Photo 2022: What it means being human

Photo 2022: What it means being human

From exploring representations of self, identity and Country, to the surrealism of glamour and consumption, RMIT alumni have shone under the spotlight at Melbourne’s International Festival of Photography.

We asked RMIT alumni about their work featured at Photo 2022 and how it connects to this year’s theme: Being Human.

All that is Solid Melts to Air - Jake Nemirovsky

Tell me a bit more about your work?

When I started making photographs for this project, I wasn’t quite sure where it was going. I was just drawn to the way something I saw made me feel. Most of the time, I was looking at obscure moments that I would see around me, whether it be dead bugs, melting ice cream or moments that seemed like something bad was about to happen. I was always looking to pull-out this uneasy feeling and show people that it is there in the everyday if you look a bit closer. I also spent a lot of time reflecting inwards, and this led me back to memories from childhood. This is at the heart of the work.

How does your work connect with the Photo 2022 theme 'Being Human'?

As humans, we have an understanding that every element in this world is impacted by one another. Within the world, there are affects that exist in the physical world – in the environment, living beings, human-made space and our own body.

While we are all independent beings, whether living or not – everything that exists in this world impacts society and the environment. I hope that my work makes people think about the impact we as humans have on our world. We can all feel that our existence has become extremely precarious, and it is humans’ responsibility for what the future will hold.

Tell me about your time at RMIT. How has it helped inspire your practice?

Everyone that I had the pleasure of meeting during my time at RMIT truly shaped who I am today. They all opened my world both in photography and art but also my generally perspective and understanding of the world philosophically. I learnt so much in my small time there and am forever grateful for that. I am still in contact with many friends and lecturers from RMIT and this connection is partly what inspires my practice.

Read more about Jake’s work.

Jake Nemirovsky 1220 x 732 Photo: Jake Nemirovsky, from the series All that is Solid Melts to Air

Image credit: Jahkarli Romanis, from the series (Dis)connected to Country

Irons in the Fire – Phebe Schmidt

Tell me a bit more about your work?

With a background in stylised character-based photography that draws on the surrealism of glamour and consumption, I moved into film direction, bringing my eye for singular and fun imagery to the screen. Inspired by science fiction and a culture of online self-performance, I approach complex topics with a playful sense of humour and a cutting-edge sense of style. My work has featured in Vogue and Vault Art magazine and exhibited at galleries such as MONA (TAS) and West Space (VIC).

How does your work connect with the Photo 2022 theme 'Being Human'?

Branding an individual requires a likable, trustworthy and authentic image especially for a business profile picture. Essentials appear to be smiling with your teeth, choosing dark-coloured suits to suggest dependable formality and presenting a persona that implies there is a connection with each and every viewer / potential punter. Without this attention to detail there is a risk of being overlooked, of impeding or growing your business. ‘Irons in the Fire’ explores an alternative ‘reality’ that disingenuously challenges the absurdity of these ‘real’ people creating a different version of making a good impression.

Tell me about your time at RMIT. How has it helped inspire your practice?

RMIT provided me with the skills to explore my practice to the fullest, helping me hone what I want to say with my work and how to achieve that. I originally completed a Bachelor of the Arts (Photography), graduating in 2013. I later returned to complete my honours degree in 2017, where I shot my first short film 'Your Time' which cemented my love for directing. RMIT has acted as a catalyst for my career, and I am grateful to be a part of the community. Since leaving I have taken a few workshops with the Fashion and Photography students. Being able to pass on what I have learnt in the industry was really rewarding and gratifying.

Read more about Phebe’s work.

Phebe Schmidt 1220 x 732 Photo: Phebe Schmidt, from the series Irons in the Fire.

The People are the Times – Sarah Pannell

Tell me a bit more about your work?

I was approached by the Photo 2022 team to document Melbourne coming out of lockdown, so I started shooting in November 2021 — from a street photo perspective. It was a fun and creative brief, after being home so much and just walking around my neighbourhood. The focus was on Melbourne’s CBD but also allowed for further exploration. I just spent many hours walking around different parts of the city and inner-city neighbourhoods as well as time at the beach which felt like such a breath of fresh air since I live in Coburg.

