Monday, October 24, 2016

The Future Vet

"My biggest dream is to be a charity vet"
 This year I have been neglecting a lot my beloved grasslands and instead, I have put long hours into the stories of “A Hat of Many Dreams”. They say that one leads by example and that children don’t always listen to what you say, but will always notice what you do. Therefore it didn’t come as an entire surprise when this little lady I call my own took the hat, put it on her head and asked me to interview her “seriously, just like you do with the grownups you are working with”

Looking at this post makes me smile for more than one reason. I love her altruism, her dreams and her beautiful, golden heart. But it's her smile that makes me day dream for a second. A good friend once asked me if I see myself, looking at my children. I know now what he meant. For just a few minutes, her smile reminded me of my own. It is an old set of photos that my father took, possibly at the same age, and I am sure that if I was to put these sets together, it would be like looking at twins. 

 - My biggest dream is to be a vet and to help animals that are hurt. I would like to be a charity vet. When some people don’t want their pets anymore, I am going to be that vet who looks after the pets until someone wants them. I am going to do both: look after the pets as a vet and have an animal sanctuary. 

I love being an artist too; I like that you can design your own art and name it yourself. You can even have your own art gallery. I like that you can use different things and different techniques – you can use anything you want: fabrics, glue, sticky tape, paints, pencils, pastels, oils. Every type of medium.

Out of modesty, she didn’t mention her artistic achievements so I asked her how she feels about winning the First Prize at Strathnairn’s “Squares” exhibition.
- This year I have worked on my portfolio a lot. Getting that 1st prize was a surprise; I didn’t expect to win. I got a diploma and I loved that my prize was an Eckersley’s voucher. I bought more arts supplies and tried things I haven’t done before. My favourite things were Fimo, a set of proper sketching pencils and proper drawing paper. Lately, I have been experimenting a lot with mixed media.
I have 2 other works in another exhibition at Belconnen Arts Centre. They are about nature. 

I love nature and animals. My best friend and I are planning to get our own show. We want to teach people about wildlife and about Australia’s native species. We will start shooting through the grasslands soon; we will take photographs and we will make documentaries, too. We want to make DVDs with our show and sell them for $15. This should finance the vet hospital. 

I like designing fashion, too. I am working on inventing a dress called snake skin. It will look like it has scales. It’s not going to be a costume; it will be a proper dress with a design like the snake skin. Hopefully the ladies will like it and will leave the snakes alone. I would like to make children dresses as well. Girls deserve to be stylish too.

My first favourite book was “The Wizard of Oz”. I got it when I was 4. I liked the story – it was really good and the (Robert Sabuda) pop-up design was amazing. Right now, I am into the Rainbow Fairies books, which I can read by myself.

What would she do if she had 15 minutes of fame?
- That is a very good question, coz I am not sure what to say. There are three things I would do, if I were famous:
(Counting on her fingers:)
1. I would make sure all the thieves and bad people will go to jail for good and they cannot hurt anyone again.
2. I would help all the vets to be able to always look after all the animals in need.
3. I would make the jail strong enough so the bad guys will never ever escape. That should make the world better.

What would she like to tell the world?
- The thing I don’t like mostly about grown-ups is that they are bossy. I like it more when they listen to me and what I have to say. I am an amazing 6 year-old; I have done so many things that are amazing and I will do some more.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Composer

"My innermost dream is to go on learning; to never stop learning. And that covers everything really; to be better at music till the day I die but also to be better at life".
I have been trying for a long time to understand synaesthesia and the process of enhancing artistic experiences by mixing the senses. (Of course, I am liberally talking about synaesthesia more in its creative use, just like the French Symbolist poets did; and not at all as a neurological disorder).
I am not musical, I am afraid; – in fact I cannot play 2 notes together. But I do appreciate music – it has a big place in my creative process. My tastes vary, from metal to classic and my preferences change based on moods or on what type of project I am working on. I have often been told things like “you don’t strike me like a head banger” when confessing my life-long love for the music of Iron Maiden. But I also love so many other artists, so many other genres. I still think Freddie Mercury is one of the greatest musicians ever; but that doesn’t stop me from taking refuge in Benedetto Marcello’s Oboe Concert in C minor, or from listening to new music. The only criteria I filter through, is meaning. If both the music and lyrics speak to me, we have a winner.

Recently, I felt very privileged when a friend made me privy to several songs he is currently working on as part of a band, “The Screaming Zucchinis”. I am no music critique, but to me their music is amazing; I love the intricacy of cleverly mixing rock, pop, indie, metal, waltz and even classic inflexions. And their lyrics range from quirky to beauty. And then the other way around.
Naturally, I jumped at the chance of meeting and interviewing the men behind the magic.

So under the hat today is a very special composer. His music has travelled around the world, covering all genres. He has worked in the film industry, as a sound recordist and composer but he enjoys equally jamming and making music with like-minded friends. Despite his impressive career, he doesn’t blow his own horn (if you pardon the pun) and leads a very discreet existence in the Canberran suburbs.
I didn’t know Harvey beforehand but his reputation had preceded him. Having sampled the beauty of his music, I felt a bit like I knew him since forever. What I didn’t know was that I was about to discover a very complex artist. One that I found a lot of affinities with; such as our love for painting and arts generally, our common appreciation for the city of Barcelona, or our similar upbringings in small communities – his in a country town, mine - in a small village. And we both still have those surreal dreams where you are flying high in the sky.

