PSC student Louise Chen is using her photography skills to help save Victoria's forests. She works for the Wilderness Society and documents the damage caused by logging. Louise talks about her activist role but also night street photography, documenting our local community, and her Southbank group exhibition.
Tell us about your work for the environment?
I have a strong connection with the environment myself, we all do actually – we wouldn’t be breathing if we didn’t have trees right? But I've been working as a photographer with the Wilderness Society for almost three years now.
What does your work involve?
I do work for their campaigns, document the landscape and also do some portraiture. I have also put together an exhibition where I collaborated with the WS to show my photography and the devastation in the forest.
It's a labour of love for you isn't it?
Yes, I really believe in what the Wilderness Society are doing. They’re looking to create something called the Great Forest National Park, which is an area in the Victorian highlands that is currently being logged, and in some parts even illegally logged. And we have the most carbon rich trees in the world in that area, and species of animals that are endangered like the Leadbeater's Possum. We also have native species of owls, eagles, birds, fish, frogs, insects – and biodiversity that’s all going to be lost forever if this government does not make policy changes, to protect this area and support the Great Forest National Park.
Tell us more about the Great Forest National Park, if it's created?
It would provide millions and millions of dollars in economic turnover because the government will make more money out of having that as a travel destination rather than chopping it all down. Also it provides us with clean air and clean water. It will also give us water security in one of the driest climates in the world. – ensuring our native species have the best chance of survival in this current climate. We already have problems with the global warming crisis effecting our native species – we now know this as a fact. Native species are now going from being known and identified to extinct overnight. It’s crazy.
How did you get the role of photographer for the Wilderness Society?
I decided what I wanted to take action for, what I care about in my life – and that’s basically humanities and our environment, they go together as far as I am concerned. I approached the WS and found the right people to talk to, and I made myself available. I went on the forest tours, did my research and offered my skills as a photographer. I then became a volunteer photographer for them. Of course, every time it’s been a really successful partnership.
Tell us about your work at your current group exhibition at Photography Studies College's pop-up gallery in Southbank with other part-time photography students?
This project was a process of collage. An experiment of breaking down the traditional portrait. This series is about fun and not taking ourselves so seriously. This was a little more risky for me than my usual go to. I really went to town and enjoyed this process. I find that sometimes the traditional way of creating contemporary photography can be limiting and at times boring even, there is this need to want to make everything seem perfect. By allowing myself to enjoy the process and tap into the childlike nature of the process , I really enjoyed the freedom I found in the creating this body of work.
You enjoy photographing people too, correct?
I absolutely you know I’m obsessed with documentaries. That’s where the street element comes in and doing street photography. I often find myself wondering what people are thinking and walking around trying to engage with the community – and I try and do that through my camera.
Your street photography was recently exhibited at Shot in the Heart of Melbourne (SITHOM) at the Victorian Artists Society, which was presented by The Australian Association of Street Photographers. Tell us about the work you showed?
Two years ago, I started an ongoing night documentary series called 'The People of Chapel Street'. When shooting street photography, I find myself getting into discussions with people and just talking with them and listening to their stories. I am fascinated by people.
What other projects are you working on?
I’m working on a project called “On a Mission with The Artists of St Kilda”. The photo below is part of a series of documentary style portraits that also features nine other artists in that collection. This project is an ongoing project with an exhibition coming up in 2020 and more to come.
Why did you choose Photography Studies College?
The part time courses at PSC are incredibly flexible so I can do a Friday class, and for me being a mother means I can attend class once the kids go to school.
How are you finding the course?
For starters you’re learning about colour saturation and how far to push your images. Also I really like learning the about art history, different genres of photography and the meaning behind images – and the art of storytelling. I love, creating a narrative. I also have really enjoyed the process of printing and the PrintShop @ PSC is very helpful to me – it's key to have professional printing because it’s all about the aesthetics, especially when exhibiting. If you want to study photography professionally I would highly recommend PSC because you will have a much more thorough understanding of the craft – and that's really powerful.
Louise is exhibiting her work in a group show called 'All Paradise Is Not Love' with other part-time PSC students at Southbank Pop-Up Gallery, 1/3 Southgate Ave, Southbank, Upper Level (next to American Rag). The exhibition runs till 18 August 2019.
Self-portrait by Louise Chen