London Art Spot: Sanja Hurem


Sanja’s personality – her belief in noticing the “little things” shines through her photography. It’s obvious from these images that people warm to her, let them into their lives a bit through her lens. She manages to capture an intensity, a connection, in their eyes. There’s an honesty in her street portraits that I admire.

She tells us in her London Art Spot interview below about how her incredibly international background (living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, US, Czech Republic, Argentina and London not to mention holiday travel) continuously influences her work, why she is attracted to photographing strangers which led her to start the project “A Hundred New Faces” and what the term “urban poetry” means to her.

The cover image on Sanja’s Facebook page is a Friedrich Nietzsche quote: “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who couldn’t hear the music.” Just by looking at her photography and reading her answers below, I’m pretty positive that Sanja is one of the dancers. 

LLO: Where are you from originally? Tell us a bit about yourself as an artist.
SH: I was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Hercegovina, but spent the vast majority of my life growing up in Germany. I ended up in photography somewhat haphazardly. I had always had a passion for art but it wasn’t until I was 23 that I picked up camera and just started taking photos I loved. From that very moment, I knew this was for me. I didn’t even think about myself as an artist. I just wanted to take pictures. I distinctly remember the moment – I was at a botanical garden in Buenos Aires called Jardín Botánico Carlos Thays. It just felt completely right, and I wandered the streets of Buenos Aires for weeks and months thereafter, losing any sense of time. Over the past years, I got a better sense of the “it” factor I was seeking. Some very good mentors have helped me along the way and ever since I was not able to let photography go.

LLO: How did you end up in London, studying at Central Saint Martin?
SH: The story of how I ended up in London is probably reflective of my rather unconventional background as a photographer. As I mentioned, before spending time in Buenos Aires, I had no idea how much I actually loved photography. After the epiphany moment in the Botanical Garden, I simply continued taking pictures without thinking much of it. However, having graduated from university just a couple of months earlier I had previously signed a contract and was ready to start working. That job was based in London. It turned out an amazing city for photography. I soon ended up quitting a less fulfilling job and decided it was time to turn to what I really liked. Among other things, this led me to sign up for part-time classes at CSM, where I met some really interesting people.

LLO: You have a very international background. Tell us about the other countries that have been a major part of your life and in which ways this inspires your photography (if it does!)
SH: I think that the countries I have lived in influenced my way of seeing the world, which in turn impacts my photography. Throughout my travels, I learned that the real beauty of a place is revealed in the details. When I went to Buenos Aires, I was impressed with the overall skyline and view of the city, but nothing caught my attention more than the way they serve coffee with a little piece of chocolate, or the way the streetlight softens the edges of the buildings at night. The realization that beauty lies in detail has led me to pay more attention to these “little things”. I think this is reflected in my photography. I focus on individual situations, trying to isolate the random from the larger picture. This is true in particular for my street or urban photography. When I take portraits, I similarly love to see the details of a person’s face. All the little imperfections that others may retouch – l usually leave them as they are. I find them beautiful. Living in the US, on the other hand, lead to entirely different insights. I went through a phase where I really missed the elaborate details in architecture so characteristic of European cities. However, I soon started to revel in the mundane nature of many suburbs. I feel that this appreciation of the mundane was in fact a major catalyst for my photographic practice.

LLO: Favourite places in London to take your camera and why?
SH: This is a no-brainer for me: London markets. Borough market, Camden Lock, Hackney Wick – these are all great places to encounter some beautiful moments. People feel anonymous in the crowd, yet the very nature of a market requires individual interaction and the presence of, well, “little things”. A child reaching for candy, a man eating his food in a rush – all these can make for interesting moments.

LLO: One of your goals as a photographer is to capture the faces of 100 strangers for a project called “A Hundred New Faces”. Why did you start this project? How far have you gotten? 
SH: When I moved to Berlin, I met a photographer who taught various darkroom workshops. I signed up for one of them and one of the assignments involved taking portraits. Since I barely knew anyone in Berlin, I ended up taking photos of strangers. I found it a great way to connect with the people in a new environment. In many ways, it brought me back to my initial draw to photography – using the camera as a means to connect with your environment. After my first attempts, I found out that photographing strangers was a whole sub-genre. Overall, it really seemed like a worthwhile and beautiful undertaking.