Entering Harvey’s studio is definitely a feast of senses. Magic in a shed! - and to paraphrase a Doctor Who quote, his studio is definitely bigger on the inside. There is no way one can be prepared for what they will discover once they pass through that door. Sound equipment, lots of instruments – naturally, but my eyes popped on seeing so much colour, from the many paintings hanging on every wall. A dreamy, unique atmosphere where I instantly relaxed and stepped into that very dream. Later on, I was going to hear the story of how Harvey designed his studio.

His vision of music is very original: - Music is very much like a painting. The kick drums are the black, the cymbals are the white. All the other instruments are the colours you add in your painting. You have the dark and the light – you need contrast; so you need to put the right instruments together – that is how you create texture, just like in a painting.

I always wanted to be a musician. When I was 4 or 5, I was taken next door to my neighbour’s kid’s bedroom. In those times, when a kid had the measles, we were taken to get it too and be done with it. So I got the measles; I was in a dark room, feverish. It was a bit like a hallucination but that is when I knew I wanted to be a musician. I didn’t want to just sing or play instruments; I wanted to write the music too, I wanted to create it – I just didn’t know how to express it then.

When I was 6 I had a dream about losing one hand and I thought; if that happened, I’d have to kill myself; how could I make music with one hand? Some years later, at my grandmother’s funeral I saw someone playing a trumpet with one hand. On seeing that, I thought well, I won’t kill myself then; I can still make music if that ever happens.
I don’t think of my dream back then as a premonition.
(Lifting his palm up, pointing at a hardened tendon) - Recently I have been diagnosed with a Scandinavian/Celtic genetic condition (Dupuytren's contracture) which will affect the use of my hand. Maybe it’s possible that time doesn’t exist as a defined timeline. What you dream as a 6 year old can be what happens at 66 years old of age.

My favourite story was “Peter Pan”. I loved the idea of always being young. In a sense, if I were to look at myself, I would still be that little boy. And I loved the idea of flying. I always had – and still have dreams about flying. I dream almost every night that I am flying – it’s a great feeling. I have been told once that usually dreams about flying disappear around the end of puberty . And I thought “Really? Coz I am still dreaming them”.

Coming out of high school, I knew I wanted to be a composer. I went to art school though; it was hard enough for my family in a country town to accept the idea of their adopted son wanting to be an artist; let alone be a composer. Those days, boys were usually involved with footy, tennis - sports generally.
So I didn’t tell them that I wanted to be a composer. I went to Arts School and I learned everything I could. I made films, paintings… – I started to draw and paint at an early age.
I was about 6 when I had a tantrum that I must have a piano teacher. I took about 6 months of piano lessons before my teacher left town. After that I watched and learned from other players.

My innermost dream is to go on learning; to never stop learning. And that covers everything really; to be better at music till the day I die but also to be better at life.
I don’t have any hidden dreams; I never let myself being that insulated; I just don’t stand up and shout about it.
The one thing that keeps me going is curiosity. I always want to know what happens next. My motivation also comes from curiosity.

Where do I see myself in 5 years’ time? I surely hope that Chris (Holly, bandmate, artist and friend) and I would have written a lot more music together and I hope that I would still be happy.

I have not confessed it to Harvey just yet, but I have their demo songs on my playlist. One of the reasons I enjoy listening to their music is the fact that they can take a listener through a whole range of emotions in very short time. A timeless instrumental piece like “Blue turns Green” made me nostalgic, thinking instantly of the ocean and of Gauguin and his bluish-green palm leaves shadows. Then there’s the simple beauty of a crisp, winter day within the lyrics of “It’s not raining”. On the other hand, one cannot help but appreciate the humour in pieces like “Walking with Jesus”. There are also lyrics with a deeper meaning, like “When it’s my time to go” but the quirkiness of their band lyrics kicks in from the start.
- The idea of our band’s name, “The Screaming Zucchinis” comes from one of our songs. Megan the Vegan goes to one of these all you can eat cafes and she hears the zucchinis screaming while they are being cooked. She can’t eat them. There is nothing for her to eat.

I always ask my sitters what they would do, if they were granted those 15 minutes of fame. In Harvey’s case it’s a hard question to place contextually, because his life-long career has met more than the 15 minutes, at more than one time. So I asked him to answer it from any temporal perspective, be it the next 15 minutes, sometimes in the future, or from the perspective of his entire career.
- It’s a difficult question. I would probably do what I am doing; addressing things that I have always addressed - my art, my music, my life – I would try to use it all positively.

-My first role model was Pop Vinning; my grandfather on my mother’s side. He was a business man with a great sense of humour. I don’t have a role model now; I gave up on the idea of role models long time ago. There are people I admire, but not role models – too many too mention.

Of course I had to ask what Harvey’s favourite book is. I am always fascinated to hear what the others like or feel inspired by.
It may sound strange, but I really enjoyed the Harry Potter books – it gives hope that there is still magic somewhere out there and that the good always wins – you hope so.

- Biggest regrets? Don’t know; I don’t think I have too many regrets or none at all. There is always an “I should have done’ or an “I shouldn’t have done”, but that is ridiculous in a way, because you don’t learn without mistakes.

