Interview #65: Rebecca Cairns


CUS: How did you get into photography?

Rebecca Cairns: I started taking photographs when I was in high school. I was given my first camera (which was a digital slr) for my sixteenth birthday. It was around this time that I had also started to use the darkroom at school for photography and art classes. It just kind of happened. Something felt right.


CUS: Did you study, or are you studying, photography? If not, how did you learn?

RC: After high school, I attended college for photography. After this, I took a break and travelled/lived abroad for some time and then realized that there was a part of me that wanted to continue on with postsecondary studies. I started to study photography again but this endeavour ended abruptly.


CUS: Tell us a little about where you live. How does your city/country/current location have an affect on your photography?

RC: I am currently floating between Toronto and Montreal and have been doing so for about two years now.

I think that I work best when I am mobile. Of course there is nothing wrong with familiarity, but I think that it sometimes does not work in my favour, or I do not work with it in the way that I should. I begin to feel stagnant after a while- or maybe a little bored.

I am inspired by nature and old architecture and I suppose that when I remove certain elements like these from my everyday life or when they become inaccessible, things can quickly become dull. I feel somewhat more stable and inspired when I am moving around and think that some of my better work has been produced while mobile. As much as I do value the notion of finding and creating a home, I need to stray often in order to cater to some part of myself that pines for the unknown. I love nothing more than wandering.


CUS: Tell us about your photographic process.

RC: My process is scattered and experimental. I tend to put a lot of trust 'in the moment' and leave a lot of how I create work up to my perception/interpretation of the environment at the time. I have recently been incorporating more research and careful planning into shoots and printing, but I am often most content with work that that is somewhat unstructured.


CUS: What did you have for breakfast this morning?

RC: Just a coffee.


CUS: What makes a good image?

RC: Honesty.


CUS: What are five things you can’t live without?

RC: I like to think that I could make do without most things. I suppose that I would be rather lost without books, the forest, a camera, my familiar's and a cat.


 CUS: Who, or what, is your biggest influence?

RC: I think that I am inspired most by the environment. I find inspiration in what is around me. Poetry, as well.


CUS: You seem interested in exploring movement and color, giving your images a cinematic quality. Would you agree, and can you expand on these explorations?

RC: I think that I am more interested in the subtraction or elimination of colour. I am drawn to washed out or monochromatic imagery and suppose I do tend to favour photographs that capture strange movements or sequences.

I believe that the cinematic approach that my work sometimes takes on is a result of more of a performance-based approach while I am shooting.


CUS: Do you believe that with the rise of digital photography the phrase “everyone can be a photographer” is true? What are your thoughts on digital vs. film photography?

RC: I think that the idea of 'being a photographer' is somehow being sold to us. It is possible for anyone to buy into it. I can appreciate digital photography for the fact that it is accessible. I think that any form of creative expression should be accessible for those who wish to explore it. One's goals or longings should not be terminated due to the fact that they lack the resources or financial backing. Then again, accessibility can take away from the 'foreignness' or desirability of a medium.

Because I started out shooting with a digital camera, I have mixed feelings about all of this. I do prefer shooting with film for many reasons but I do not think that the digital realm should be overlooked (though it does terrify me at times). The camera is a tool and each person will use it differently.


CUS: What are your thoughts on photography and the Internet? (For example, mass amounts of images being uploaded every day via sites such as Flickr, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram...) How do you differentiate "art" photography and "non-art" photography?

RC: The internet has been a blessing to me over the past years and most of the opportunities that I have been offered have been because of it. I cannot complain about it in this capacity due to the fact that it has allowed me to make many connections with others and has introduced me to inspiration and material that I probably would not have discovered otherwise. It allows one to connect with another in a way that is not always possible due to geographical boundaries.

I think that flickr, tumblr and other online platforms are great for 'getting your name out there' and making connections with others. Flickr introduced me to a community that has offered me an immeasurable amount of support and inspiration over the past few years-which I am eternally grateful for.

I do not know exactly how I differentiate between the two as I know that each person will perceive a piece of art differently.


CUS: Do you think that the Internet (as opposed to a gallery or any other art institution) is a legitimate place to showcase photographic work or do photographs have to be seen in "the flesh" to be fully appreciated and experienced?

RC: I think that the internet is a place to be found and a place to make connections, but I believe that most art/photographic works (unless they are created for the sole purpose of being displayed/distributed through technological means) appear as very different when they are experienced in person. There are times where I have felt lost within the 'internet' and I have found myself longing to experience work through different means than a screen of pixels and artificial light. Creating a tangible object, for me, now feels much more satisfying than creating something that is is made only for the internet. This is one of the reasons why I have switched from digital to film. I feel more connected to my film/print work than my older digital work. Developing my own film and creating my own prints is rewarding in a way that I cannot fully explain but perhaps it invokes a notion of 'the real'.


CUS: What are your plans for the spring?

RC: I am hoping to travel as long as it is financially feasible. 


CUS: What are some of your favorite books and movies?

RC: I read a lot of poetry. I have been reading a lot of works by Anne Michaels and Margaret Atwood and also enjoy A.R. Ammons and Gregory Orr. I am reading 'The White Hotel' by D.M. Thomas and am very much enjoying that. I also enjoy the works of Mark Z. Danielewski.

There are many others, the list is possibly endless. As for films, I lean towards Tarkovsky. von Trier. I do not know. These lists could both be very long.


CUS: Tell us about your book "Belgrade."

RC: Belgrade is my latest self published book. It is a collection of thirty-six photographs and there is a small written piece accompanying the book in the form of a handmade zine.


CUS: If you could photograph any person (past or present) who would you choose?

RC: Virginia Woolf or maybe Simone de Beauvoir.


CUS: What do you hope to achieve with your photography? Do you foresee photography as a career in your future?

RC: I will continue to pursue photography as long as I feel I am supposed to. It is what I love.


CUS: What advice would you give to your fellow up-and-coming photographers?

RC: Be kind.


CUS: Do you have any upcoming news or exhibitions?

RC: I am going to be doing a 300 photograph installation at 2186 Dundas in Toronto.

Other than this, I will also be participating in an exhibition called 'Chaotic Forms' during March at the Nave Gallery in Somerville, USA.


CUS: Our last interviewee, Katai Stienstra, asks: When was the last time you were really, really scared?

RC: I suppose that time is now.


CUS: Last but not least, what would you like to ask the next interviewee?

RC: What is your earliest memory?

Rebecca Cairns, b. 1991 and based out of Toronto & Montreal

Images provided by Rebecca Cairns. All rights reserved.