How does your work connect with the Photo 2022 theme 'Being Human'?

My series, titled ‘The People are the Times’ responds to the public embracing the outdoors and newfound sense of freedoms as people gathered with their friends and family and enjoyed leisure time. Lockdown has such an impact on people, myself included, so it was a freeing experience to be able to explore areas I hadn’t for some time and capture people as they went about their life, especially during the summer months when being outside is so enjoyable.

Tell me about your time at RMIT. How has it helped inspire your practice?

I studied in the Bachelor Photography program with a major in documentary between 2010-2012. I learnt a lot in that time about photographic storytelling and learnt to develop my own style through narrative documentary approaches whilst being exposed to diverse voices within photojournalism.

It’s been nearly 10 years since I graduated. My journey and development as an artist has been gradual and challenging but always extremely rewarding.

Read more about Sarah’s work.

Sarah Pannell 1220 x 732 Photo: Sarah Pannell, from the series The People are the Times.

Remnants of Ritual – Anu Kumar

Tell me a bit more about your work?

I predominantly work in my birthplace of Kavi Nagar (India), where I document my family and other stories that organically emerge in the time I spend there. My main body of work ‘Ghar’ meaning home in Hindi documents the gentle gestures and belongings that are present in my daily life in Kavi Nagar. I tend to work in a very slow manner; nothing is really planned but I carry my camera with me wherever I go. It's essentially a response to my curiosity, which I try not to over analyse out of fear of losing that intuition. Patterns do tend to emerge when I look at my work as a collective, such as the repetition of draped fabric in unexpected places.

How does your work connect with the Photo 2022 theme 'Being Human'?

Being Human to me is about community, belonging and connection. Something that became increasingly challenging during the pandemic, and something that was felt quite deeply in the community I belong to. My project ‘Remnants of Ritual’ aims to document a facet of the Indian Australian diaspora through portraits, objects and landscapes in an attempt to distil what life for me and my community feels like. I found that the diaspora is so heavily documented in other big cities in the UK and the US but there was a lack of visual representation from Australia. I don’t aim or claim to do it all myself, or successfully even, this project is hopefully a contribution to the very rich and expanding community that I’ve grown up in and I hope to see more from other diaspora artists in the future.

Tell me about your time at RMIT. How has it helped inspire your practice?

There are two incredibly valuable assets I gained from my time at RMIT. Firstly was my work ethic. The many photo projects I poured my heart into, only to be told it wasn’t very good, and to pick myself up again and start from scratch. Without that guidance I would have given up quickly and would have lacked the self-critique required to create beautiful and concise work. Secondly are the connections made during my time at RMIT; for which I am hugely grateful for.

Read more about Anu’s work

Anu Kumar 1220 x 732 Photo: Anu Kumar, from the series Remnants of Ritual.

(Dis)connected to Country - Jahkarli Romanis

Tell us a bit more about your work?

Broadly speaking, my work is based in practice-led research, photography and moving image. It delves into representations of self, identity and Country. The work presented at James Makin Gallery as part of Photo 2022 is an ongoing series called '(Dis)connected to Country.'  

These particular images from '(Dis)connected to Country' explore ways in which visual systems of cartography, such as Google Earth, have continued to omit Indigenous Knowledges of place, sustaining colonial narratives within Australia and the myth of ‘terra nullius’.

They aim to highlight the inherent biases in contemporary digital mapping technologies, undermining the idea that Western maps are ‘neutral’ tools. The work shows where these technologies dysfunction, degrade and break down within themselves.

How does your work connect with the Photo 2022 theme 'Being Human'?

My work connects with the theme in a few ways. I feel the theme is an important reflection point after the last couple of years we've had. There have been many global events which have asked us to reflect on our humanity as a species, but also the human condition. What does it actually mean to be a human living during this time?