Harvey’s studio is one of the best places I have seen in a while. It inspires dreaming and freedom. I asked him to tell me about it.
- It took about a month to bring it to this shape. I don’t know whether you noticed, but there are no straight walls – this way no standing waves occur. The way I designed it, no matter where you are in this room, it will sound the same. The Paintings? I wanted to be in a tropical scene; I had a heap of watercolours and paints, I made papier mache and fiddled around. It works as a studio but also as an inspirational place, where people will feel free to create and at ease. I made the inside of my head into a building. My paintings are a mirror of an emotional thing rather than an intellectual approach.There is some thought into them, and a lot of dreaming too.

I asked Harvey if he has any favourite and which is his best work to date. His answer didn’t surprise me:
- It’s always the one I am working on.

How does he get his ideas? Does life experience have a say in it? And is he always up for writing lyrics? How does collaboration work for Harvey?
- Usually, creating music is about allowing the song to be what it is. If you sit down and say “I am going to write a song and it is about this…” – you just can’t do that, you are cursing yourself. You’re doomed! But if you allow it to take shape, words will rhyme, work will flow. Some other times, I work with the others and we build it as we go along. Usually I like to meet people before working with them.
Working with (bandmate) Chris is a great collaboration; there are no egos – we improvise as we go along. Sometimes he picks up the guitar and I pick up the base guitar. Sometimes I pick the guitar, he plays the piano. Or I play the piano, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes I do the vocals and then I think Chris’s voice is a better fit – we find the harmony as we shape the songs. It usually falls into places as we jam.

While music is his true call, Harvey is also engaging with other arts too: - I do paintings, I have done sculptures - I don’t really think about it, I just do it.

What motivates him better: Success or Failure? - Neither. This is just what I do.

I felt at ease meeting Harvey and we had a good giggle about the fact that I cannot tell 2 notes apart. On hearing that Freddie Mercury’s “Barcelona” is one of my favourite albums of all times, he played me his “Barcelona” song he wrote a while ago. It is one of the cities I love most and I could tell that he has been there – his song had it all: Las Ramblas, the Sun, the passion... Then he launched into another beautiful piece and when I asked about it, he just simply stated he made it up on the spot. I wished I could have taken these songs with me. In fact, I wished I had recorded the entire interview. Much later, the hilarity of this kicked in: we were in a recording studio, yet I was lamenting I haven’t recorded our interview.

Making Harvey’s portrait was not an easy task; I felt almost irreverent for taking photos, instead of sitting down and listening while he played for me. I cannot do both well at the same time and I let myself distracted. At times, I was listening instead of minding what I was doing with my camera, shooting mechanically without putting thoughts in it. Some other times, I did concentrate on the camera and was missing out on the true beauty of the songs. I left his studio taking with me a lot of wisdom from our encounter and he was very kind to gift me one of his instrumental albums, “Gumi on the Sogeri".

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Teenager

My innermost dream is to achieve something in life; then when I will be older I will share it with my own children and I will be really proud, looking back and thinking “I did this”. And I really want my parents to be proud of me too.  

“ - So, are you a professional photographer”? Her beautiful brown eyes look at me; she is genuinely interested to find out about my project, as we walk to the playground at the end of the street. It’s her special place and that is where we agreed to have our photoshoot. I paused and thought about how I really want to answer this question.
I am always nervous before any of my sittings, regardless whether I shoot someone famous or a child. Actually, children and teenagers make me be even more nervous because I think a lot about how I want to interact and how I relate to them. The last thing I want is to come across as all-knowing or patronising.

I remember myself as a rebellious 15 years old teenager – I was always happy in my mountains but otherwise pretty disappointed for not being heard, especially by the grownups, who almost never treated me as an able dialogue partner.

I decide to be honest and I just simply say that I never really call myself anything else but a dreamer. That anyone with a good DSLR and a bit of practice calls themselves a professional nowadays and I just don’t want to be one. I prefer to dream.
It doesn’t come as a surprise – Nina gets what I am saying. A very accomplished artist at a very early age –and I suspect, a dreamer herself – she get exactly what I am saying, from one artist to another. Age is no longer an issue. I feel at ease and so does she, it seems.
The minute we get to the playground, it does make sense why it holds such a special meaning to her and I can see the magic for myself: the trees are in bloom, although we are in the middle of the winter, after a couple of extremely cold weeks. (We shot this story in July).

I saw her drawings long before I met her and – like everyone else in our circle of friends - I was amazed by her talent. Meeting her in person was even more amazing.
Nina is 15 and her story is still in the makings. But the beginning is pretty good.

- When I was 4, all I wanted to do was helping little animals - I still want to do it. I always wanted to make the world a better place. How? Well, when I was little I always found the animals in need and took them home. You know – little birds rushing in the windows, little cats…I remember my parents asking “Nina, what are you doing?” but I always got emotional about seeing an animal suffering. I remember that 2 years ago, my Dad and I were walking through a park and I found a parrot that couldn’t fly. It was an adult, something happened to it. I tried to help it, but there wasn’t much I could do. I was really upset; no matter how many times my Dad said to me there was nothing else I could have done, it affected me a lot. 
It couldn’t be a better cue – Nina’s father comes in smiling, telling her that Maggie is out the back. I must look intrigued; she tells me about the magpie that she is looking after:
- It was about a year ago when Maggie the magpie started to come around all the time and I feed her. Now she comes with her chick and I feed them both. I love that she trusts me and she is bringing her chick along.