LLO: Tell us about the most interesting stranger you’ve photographed so far. 
SH: If I had to pick one, it would be one of my very first strangers. She was a Bolivian woman in her mid-twenties who had come to Berlin for the Carnival of Cultures.  She was wearing traditional clothing as a display of her culture. It was a beautiful event, an explosion of colors. At the same time, it was also surreal to see how parts of culture can almost be transplanted from one part of the world into another.

LLO: Have you ever had a negative experience photographing a stranger? If so, what happened?
SH: I did have some negative experiences photographing strangers. Among one of my first visits to London’s Borough Market, I photographed a lady selling fruits. It made for a particularly beautiful image since her fruits and her face were reflected through a number of metal objects surrounding her. She soon became very enraged and started yelling at me. I still managed to take a couple more pictures though.

LLO: You have another section on your website called Urban Poetry. What defines “urban poetry” for you? Share a photo that you’ve taken that most strongly falls into this category.
SH: Urban poetry is this moment when amidst all the chaos of big city life, an image of simplicity and connection emerges. The images appear almost orchestrated by the flow of the city. It’s as if there’s a rhyme to all the craziness, a rhyme that makes the scenes appear poetic. As an observer to these moments, I feel connected to this beautiful flow, and simultaneously privileged for having caught these scenes. I think the image “Boy/In My World” (below) is a good example of Urban Poetry.

LLO: What do you hope to communicate through your work?
SH: I hope to communicate that people and situations that appear commonplace at first can reveal a stunning beauty when you really connect to them. For me, the ultimate moment of connection takes place when you take the photo. It is in that moment that I get an intense feeling and understanding for the person or scene photographed. This is what makes photography such an intimate medium. The understanding of the other person comes through a feeling rather than a cerebral approach. Hopefully, the viewer can connect to my perception and feeling as they see my photographs.

LLO: Favourite discovery while you were living in London?
SH: That’s a tough one, since London is so full of places to discover. I’d have to say that Pollock’s Toy Museum in Fitzrovia is a real treasure. It’s one of those places that make you feel like you’re living in a magical Harry Potter-type land.

Thanks Sanja!

You can also find Sanja here and here.

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

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London Art Spot: Danielle Dewitt

As Dani says herself, you might expect artwork from a native North Carolina girl to be quite “safe” and “homely”, but don’t be fooled. Dani’s illustrations and paintings are anything but, and since she moved to London, they have become even more open and experimental, all boundaries crossed. If you’re easily offended, turn back now. There’s a few safe entries back that way.

If you’re curious about what inspires this Central Saint Martin’s graduate to expose her inner fears and thoughts in such a way that may shock her neighbours back home, read on. She’s taken some time to tell us about why her work is so sexually blunt, how London gives her creative freedom and her plan to move to Oslo later this summer.

LLO: When did you first become interested in illustration and how has your work evolved while you worked toward your BA at Central Saint Martins?
DD:
 I have always been interested in the arts from what I can remember and especially illustration because it requires so much attention to detail and patience. I wanted to be a medical illustrator at first, I am fascinated with medicine and anatomy and still hope one day I can do something within the medical stratosphere. My time at CSM has definitely given me more self-discipline in regards to my working habits. It has taught me to explore my ideas more thoroughly and to formulate clear, well-executed pieces. I have found a love for painting with oils as well, which is something I was never really that interested in before. My work hasn’t really changed much overall, I have just expanded it into a few more mediums.

LLO: Has coming from the sticks in North Carolina to big city life in London changed the way you approach your art at all?
DD:
Art in North Carolina is quite, “homely” and “safe”, well most of it. People seem scared to offend anyone with their work. Coming to London, you see that that safeness doesn’t exist here and you are free to explore and create whatever you like with out fear of community persecution or exclusion. My work is a lot more free now that I’m here, and a lot more chaotic.