As a Pitta Pitta woman, Country is central to my being and this work reflects on that connection, but also how we exploit or erase Country. We all rely on Country to survive, whether we recognise it or not. In a very broad sense, I suppose Country, the environment and the land are all part of our existence as humans.

Tell me about your time at RMIT. How has it helped inspire your practice?

My time at RMIT really honed my critical thinking towards image making, it was a space that catalysed my practice. There are many people who have helped my creative journey and shaped it into what it is currently. Many of my lecturers at RMIT had their own creative practices, it was inspiring to see their work and their thinking. Having artists as teachers makes a huge difference. There's a lovely photographic community at RMIT, the people are what make it special.

Read more about Jahkarli’s work.

Jahkarli Romanis 1220 x 732 Photo: Jahkarli Romanis, from the series (Dis)connected to Country

Waiting – Ali Choudhry

Tell me a bit more about your work?

My series ‘Waiting’ is a collection of floral and botanical scanograph images. The recent pandemic changed all of our lives for the worst; but in a way really brought us together too. We each, collectively, did many of the same things - baked bread, started a garden, took up a craft, watched the same TV shows. And of course, went on many walks. On these daily walks I would collect a flower or a leaf which I would bring home to create an image of. In total I have created about 60 images of various flora, each an echo of a day in isolation.

How does your work connect with the Photo 2022 theme 'Being Human'?

The pandemic brought so many people to their lowest point; and in that low point most of us turned to the material and the analogue. I don’t know if I necessarily have any witty remark or clever advice; but maybe with a context of hindsight and retrospection, I can kind of see that each image is individually interesting and strong. But good image after good image after good image is perhaps too much of the same and we do need those ups and downs in life to make it meaningful.

Tell me about your time at RMIT. How has it helped inspire your practice?

University was a space to make mistakes without the repercussions of the real world. For me at least, it was really a chance to try lots of different electives such as fashion, book making, lighting and so many others to find what I wanted to invest more time and energy into. It’s a great way to find out more about yourself.

Read more about Ali’s work.

Ali Choudhry 1220 x 732 Photo: Ali Choudhry, from the series Waiting.

Shungay – Scotty So

Tell me a bit more about your work?

In this series of portraits inspired by Asian erotic paintings, European Chinoiserie art, Instagram makeup trends, and contemporary gay culture, I challenge the notion of cultural aesthetic appropriation of Asian cultures. Dispersed amongst the Tianjin Garden above Parliament Station on Spring Street, each image in Shungay incorporates clothing styles of the Song and Ming dynasties in images recalling historical events, queer folk tales like the Rabbit God and the split peach, and Asian queer films such as M. Butterfly.

How does your work connect with the Photo 2022 theme 'Being Human'?

My work depicts the queer tales that aren’t western centric – it is just simply being human to have desire and express sensuality through different gender acting.

Tell me about your time at RMIT. How has it helped inspire your practice?

My time at RMIT was quite short as I only had my final year of Bachelor of Fine Art in 2018. It was nonetheless a very lovely time as I got to meet some of my friends in Melbourne that I still consider as best friends in town and I have learnt so much from them. The technicians of my year at the ESP were also very helpful when it comes to creating the works that I want to make.

Read more about Scotty’s work

Scotty So 1220 x 732 Photo: Scotty So, from the series Shungay. Courtesy to the artist and MARS Gallery. Commissioned by Photo Australia for PHOTO 2022. Supported by the Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand (RISE) Fund, an Australian Government initiative.

Professor Kit Wise, Dean, School of Art at RMIT University, spoke highly of RMIT’s Photography programs where alumni honed their craft.

“While we recognise the unique history of our Photography programs, with the BA Photography believed to be the oldest such qualification in the world, this also demonstrates the currency and contemporary significance of our work and teaching,” he said.

“We are very proud to have so many of our alumni involved [in Photo 2022].”

The festival ends on Sunday 22 May.


Story: Thomas Odell


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Acknowledgement of Country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.