- My favourite story? When we were kids, my mother had this giant book with stories that she was reading to us at bed time. I used to love Little Red Riding Hood – I love the story, I love that there is a plot twist to it. The book itself was very old; my mother had it when she was little.

After I finish college, I would like to enrol at ANU and study medicine; I want to become a surgeon. If that doesn’t work out, I would be really happy to have a career out of art. 
I am still figuring out who I really am; I don’t think I know it yet. One day, it’s going to hit me: that’s who I am! For now, I just want to be this creative person. It’s a great time in life, right now; I hope I can keep it up.

My innermost dream is to achieve something in life; then when I will be older I will share it with my own children and I will be really proud, looking back and thinking “I did this”. And I really want my parents to be proud of me too. 
The one thing that keeps me going is my family; their support and their faith in me. It would be really hard to find motivation without them. High school life can get hard sometimes, with lots of assignments and activities. If I feel flat, they pick me up I love arts, photography, painting ; they are really great parents and they support me in everything I do.

Where do I see myself in 5 years’ time? Hopefully still studying at ANU, on the way to become a surgeon. It takes 8 years of study.

It’s a question I ask every sitter – what would they do with fame? I ask it because I am truly fascinated to learn about people and their dreams. Without hesitating, this 15yo gave me the best answer about her 15 minutes of fame. There is a lesson for every one of us, right there:
- If I ever had 15 minutes of fame, I would use it to raise awareness of mental health problems. It seems to be a very big issue; I see lots of articles about people being depressed. I think everyone should pay attention to their peers and ask the most important question “Are You OK?” A while ago I had a really stressful time and I really appreciated my friends checking on me. It’s really important that we all do that. Everyone is experiencing depression at one point; no one talks about it and I think we should. We have this program at school, “Where’s your hat at?” – It’s a great program where we can raise awareness with peers and we can discuss anything. We do touch a lot on mental health.
And I would also advocate for everyone to follow their dreams. If they don’t do something they like, they will not enjoy life.

My parents were my first role models. I feel that when you are a kid you need someone strong to copy. The way they talk, the way they behave, a kid is copying it. I wouldn’t be an artist and I wouldn’t be as straight forward without my parents. They helped me become who I am.
They still are my role-models. I think I got my mum’s creativity and my father’s imagination; I am a blend of both.

My favourite story now? Peter Pan! I just like the whole idea of flying, immortality and the lost boys. There have been lots of plays and movie remakes lately but every single time I hear “Peter Pan”, it gets my attention. I often have this dream about flying, without having to flap my wings. 
(Within only one week of interviews, Nina is the second person with whom I found to have this in common: we share the flying dreams and the love for Peter Pan's story).

My biggest regret is that I didn’t start to paint before, I didn’t put myself out. Back when we still lived in Slovenia, I was bullied in kindergarten and primary school. I had short hair and I was playing a lot with the boys. The girls bullied me and it made me shy. I am past that, now. In the end, it made me stronger. My brother was also bullied in year 1. My parents changed schools; they were very upset to hear what was going on.
Moving to Australia was definitely a turning point. I was very nervous about first day in school here, but everyone was very nice. I didn’t know what to expect; I thought no one would like me but everyone wanted to talk to me and they were genuinely interested to know me. That was when everything changed. It was such a different experience, to realise that wow, people really like me, there is nothing wrong with me. And I liked it a lot. It feels like home; I cannot even imagine myself being back in Slovenia. I wouldn’t be this person I am now, if we stayed there. Being here, in a new country pushed the real ‘me” out. Later on, I shared my story because I wanted to help people who were going through bullying. It doesn’t happen as much in my high school but I am aware it does happen around.

My special place where I feel at peace is the playground at the end of our street. There is a little bench under the tree. I go there often; it’s a place where I like to meditate, especially when I was feeling upset or lost. I just sit there a bit and then the inner child comes out and then I forget about everything else. I love feeling surrounded by trees and not by houses. I love being in the nature. 


I was genuinely interested to hear what arts means to Nina. I also asked her to describe herself in one word.
- There isn’t just one single answer. I started to draw when I was little but I only started to really paint when I was in year 4. There was this class for adults where my mother took me and in the beginning they wouldn’t hear of it. But my mum insisted “let her show you what she can do” and then the teacher said “I think she should come to my classes”. I loved that little group; I liked being surrounded by grownups and being the only child there, away from the bullies. My art means that I can be myself, being able to put everything on a page. It means being able to express feelings – if I feel upset, angry or happy, I can just lay it all on that white paper in front of me.
Then there are those days where I get this urge, “I have to draw this”. I am in my room, up until late and I keep drawing.

If I had one word to describe myself, it would probably be “creative” but I am not sure. It is hard to use only one word to describe yourself.

Does Nina feels that there is a gap between generations? Does she find it hard to make her voice heard?
- Sometimes! I feel that the older people don’t really listen – we’re still teenagers and we’re still figure things but we need to be listened to as well. Teachers do listen; Parents do; but if –say – you’re at the mall and say something to a grown up, most of the time they will think you are joking.

