something preemptively without checking their capacity to receive it - but we can recognise that opening space to sit together with a vulnerable story of our own can sometimes help others feel safe and trusted enough to then share what’s on their mind.
I adore that you love adopting the concept of play in your work. Why do you think this is important?
Play is important when it comes to problem solving. We want to work with people who can have fun in their roles and who appreciate the importance of play. It reflects creative thinking and an ability to problem solve not just quickly - but effectively.
When we face problems at work - we want to sit with ideas and play with them before just ‘solving’ them. Learning to be uncomfortable with our challenges might seem counterintuitive at first - but when we practice play and fail in creative ways - we feel safe to test and explore and better understand the nuances of ideas and the challenges and solutions associated with them.
Ok, peeling back another layer now, what's your own internal world like? Do you have an ever-roaring inner monologue? How do you find peace / take breaks from seeing everything around you as an opportunity or a story to tell. (From me noticing you always carry your camera!)
Being next to the ocean helps. Sunrises, sunsets and horizons. Catching moments where there are thresholds of light interacting with us. The natural world is incredible. Recently I’ve been learning how to read clouds and their patterns. It doesn’t ask anything of us - but it gives us so much to learn from. I’m grateful that we can appreciate something so small but also so significant and so often.
Light is everything in photography. We sometimes take it for granted and assume it will always be there. But it’s always changing - expanding and traveling. It’s temporary and so are we. I carry a camera when I can because there are so many beautiful and often quiet moments in everyday life that deserve being remembered.
Finally, you are pretty adamant that photography is going to be your forever thing. How can you possibly know that? And what are your aspirations for your life and art?
At this point it feels like a forever thing. I don’t know that for certain - but I’m open to learning and growing in new directions, so long as it aligns with me and my values. I got my Masters in Architecture, before working as a consultant project manager in construction and before doing photography - so I might be doing something completely different again, five years from now. Who knows. I’ll see where the light takes me.
The more we see computers and algorithms automate work, the more we might consider the significance of storytelling and the ability to bring people together. After all, what’s the use in accessing the most efficient tools available to us if we aren’t able to focus our attention and effort?
Seb, this was an absolute pleasure, thank you for vulnerability, your work and your words are powerful and we feel privileged to have had this chance to sit down with you.
If you'd like to reach out with Seb or work with him his Instagram handle is @sebcharles