An Interview with Sophie Gerrard; Photographer and Member of Document Scotland

sophie gerrard - drawn to the land - document scotland

Sophie Gerrard is an award-winning documentary photographer specialising in contemporary environmental and social issues. Through her thoughtful and eloquent bodies of work, she conveys the stories of people and the issues they face individually and as part of a wider community.

Sophie joined the collective Document Scotland in 2012 as a core member alongside acclaimed Scottish photographers; Colin McPhereson, Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert and Stephen McLaren who have worked for many years on individual projects, commissions and assignments both within the UK and internationally.

Document Scotland has staged a number of events, exhibitions and publications (both in print and as an e-magazine) to engage and promote photographers shooting stories in or about Scotland.

Her work has been extensively exhibited and published in the UK and overseas and is held in a number of National and private collections, her self-initiated projects and commissions have been published in publications including; The Telegraph Saturday Magazine, The Guardian Weekend Magazine, The Independent on Sunday, Portfolio Magazine, Foto8, Greenpeace International, Scotland on Sunday and Geographical Magazine. Sophie is represented by The Photographers’ Gallery and Eyevine in London.

We caught up with Sophie to talk about working a collective, her practice and what’s next for Document Scotland – catch up on the conversation below…

Genesisimaging: Hi Sophie, are you ready to talk to us about your practice and working as part of Document Scotland?

SophieGerrard_: Hi guys – I’m here – nice to be doing this, what’s first?

Genesisimaging: Great! First, tell us about why you decided to join Document Scotland and why you wanted to work as part of a collective.

SophieGerrard_: I’d been focusing on a new project in Scotland and looking to collaborate. In late 2012 Document Scotland approached me…

SophieGerrard_: They were new – a great bunch of photographers – and I was very interested in what they were working on. The timing was perfect!

SophieGerrard_: Working collaboratively is fun, we energise and encourage each other. It’s going very strong and I’m excited about the future.

Genesisimaging: Your work works very well together. What has been Document Scotland’s biggest challenge as a collective and how have you overcome it?

SophieGerrard_: Thanks – I’m glad you think so. At Document Scotland we all complement each other well as people and as photographers.

SophieGerrard_: I wouldn’t say that there have been challenges in a negative sense, there have been opportunities to create and a lot of work to do!

SophieGerrard_: Document Scotland have done exhibitions, publications, funding, events and public talks – that takes organisation, time, drive, commitment, energy, passion and determination.

SophieGerrard_: We all have those things and work well as a team.

SophieGerrard_: Part of our success is our regular Skype meetings (as we’re often all over the place) and our ability to honestly critique.

Genesisimaging: Definitely – a great list of attributes! How do you feel working in a collective has developed your work?

SophieGerrard_: It’s made me very mindful of audience, how I present my work and how it fits into the contemporary photographic context.

SophieGerrard_: Working collectively has given me more confidence too in many ways. We are greater than the sum of our parts.

SophieGerrard_: It’s been really encouraging and exciting engaging with each other’s networks and seeing where that can go. Also I should say –

SophieGerrard_: Having the guys to talk to about work in development is great, I appreciate their thoughts a lot!

Genesisimaging: It must be really good to have people close by to run your ideas past. Let’s talk about your photography next…

Genesisimaging: How does your approach to commissioned work differ from your approach to personal projects?

SophieGerrard_: Personal projects start with an idea, a thought, a question, a random encounter. They then sit for a while and lie dormant.

SophieGerrard_: The research part is considerable, especially if I’m travelling, or depending on others, I want to get it right.

SophieGerrard_: But the experimentation and wandering with my camera is also vital. It all takes time – on a commission you rarely have that…

SophieGerrard_: On assignment I put all that experience into practise and apply it as best I can to the brief. It’s a different challenge and I love it.

SophieGerrard_: Often my clients choose me for a reason, to apply a certain element of what I do.

SophieGerrard_: The initial discussions are an interesting mix of what they want and how we’re going to get it. You have to be good at both. Each informs the other…

SophieGerrard_: and elements of commissions and personal work will always influence each other, it’s an interesting combination and balance.

Genesisimaging: Definitely. What interests you about documentary photography in particular?

SophieGerrard_: I began my career in environmental science, but always had a passion for drawing and painting. I wanted to combine telling important environmental stories with creativity.

SophieGerrard_: I travelled to Vietnam after university and saw Requiem

SophieGerrard_: I realised the power of photography to visually communicate. It blew my mind and I knew that documentary photography was for me.

SophieGerrard_: I’m interested in telling people’s stories, of knowing them. I want to ask questions to try to understand – to empathise.

SophieGerrard_: That’s the core. The way I try to do it might have changed a bit. I like to take my time and get the essence of something… that’s what drives me.

SophieGerrard_: Photography is an incredibly powerful medium, it can be quiet and intimate…

SophieGerrard_: But then suddenly of the moment and unpredictable, I love being surprised by what I get.

SophieGerrard_: I’m always humbled by who I meet and the stories of theirs that my subjects allow me to tell… It’s a privilege.

Genesisimaging: You’ve answered our next question! With your personal work which image and/or body of work has had the greatest influence on you?

SophieGerrard_: Hmm… E-Wasteland… It was my first major project so it means a lot, it taught me a lot very quickly…

SophieGerrard_: The project was my MA from London College of Communication – it was published, exhibited, won awards and I worked with NGOs, so it had a big influence.

SophieGerrard_: Since then the experiences of working in rural India on Protectors of Sight have influenced me personally and permanently.

SophieGerrard_: Now, working in Scotland on projects near to my home and my heart have a different impact – all of it is affecting!

Genesisimaging: And finally… What’s next for you individually and what’s next for Document Scotland as a collective?

SophieGerrard_: I am working on a new project ‘Drawn to the Land’ which is about women in the Scottish landscape, it’s been 18 months in the making…

SophieGerrard_: And has taken me all over #Scotland looking at the women who shape and work the land.

SophieGerrard_: I am delighted that it will be exhibited in ‘Beyond the Border’ – the Document Scotland exhibition at Impressions Gallery this summer

SophieGerrard_: I’m also working on new work to be shown at a Document Scotland exhibition at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow later in the summer.

SophieGerrard_: Document Scotland currently have a show on in Brussels: ‘Five by Four’

SophieGerrard_: And we are hosting a number of Document Scotland events all over Scotland this summer starting 14th May at The Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

SophieGerrard_: With ‘Face to Face’, an event with Annie Lyden… before announcing other dates and venues on our blog…

SophieGerrard_: In the meantime, I am continuing to be a photography lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University and shooting for editorial clients alongside the two main personal projects I’m shooting now.

Genesisimaging: Wow, sounds like you’ve got a lot on! It’s been really interesting to find out more about Document Scotland and your work!

Genesisimaging: We can’t wait to see your new work and we look forward to hearing more about upcoming Document Scotland events…

Genesisimaging: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us this afternoon and for your insightful answers!

SophieGerrard_: Thanks! I’m glad you’ve found it interesting, thanks so much for having me!

Find out more about Document Scotland at documentscotland.com

See more of Sophie’s work at sophiegerrard.com

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