I asked Nina where does she see the future in art – traditional mediums or digital?
- I do a lots of digital stuff now, with the ipencil and the tablet. But creativity and working on a piece of paper cannot be replaced; it will be even more special in the future, I think. Take for instance Mum’s drawings – I can see the detail so much better. On an electronic piece, you don’t know if it’s the original, whether they have done it or whether they have stolen it from somewhere. On the paper, you can always see the original.

What motivates Nina better: success or failure?
- Failure. Because when I fail, it is something I take as an experience and I know I can do better.

How would I describe my art? My art is all over the place right now. I had different phases; I did nature and landscapes, then I had a portrait phase when I started drawing celebrities or characters that I imagined. Now I do everything: nature, portrait, abstract, digital art – everything.

Given the latest trend in games and having witnessed some of the frenzy around Pokémon hunting, I wanted to know how Nina feels about it.
- Everyone talks about it but I decided I don’t want to play it; I don’t want to be addicted to games. There has been some talk about people getting hurt or killed while playing- I don’t think it’s right.

Before we parted, Nina modestly shared some of her art with me. Her portfolio is truly amazing and it encompasses each of the phases she was telling me: celebrity portraits, imaginary characters, watercolours, animals, landscapes. I was really in awe with a portrait of Emma Watson; the drawing detail and the likeness were remarkable.



Monday, July 4, 2016

The Journalist

She writes. She interviews and makes podcasts about eye-opening subjects. Sometimes you see her on TV, too, talking about topics close to her heart, like the PANDSI cake off.
She has a soft but determined voice and a great work ethic. She is passionate about social justice – she lends that voice to those that need to be heard. Her stories are always compelling and make you think harder about the world and about yourself.

As a journalist, I have been following her work for quite a few years now but I never really dreamed I would meet her in person. Until I did. The night before our meeting I was so excited, that I couldn’t sleep much. And during the few hours I did sleep, I dreamed about our photo shoot. Twice.

In real life, she is even more remarkable than I imagined her. She has a great sense of colour and she wears the most amazing frocks, completed with unique jewelry. And she bakes, did I tell you that?
She goes by her nickname as her professional signature. (just one of the things I found that we have in common).

Her eyes light up when she talks about the things that matter to her and her passion is contagious. In fact, I found that we have so many things in common – have you ever had that feeling? When you start a dialogue with someone, when things make sense and you are almost able to end their sentences?
Despite her awards and all the amazing things she achieved in her professional career, Ginger is quite modest in talking about herself.

When I was 4, I wanted to be a nurse. Later on, coming out of high school, I wanted to be a textile artist. Both my grandmothers loved sewing. My maternal grandmother was very good with crochet. My paternal grandmother loved to embroider dresses. I grew with this passion for fabrics; in fact I loved the idea of painting with fabrics. I especially loved making textile sculptures. As a teenager, I just wanted to write and make things with fabric. I ended up choosing journalism as a career though, as opposed to textiles. One of the reasons was because I never wanted to try and sell my artwork and make a living from it. I questioned whether anyone would ever pay for those hundreds of hours of cutting and stitching in my work …

I still think that the arts are fundamental to a society’s health and happiness. Unfortunately, Governments and funders can see it as superfluous, which it certainly is not. For instance, we know that people with dementia respond better to music. People who read fiction are more empathetic.

I always believed the world should be a just place - a better place - and that is why I decided to be a journalist. I still like working with textiles; I just feel that I can contribute more with my words towards this better place. 

“Who are You?” – It is a startling question, but I always ask my sitters at the beginning of their interview to give it a thought.
I’m a social justice journalist and a mother. I love the first bit. It’s my passion. The second bit I find rewarding sometimes, but super hard even though I love my kids. After I had my first daughter, I had to deal with postnatal depression and my journey as a mother started in a dark place, unfortunately. I picked up along the way but in the end, I’m not that interested in the domestic drudgery, the fish fingers, the washing up. The society has made this neurotic, perfect mum culture; I am not interested in that culture. It is a very uneasy balance that I struggle with at times. My work is my passion and I feel that I can make a difference through my words. 

My innermost dream? I’ve got two: That my children will grow up in a world where equality exists, but climate change does not. I want to bring up my children in a way that will teach them how to relate to others and be kind. I want them to live in a world that is more just.
I want to fight for a more just society; the question I always ask is “how do we treat the others?” When others aren’t treated equally, that upsets me. I feel the urge to write those stories and tell the world about those injustices. They are the hardest stories to tell; these people are already hurt, they can be afraid to talk to a journalist. I take ethics incredibly seriously in my work and I go to a lot of trouble to make sure my interviewees feel heard and represented. There are lots of journalists that aren’t interested or don’t have the time or inclination to treat people with the courtesy they deserve and that makes me despair.

I am always interested in how people would use their 15 minute of fame – it’s one of the set questions in this project. Although Ginger is already well known, I was still interested to know her answer.

Ha ha ha ha. It’s hard to have 15 minutes of fame. You have to wear piles of makeup and shapewear. I’ve been expreincing this lately. For exmaple when you are on TV, it’s hard not to feel insecure and to get over how you look and simply say what’s important! I would use the 15 minutes to talk about the things that matter to me – usually making marginalised people heard. For eexample, the people I interview might have mental health problems, be facing poverty and homelessness or be expereincing bullying or domestic violenece. They are people who are on the fringe but shouldn’t be. Society must be more inclusive.

