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Siri Kaur - SHE TELLS ALL, Practice and Portraiture

photo-eye Gallery Siri Kaur - SHE TELLS ALL, Practice and Portraiture Delaney Hoffman
This week, we catch up with Photographer's Showcase artist Siri Kaur with a special interview about her project, SHE TELLS ALL. SHE TELLS ALL is a deep-dive into the marvelous emotional worlds of the witches of Los Angeles with the artist as our guide. Learn more about the series here!

Siri Kaur, Fur Flowers Diptych, 2019, Archival pigment print, 16 x 21″, Edition of 3, $2000

Photography is often described as something "magical." Usually, this is in reference to something like an image appearing in the developing chemistry of a darkroom tray or a unique lens flare, but Photographers Showcase artist Siri Kaur takes the idea of magic in photography to the next level with her project, SHE TELLS ALL.

Inspired by the level of performance that presenting as a contemporary witch demands, Siri began to photograph the witches of Los Angeles. Her work has historically been focused on the ways that identity is signified and communicated to those on the outside of insular experiences. I sat down with Siri to talk about portraiture, performance, and practice. Learn more about this fantastic artist and unique body of work below! Our interview has been edited for length and clarity.

- Delaney Hoffman, photo-eye Gallery Associate


Delaney Hoffman (DH): So, SHE TELLS ALL seemingly wrapped up in 2019, are you continuing it? Or has the project just kind of come to its natural conclusion?

Siri Kaur (SK): So, pretty much my entire sort of project as an artist is about exploring different identities and different communities and also the way that those are represented visually. I was raised a Sikh. And I was raised in a commune, part of the time in Boston, part of the time in India. And then we moved to Maine in the 80s. And my parents wore white robes and my dad wore a turban. And I think that that sort of instilled in me a lifelong sense, or even sensitivity to costuming and the way that identity is represented in the way that we present ourselves to the world. It’s this very strange like, way of life that I was born into. I didn't choose that! I grew up at this very strange intersection of 1970’s rejection of cultural norms, religious norms, spirit seeking and colonialism. It’s just kind of all mashed together.

Siri Kaur, Fay, 2019, Archival pigment print, 21 x 16″, Edition of 3, $2000

DH: I was interested in talking to you a little bit about colonialism! SHE TELLS ALL presents this hugely diverse group of people practicing what look like various forms of “New Age” spirituality, and I’m not reducing these subjects to a TikTok trend but it was interesting for me as somebody that grew up on the internet. In terms of thinking about intersectionality and colonialism, how did those things work themselves into your thinking for SHE TELLS ALL, when you were conceptualizing the project? Was it something you thought about?

SK: I thought about it a lot! The way that the identity of the witch is performed visually is so clich√©, and at times I will kind of operate at the intersection of clich√©, truth and performance. In my celebrity impersonators work, for example, my subjects had this very strong idea of what their visual identity was and how to present themselves. The witches generally had a very strong self presentation as well. I also live in Los Angeles, which is, as we all know, the center of movie industry glamor and construction of media. I mean, all influencers live here! 

DH: Right, speaking of influencers, I need to ask you about the doll image!

SK: So this is Patty's doll named Belle, and she's haunted. You know, I'm not necessarily a skeptic, but I'm also not necessarily a believer. I do have a lot of spirituality, but I kind of believe in a sort of essence. I'm always kind of trying to figure out what I actually believe, but Patti, for example, she believes 100% in what she's doing. You go to her house, and it's staged - it's like, everything there is what you would imagine a cliche witch’s house. Her costuming, she gets really into it and like, fully embraces that. 

Siri Kaur, Patti (L) and Belle (R), 2019, Archival pigment prints, Edition of 3, $2000

DH: That's amazing. I feel like your position as somebody that isn't quite a skeptic and not quite a believer is what makes these images a part of your portrait practice.

SK: I mean, I would say that I really am a portraitist. I have this big project I've been doing for 10 years. It's about my family, not specifically about us being Sikhs but about our sort of magical relationship with nature. It's a portrait of me, you know! It's all about how I feel about myself and my awkwardness in the world. When I photograph people, I think it's such a privilege to be given someone's, you know, body and presence to photograph, so I always try to be very respectful and I don't judge really anything. I think that I'm just fascinated. I'm always so happy to take pictures of anyone!

DH: Well I think that there's something to be said for a genuine interest and genuine relationship in that setting. Actually feeling comfortable is the only way that the subject is going to actually "perform" the way that they feel. Totally.

Siri Kaur, Helena, 2019, Archival pigment print 20, x 20″,
Edition of 3, $2400

SK: And it's like, if they're awkward, that's also fine. If that's the way they feel, I don't have a prescribed agenda ever. It's just like, I try to set up! My students have asked, "Well, how do you get these people to let you do this?" and I was like, I just asked them, you know, and then I think they're amazing! I think that you can always find people to photograph if you if you have a genuine curiosity and an open mind, I think that you can always find people to photograph. Because they'll sense that. 

DH: Can you describe your process of making a portrait?  Are there any tips and tricks that you've learned along the way with photographing strangers for this amount of time? Or do you like it prefer to build a relationship with a person first prior to photographing them?

SK: So the way that I approach a portrait is: I will think about someone or I'll have a spark of an idea of who might be good for a portrait or who could be interesting to photograph. I'll reach out to them either via Instagram, or I've seen them somewhere and I'll approach them. I'll be like, "Okay, I'm serious. I'm a portrait photographer, I would love to photograph you!" No one ever says no, honestly, I think that people love to be seen, and they usually feel good about it. Sometimes I will meet them before, I'll go to coffee with them before and I won't photograph them because, ethically, I always have a bit of guilt because I make objects and photographs and I always want to honor the person in a way that's not only translating them fully onto the film and then into a print. I'd like to talk to them a bit before I photograph them. However, that said, sometimes I'll make a portrait where I will meet the person, and I just photograph them right away. So for example, the work that you had shown up at photo-eye, Female Photographer Seeks Portrait Subjects, I would meet them first. And I would talk to them for an hour – half hour, it

depends. If they seem nervous, I'll talk to them more, and I'll kind of try to figure out, who they are, what they're interested in, how they feel about photography, what they care about. Then we'll just do the photos right away. It's really fun going somewhere new and seeing it or going into someone's home and arranging it and sort of like figuring out a way to make a portrait.

DH: Yeah, it seems like a really collaborative process for you.

SK: It really is. I, I love my subjects. I always love them. I honestly will say I don't really photograph people anymore if I don't want to spend time with them. Yeah, I used to do that a bit more. But you know, now it's like, I want to be with them, want to talk to them, to see them, and I feel like that's sort of the exchange of the sitter and the camera.

Siri Kaur, Camille, 2019, Archival pigment print, 21 x 16″, Edition of 3, $2000

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Print costs are current up to the time of posting and are subject to change.

For more information, and to purchase prints or books by Siri Kaur, please contact Gallery Director Anne Kelly or Gallery Assistant Delaney Hoffman, or you may also call us at 505-988-5152 x202