Interview, Edie Sunday -
On The Journey of Expression
Portfolio: Hey, Edie! Do you think one can really express themselves unless they are free from suppression?
Edie: Hi! What a fun question, since a lot of my research in psychology is regarding suppression in its various forms. First off, I don’t think there is ever a time in one’s life where they can “fully” express themselves. I think we express the version of ourselves that we are at a given moment. Self-actualization, or freedom from suppression entirely, is a near-impossible feat for the human mind. We will always be suppressing something, even if we don’t think we are. If we weren’t, the unconscious mind would be fully present in the conscious mind, and that’s system overload for any living person.
But you raise a good point—and I will address it as if you asked, if “they are free from some important ways they have been suppressing their true self.” And the answer is still yes and no. You are what you are in a given moment. Any expression of that thing is truth. What lies beneath our highly evolved system of hiding from parts of ourselves that we don’ t like or can’t handle at the time isn’t necessarily “truth.” There can be pieces of truth, right?
I think if you are to create—and I mean really create, not just contrive images based on what you believe will look good and be well-received—you are inherently freeing yourself from some of the shackles of suppression. So, you might not be all the way “free” (because I don’t think we ever are), but by creating, you are freer than you were before. If one’s existence and imagination are entirely determined by societal standards, etc., one is not creating—one is simply “contriving,” and anyone who has opened themselves up even slightly can tell the difference in creating and contriving.
P: Society exists at the cost of individuals, what do you think ultimately becomes a breakthrough for anyone looking to express?
E: Now you’ve stumped me a bit. I agree that society exists at the cost of individuals, but it was also created by individuals. Most of the societal standards are limiting, shaming, oppressive, on and on. So, I think your question is how do we break through those limitations? I’m not the best person to ask, to be honest with you. My own white American privilege allows me a freedom of “breaking through” that most people do not have. It’s very easy for me to say that my breaking through—my finding my ability to express my true self from moment to moment—is based on the fact that I am free to say, “I don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks.” And that’s not the way that most people are able to break through. It’s incredibly complicated—you can have an “inner” breakthrough, a recognition that you, yourself, are a beautiful and perfect expression of what it means to be human, but you still cannot express without fear of punishment. It all comes down to fear—and for me, I could give up that fear because my consequences are so small. Not everyone can. Sometimes fear is real, it’s not just inside yourself, it’s objective and consequences are dire. So, I don’t know, I really don’t.
P: What kind of challenges did you have to face?
E: As a person? As an artist? I’ve faced many challenges but in light of the state of the world, it’s hard for me to talk about them without mocking myself. But I am working on honoring who I am and where I came from, and not thinking that this disallows me from acknowledging that others face challenges larger than I could ever imagine.
So, on that note, the majority of the challenges I have faced are related to mental health. I’ve kept no secrets in my quest to share my work, and my struggles with depression, anxiety, and ADHD are in the cyber-sphere for all to know. I didn’t show my work until I was 22 because depression convinced me that I was worthless and my work was as well. I barely shared anything for years after that because anxiety told me that I wouldn’t be able to “handle” the public’s response to my work. When I finally did begin to share work, the pattern of my personality is quite clear: I go through periods of being quite hyper and all over the place, posting incessantly and sometimes without regard, to the point that I go back and delete photos. And then there’s the attention that I cannot sustain—I can’t make a series of photographs. I’ve done it maybe once in my life and it was because it all happened in one hour. For me, an idea takes hold and it leaves my brain as quickly as it came. If I don’t have the means to execute it then, it will never happen. I have a graveyard of ideas. My brain is a sometimes very fun place to live in, it’s the thing that creates my work, but it’s also the thing that limits me more than I like to admit.
P: Since you enjoy documenting your life and experiences, there comes a contrast between experience and expression, do you ever feel that you come close to expressing the experiences but never fully enough? How do you feel within yourself?
E: That one is rather easy for me to answer. I think there’s very little contrast between experience and expression, for me. You never see my life in “real colors” unless you watch my stories. But that’s because I don’t see life in real colors. I see life in the colors of my photos. Experience and expression, while objectively, in contrast, are subjectively in perfect sync for me. My imagination doesn’t just live in the photos I make—that’s how I saw it when I was looking at it. It sounds like I am a crazy person, and to some degree, I may be, but I see a technicolor world full of dancing light and unnamable colors.
P: Do you sometimes experience moments of deep loneliness?
E: Don’t we all? It ’s an inherent part of being human, I think. Everyone I know experiences moments of deep loneliness. Ironically, it is one of the things that connect us. I can say, though, that after a childhood that felt lonelier than I could ever describe, my adult life is absolutely full of love and connection. I still slip into that place—feeling like the most alone person there ever was—but someone is always there to remind me I am not alone.
P: With that, bring us closer to how you create your photographs, what are the essentials of your creative process?
E: That is a process that I cannot put into words. The only thing to know is that every photo is made with a very specific and intense feeling behind it. The photos are never empty; they never exist for the satisfaction of the composition or anything like that. They are an extension of my mind and my soul.
P: Are there particular moods or settings that you creatively feel more willing towards?
E: Surely. I think it’s evident in my work that I am drawn towards a certain darkness—not a malevolent darkness—but a soft and dreary and floating sort of darkness. I don’t like shooting in the sunlight, I don’t like shooting models or fashion, I don’t like shooting really anything that isn’t a precise depiction of who I am at that moment. And as bright as I can be, there is always a velvety darkness underneath.
P: ..and do you use photography or your work collectively as a form of therapy?
E: It’s been my therapy for my whole life. Part of me wants to say I wouldn’t be (this) person without it, but the other part of me knows that there is no me without it. There never was, and never will be.
P: Before I ask you the last question, can you share with us your favorite poem?
E: I have a million, but these lyrics by Leonard Cohen (they were first a poem, as most of his songs were) have lived within me since the moment someone read them aloud to me:
I loved you when you opened
Like a lily to the heat
I’m just another snowman
Standing in the rain and sleet,
Who loved you with his frozen love,
His second-hand physique-
With all he is, and all he was
A thousand kisses deep
P: Lastly, what would you suggest or share with other photographers?
E: Don’t worry about it. The more you worry about what people think, how you are perceived—the more you limit yourself. You are the thing that you are. Honor that; glorify it, even. You, yourself, will only ever exist one single time on earth. No time is to be wasted fretting about admiration or rejection. Own yourself, every part of yourself, the darkest and the brightest, and make art that embodies your very own human experience. Like someone smattered your soul on a canvas. Make that art.