LLO: Much of your work is very sexual in nature, very focused on the female body flaws and all. Can you talk a bit about the messages in these images?
DD:
We’re our most vulnerable when we’re naked. Being nude changes the way people behave. Some embrace it, some can’t stand it. All of our flaws are visible and accessible to every human eye and every particle floating in the air. Being nude bonds us with our surroundings. When I draw a figure, I see it in my minds eye in total perfection, nude and flawless. But when it comes down onto paper, it becomes all of my insecurities and flaws, all of my pain and resentment for myself. The sexual outlet is the trusting, giving, ‘exposed’ and freed self and something I want to give to my viewers, the ability to bear the scars of  their life with out fear. We women hold a lot inside of us, and mask our perceived flaws in many different ways it seems. I want to make work that liberates the body of unnecessary social constraints by bluntly stating their existence and trying to deconstruct the need for us to hide from them.

LLO: It’s also very detailed and a lot of it is quite surreal. You’ve got a great imagination. Tell us a bit about what inspires your work?
DD:
My work is usually inspired by events in my life, past and present, the quantum world, or perhaps something that really catches my eye in the media. I go through different phases of what elements I like to use in my work, like certain patterns or styles. My world on a day-to-day basis is quite surreal to be honest, weird things always happen to me, or things I simply cannot understand. I also tend to make up stories in my head about certain people I am surrounded by, or on occasion when I’m walking around I hear harmonies of sounds I suddenly feel like I’m in a musical and that leads to more ideas and the work takes off from there. I also spent a lot of time in hospitals when I was growing up, surrounded by a lot of unique characters. Their world is sometimes completely different from ours and very bizarre at times, these experiences inspired a lot of my work to this day.

LLO: You also do some painting, animation and graphic design. Do you find that changing mediums alters your subjects and style or do you take a similar approach despite the obvious differences?
DD:
 I definitely take a similar approach when painting, not so much when it comes to graphic design. Graphic design is a sort of ‘sanitary’ medium for me where I like to make more minimalist work, while utilizing a broader range of colours. Painting is just a mess, a mash of liquid pixels and I tend to want to make more abstract works when painting, however I always seem to be lured back to creating an intricate painting inclusive of the human form.

LLO: Which piece of work are you most proud of and why?
DD:
I can’t say that I’m particularly proud of any single work I’ve made, I feel satisfied when they are completed, but usually not jumping to show them off. I have a very bad habit of destroying my work long before anyone ever sees it. I am truly resentful of my illustrations and paintings at times and have set alight many of them in the past, tossed them out the window of my car onto the motorway or simply flushed them down the toilet.

LLO: What’s the next step for you in terms of career and how you see yourself moving forward in the next few years? Do you plan to stay in London?
DD:
I’m not exactly sure what’s next. I would like to display my work in galleries all over the world, I would like someone to collect my work, I would like to sell my work, but then again what artist doesn’t! I will probably end up working more on the graphic design side of things or doing freelance jobs or perhaps working in a design firm if all else fails while still doing art in my spare time. I’m getting married in August to a one Jan Schjetne, fashion photographer extraordinaire, and will be moving to Oslo, Norway in July to settle amongst the Scandinavians. I am really excited about this and hope to create loads of new work and add some new mediums to my current work.

LLO: Do you have a favourite London gallery or place to see other artists at work?
DD:
I get really inspired at the National Portrait gallery, the Barbican and the Haunch of Venison. I love the name “Haunch of Vension” and that’s what first led me to this gallery. It’s an erie sounding name to me and this promises many good things contained within. I also like the White Cube Gallery near Old Street, and the Riflemaker Gallery they always have something good on.

LLO: What other London-based artists do you admire?
DD:
I like a lot of the YBA’s, and I love the large fun works of Anish Kapoor.

LLO: Where can we see some more of your work?
DD:
I have a website, cargocollective.com/EHFO, I update it fairly regularly. You can also drop me an email on there if you have any questions, or thoughts you want to share: dewittd@gmail.com.

Thanks Dani!