Safe Schools. Transgender Children. Prosthetic limbs as wearable artworks. Teens suicide. Women in media. Postnatal depression. Sexual and domestic violence against women living with disability. These are just some of her stories and even if the topics may be uneasy for some, Ginger lends them her voice to raise awareness.

Recently, she has covered one of the most honest accounts about a young woman dying rapidly from bowel cancer. It is – in her words –“the ugly conversation about cancer no one else is having. It's not brave or inspirational. But it is honest and unflinching. I can promise you that”.

(click here to read the full article)

Ginger is a cancer survivor herself, and she remembers vividly the times when she herself struggled with the idea of fighting the cancer or being seen as inspirational, or as a heroine.

I was very pragmatic about having cancer. During treatment I just put one foot in front of the other. I accepted that dying was a possibility, even though the prognosis was good. I certainly never thought of myself as being ‘brave’ or in a ‘battle.’ That kind of cancer dialogue never had a meaning to me.

I am genuinely interested to find out about my sitters’ first role model; I think it’s a part of their life that defines who they are. Maybe it’s the sadness that I don’t know when I will see my own father again, or maybe it’s the fact that we have this affinity; either way, Ginger’s answer resonated deeply with me, because I have the same role model – my father.

My Dad was my first role model. He still is, even though he’s deceased. He came from a very poor Catholic working class family in Melbourne. He knew from when he was very young that what he wanted most was education. He started as a teacher and ended up being a diplomat. He always hammered into me how important is to learn. Even if he is no longer with us, I think every day about the things he taught me. I also understand that we are not all born into privileged families, that some people do not have the same opportunities.
My biggest regret is that my Dad is not here.

Books – in my opinion – are shaping us more than any other medium. I have been a bookworm all of my life. Naturally, it’s a question I like to explore and by asking each sitter about their favourite book (then and now) maybe I am secretly hoping to compile a new, ultimate reading list. I am truly amazed at how many books I haven’t read or known so far. And believe me, I do read a lot. 

The first favourite story that I can remember liking as a child is Tottie and the Dollshouse. I was mad about dolls’ houses and I still love them. I still have one that belonged to Steven Fry’s mother. This doll house must be more than 100 years old; it was given to my grandmother – my mother and her sisters played with it. When my grandmother passed away, I asked for it to be shipped to me from England.
My favourite book now is “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy.

I always ask my sitters to name a place where they feel at home, where they feel themselves.

I don’t have a home because I travelled all my life. I lived in several countries and there are some places around the world that resoante with me – like Bangkok. I can’t honestly say there’s a place where I feel “me” anywhere.

Talking about career and being a mother, I asked Ginger how she manages to keep all the balls juggling.

It’s not glamorous; it’s sometimes a messy balance between family life and work. My children are the heart of my life. But I also work from home. Sometimes it’s a crazy spinning wheel. It’s not neat, ordered or systematic but in the end it always works out. I don’t believe in Super Mums. Our society really has to do a lot of sorting out in terms of how family life fits with working parents. Most work places need to transform, in order to reflect how all these pieces fit.
The most challenging act is keeping all the balls in the air. Sometimes after writing a story the whole night, I turn up at my kids’ school looking like death warmed up and wearing terrible clothes. It does make me wonder what the other parents think!
I take my work seriously but I try to keep my family happy too. It’s a strange dichotomy – trying to remember to make sure there’s toilet paper in the cupboard and milk in the fridge while working on a powerful story where people’s lives are at risk.

I recently went to a feminist conference and had to facilitate a discussion panel about women and the transformation of work. The women on the panel were wonderful and articulate. However at one point I was thinking: I wish I could show the young women in the audience a picture of my filthy bedroom right now. We all operate on many levels but I am pretty sure no one has all the balls in the air at all times. 

(Click here to read Ginger's brilliant take on working mums and house work).

 – What was the most interesting story that you ever covered?

There isn’t just one. There are a lot of stories that I covered that have affected me. I stay connected to those people I interview. To me, they aren’t just stories. Media is a hungry beast, on a 24 hours cycle. It seems to chew stories and spit them up .It’s the opposite of how I like to interact. I feel incredibly privileged to witness and record people’s stories. Therefore people’s stories often stay with me.

I don’t have a favourite media; I use them all as needed. I am not crash hot on TV sometimes, but I love radio and writing.
There is a hint of magic about writing. On a good day you can choose the words and craft the story in a way that goes straight to the heart. I also like audio – it’s such a domestic, almost intimate feeling, having your voice heard in people’s living rooms and cars. A person builds in their mind the story you are telling them. It’s a privilege being in a listener’s domestic life in this way.

– Do you find your stories or do they find you?

A bit of both. I’m always listening and watching and questioning.
I have been a journalist for 16 years now and I always thought that “churnalism” isn’t the right way to do things. I never write from press releases.

Since I left ABC, I find myself listening more. I think a lot. Things come out of nowhere and if you really listen to someone, there’s often an untold story hiding in there. Even on social media, there’s a million possible stories people are trying to tell – but often no one is listening. They are just “shouting” at each other.

I find that if you listen and you are open to stories, they come to you. For instance, I was investigating a story about failed IVF. This initial, devastating story came from a conversation with two friends who had unsuccessfully tried IVF. One it was published, someone asked me on Twitter why I don’t write about men’s grief? No one seemed to want to talk about that grief, about the men who will never be fathers. That question became a second powerful story.

