Sep 01, 2010 12:00AM

an interview with polly borland

Polly Borland's rise from antipodean fashion snapper to globally renowned portrait photographer included a trip to Barry Humphries' toilet, hanging out with Kylie Minogue and Cate Blanchett, and even a quick stop in at Buckingham Palace.

Born in Melbourne, she relocated to London in the eighties to pursue a career in the British photography landscape, her background in fashion soon pushing her into more news-based, portrait-style work for publications including The New York Times, Vogue, Vanity Fair and The Independent. Her one-woman-show Australians opened in the UK in 2000, receiving international attention, and showcasing Australian greats like Barry Humphries, Germaine Greer, Cate Blanchett and John Pilger. Along the way, Borland has also added Silvio Berlusconi, Gordon Brown, Michael Hutchence, Kylie Minogue and - in celebration of her Golden Jubilee - Queen Elizabeth to her portfolio.

Far from limiting herself to the rich and famous, some of Borland's most striking work has featured unconventional subjects. Winning international photographic prizes for her 1994 project ? a look at transvestites in Brazil ? and basing other works around Aboriginal residents at rehab facilities, and others on adults dressed as babies, Borland's portfolio is nothing if not varied.

Polly Borland's latest exhibition Smudge is now showing at Melbourne's Murray White Room, and she took time out from her hectic schedule to answer a few questions for Oyster.

Oyster: What motivated you to become a photographer?

Polly: I loved art history and couldn't draw, so my teacher Neil suggested I take some photos. He built a darkroom in a cupboard at school and I've never stopped taking photos since.

Oyster: As a young artist, what drew you to portraiture in particular?

Polly: People have always interested me; how they looked, and their psychology.

Oyster: What do you think is the essence of good portrait photograph?

Polly: Simplicity and depth!


Oyster: You relocated to the UK from Melbourne many years ago. Are there any aspects of Australia that you miss?

Polly: The bush and sea! My family and friends!

Oyster: You work with a wide range of subjects, ranging from incredibly well-known icons to the anonymous . Who do you most enjoy working with, and why?

Polly: All people fascinate me, so I enjoy working with everyone, unless they are difficult.

Oyster: Do you look for anything in particular in a subject?

Polly: Empathy.


Oyster: When you are shooting a subject, do you have preconceived notions of how you will shoot them or are do your choices evolve during the process itself?

Polly: Sometimes I go in with a plan, usually a visual one like a back drop, but always I try to keep it simple.

Oyster: Do you find any of your portraits in particular most representative of you as an artist?

Polly: The Queen portraits.

Oyster: Is there a consistent theme or feeling that you try to retain in all of your photographs?

Polly: Directness, clarity and simplicity.

Oyster: Your exhibition 'Smudge' is currently showing at the Murray White Room in Melbourne. Do you find there is a difference in exhibiting your work in Australia?

Polly: No, it's nerve-racking everywhere.


Oyster: What were your intentions behind the bizarre subjects in 'Smudge'? Are you hoping to provoke a particular reaction from the audience?

Polly: I create work to please myself and I hope other people will like it!

Oyster: It is interesting, particularly as a portrait photographer, that the works in 'Smudge' conceal the identity of your subjects. What motivated these pieces?

Polly: I'm not sure what motivated this work other than I was playing with my imagination; it's like child's play mixed with adult sub-conscious.

Oyster: Who is your dream photographic subject?

Polly: My son, my friends and I would have loved to have photographed Michael Jackson and Princess Diana.

Oyster: Tell us all about photographing the Queen! What was she like? How did you feel? Were you nervous? Congratulations on that by the way ? we loved the end product!

Polly: I was incredibly nervous and lost the power of speech! She was nice but in a hurry and I'm very pleased with the result! I also took my own backgrounds into Buckingham Palace which helped make the photos!

Oyster: Do you have any exciting projects in the pipeline?

Polly: Smudge is being turned into a book and being shown in a new gallery space in Madrid in November 2010. I'm also having a survey show in Queensland University Gallery, curated by Alison Kubler in 2012.

Oyster: Thanks for your time!


Interview: Lillian McKnight

Introduction: Josh Butler

Photographs from Murray White Room