 Ginger's portrait has been taken in the Sculpture Garden  near Bert Flugelman's "Cones" sculpture.
Many thanks to the National Gallery of Australia - and in particular to Nick Nicholson for his guidance.


Friday, July 1, 2016

The Poet

"My innermost dream is to keep on writing poetry and travelling"
The day I met Andrew was the day everything went wrong. From the little things like kids being kids, delaying the school run; to more important ones, like missing the right bus.  I was late for the interview – a first in my entire journalistic career. And to top it all, I left the hat of many dreams at home. Which defeated the purpose of making his portrait. Despite starting on a very wrong foot, he graciously gave me a second chance. And I am grateful that he did; I met a fascinating person, passionate about poetry and about life, generally.

His poems have been internationally published, making their way to Chile, Ireland, UK, USA and New Zealand. Yet Andrew is very modest when he talks about his work and about himself.

When I was 4, I wanted to get on a bus, sit down and go for a ride – from what my mum tells me, a ride anywhere; just get on and enjoy the ride.

I had two favourite stories as a child; one about a Yowie that was eating all the animals until they set fire to his cave and killed him.  The other was a story about Louis Pasteur discovering penicillin – I liked the way the story was told; there was a child involved – possibly his son and Pasteur was trying to find a cure. The germs were little monsters and the antibiotics were little soldiers. It certainly made for a good story.

Coming out of high school, I knew I was going to be a writer. I have always wanted to be a writer and the earliest I wrote a poem was probably in year 5. It was about a desk chasing and eating students.

My dream back then was to leave the Central Coast of New South Wales; to get out and explore. I applied to ANU but in the end I accepted an offer from the University of Newcastle - they had a beach. It was a great time, living in a college near the beach.
Between Years 10 and 11, I went to Brazil as an exchange student. I worked on my Portuguese, I traveled. This is one of my biggest dreams – to be able to travel and explore new and old places. I have been travelling around the world for a bit and I hope to travel more. My mother took me to the USA first and I liked it; I went back and I explored some of the places I always wanted to see: Texas, Chicago, Boston…

I always ask my sitters this question: “Who are you now?”
Andrew’s answer was very concise:
Me. I don’t like labels and clichés; I try to be me and do what I like. I love living in Canberra; I love writing; I am now doing poetry full time. I love travelling and discovering places – it inspires me in my personal quests as well as my writing. I would love to go back to Europe one day.

A typical day in Andrew’s life starts early: - I wake up around 4 am. I read the news, sometimes I watch documentaries – I have a few favourites I love to watch; some about New York City, some about the Civil War.
There are always pluses and minuses to one’s life; somedays are great and things go smooth. The days that are harder to get through, Andrew keeps on top by making lists of things to do.

My innermost dream is to keep on writing poetry and travelling.
I’d love to live in Ortigia, Sicily, Florence, Tuscany and Canberra; and eat baked ricotta, seafood, and go swimming.
The one thing that motivates me is the future.

For a while, I struggled with any sort of ideology and when I started reading Camus, I welcomed the idea of someone who wrote about things I myself thought about many times, such as accepting and understanding that when you are dead, you live through things you created.
I am unsure where I will be in 5 years’ time; which is unusual for me. I’d love to have another book out by then; I’d love to travel overseas with the book. In fact, I’d love to spend some more time abroad – I like Europe a lot; in my previous travels I enjoyed exploring the galleries and museums and studying the Roman and Greek history. I am also very interested in the Spanish Civil War and the Cold War.

My experience of having a residency in Catalonia was a great one; I’d like to do the same in Italy. My residency was in a small town outside Barcelona. I didn’t speak Catalan and very few people there speak English but I started to pick up on the language. I enjoyed exploring and discovering the place. There were not many cafes in El Bruc; I mostly went to the same place. I liked sampling the local food - there was a local traditional dish that was only made during a local annual festival re-enacting the two Battles of El Bruc.
If I was to get those 15 minute of fame, I’d like to make enough money to be comfortable.
Comfortable is a term that can easily be condensed or stretched, based on individual needs and life experience; therefore I was genuinely interested to find out what it means to Andrew.

 - To be able to live somewhere nice, not to have to worry about food, to be able to afford travelling. When it comes to my writing and travels, I have always been calculating how much time and how much money I need to make it happen. I have been working part time, and saved for the travels.

When it comes to working; I feel that everyone should work but maybe less hours; it is healthier and more benefic. It affords the time for pursuing arts, hobbies and it doesn’t burn one individual down. It is very frustrating and sad to hear the politicians talk about increasing the efficiency in the Public Service. Efficiency’ generally means getting more out of people for less investment in them.
I have always avoided role models; instead, there are fiction characters that I like. When I was little, I loved reading comics. I guess, in a way Judge Dredd was my first role model. I liked him for being authoritarian and for the direct nature of his acts. His rules are applied uniformly.
I also like Optimus Prime, because he is a true believer. I wouldn’t describe him as my role model but he has definitely been one alongside Judge Dredd.

Another question I ask my sitters is “What is your biggest regret”?
The many small ones; opportunities I haven’t noticed or times when  I misunderstood people – it can take a long time to understand a situation or a context; sometimes months or years and sometimes I find myself thinking I wish I understood it then.

So, what gets Andrew going; what is his creative flow process?
 -  Diligence. Writing takes lots of effort. I am constantly thinking about things. I love collecting images and documents. During my travels I gathered lots of postcards, books and documents you wouldn’t be able to get otherwise. I find my inspiration in all these.

I write in very different ways: I have a few sets of exercises; I do Free Writing.  I can dwell on an idea or a concept until I am happy to write it and give it a finite shape. Commissions are the hardest, as I have to build my writing approach to the subject or theme commissioned. I am really enjoying my latest one, with the Red Room Company. It was very interesting recording with them. (Click here to read one of Andrew's poems, featured in the Red Room's "The Disappearing" project)

I like exploring things; digging around for words. I like experimenting and finding new things. Sometimes I feel like I am carrying things with me wherever I go. Often, on a location I find myself writing about Canberra, or about feelings within. One time, when I went to Brisbane last year, I ended up writing a poem about my father. This was something that I struggled with for a long time I am happy with how it turned out.

Poetry is very important to me. It’s the best place to explore your own imagination. Poetry can be very direct but can also be very layered. I like it more than prose or film.

I like visual arts, they can be layered too and I like writing about visual arts. Ekphrasis in the modern definition, when you write a narrative describing what you see, but also in the classical definition, where one usually takes a mythological reference and then starts a narrative with a critical or even political impression. I most recently worked on a commission for the Photography Room, writing about the photography of Michael Masters.

I think everyone should be encouraged to make art. Creation is important; it should be critical, actually. I tend to get away from the artistic hobby versus professional approach. Sometimes an artistic practice can lose touch, just like the politicians. Any profession can consume you and people get disconnected and forget what was important in the first place.

I see that sometimes art is labeled; I am trying not to categorise. With poetry – people embrace the idea of spoken words. I know that people categorise “Slam Poetry” now.  I just disagree with it, as the term can close an avenue for people to perform their poetry. When you are on that stage, anything you perform is a “slam poem”.

The people in my life are the most important to me. Poetry comes close. They are part of it too, because they wouldn’t be in my life without poetry. I can be very guarded; I can be very opened too. I get worried about being too honest sometimes, as I don’t want to offend people. When I write, I try to be as honest as possible.

I couldn’t help but asking Andrew why he likes Pablo Neruda.  
- Well, he was a poet. And a public servant too. He was part of resisting awful things in his country. He tried to make the world a better place and when he finally escaped Chile, the exile must have been such a horrible experience. I would feel guilt if I survived something like that and others didn’t.

And since we were into the realm of poetry, I asked Andrew to talk about his personal involvement, particularly from the perspective of being a co-founder of Bad!Slam!No!Biscuit! and a producer for the Noted Festival. - It’s all about creating a space to engage both new people and the existing artistic community; we want as many people as possible to take part. Not just as audience, but rather being participants. People come along to Bad!Slam! and as the event progresses through the night, they loosen up. Since 2009, we never had a night without new people coming up on the stage. And that is great.
I love it. I love being part of it and once I am on the stage, everything feels right.

I used to be a producer for “Noted”, now I am curating it.
With both events, I love being able to encourage other artists, to provide opportunities for other people who are emerging. It is important to provide a space for them – not just the location, but making sure that art is accessible to everyone, not cliquey not dominative or emphasizing. We take the middle line approach; everyone is equal. Bad!Slam! keeps it fair for everyone because everyone is treated the same, regardless their poetic journey.

How do people inspire me? Sometimes it’s more about generating ideas to write on, or about concepts kicking off. Sometimes, it could be the way people act, or dress – it might even be people that I don’t know but I might find something interesting in them. It’s all in the moment.

My best experience as an artist? Hard to choose just one; I had so many diverse opportunities. Having my first book accepted was amazing. Then the second followed and it was great; I enjoyed listening to the other people performing on the launching night. I am still very proud of being published in the “Best Australian Poems”. I loved getting a grant and focusing on my work. Another great experience was working with David Stavanger.

Andrew’s second book, “For all the Veronicas (The Dog Who Staid)” has been recently published by Bareknuckles Books.  His poems were celebrated with the participation of many artists on a special launch night at the Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres. Naturally, I wanted to know his feelings; how does one really feel, seeing his work coming to life?
“I feel proud. I have confidence in my book. Seeing that a lot of other people have confidence in it too, that feels really good.”

I wasn’t surprised to find out that he has a degree in classical literature but as a bookworm myself, I was curious what is Andrew’s favourite book. It is a question I ask all my sitters, as this gives me a better chance to get to know them through a common passion for reading. I loved the answer, because in a way, it continues a dystopian path, started from his teenage years, reading Judge Dredd.
- It changes from time to time. I really love “Crash” by J.G. Ballard because he is my favourite author.  I like a whole range of his writing; his autobiography is amazing.
My favourite book is Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”.

This was a 2-part sitting that involved a bit of preparation from my side, as I wasn’t very familiar with Andrew, or with his work. But I feel honoured for having met him and grateful for his participation in the project.
Before parting our ways and finishing the sitting, I asked Andrew to let me read his favourite poem, “The Sun Falls on Zero”. It is a great, visual piece and while his portraits are black and white, I took with me lots of colours, just from a first read.

Many thanks to Superfine Café for allowing us to have our photo shoot in their premises.