Jul 02, 2013

Phlearn Interviews Amy Spanos

Amy Spanos is a 23 year old photographer from a small town in England just outside of London. She was in school previously where she studied Art and Psychology, where according to Amy she did “a lot of drawing naked old people and researching crazy people”.

Amy describes her photography as dark and dramatic, and more personally described it as “a diary to her emotions”. Amy has a large following online, and has completed many personal photo projects such as “365 days”, “52 Weeks”, “A-Z of Mental Illnesses” and she also has an ongoing “Horror Series”.

Amy’s work doesn’t need many words to accompany it as her work speaks for itself. Please join us as Amy tells us about how her personality disorder inspires her photography, and also why she’s so interested in horror and mental illness, and so much more.
If you have a weak stomach, be cautious, some of Amy’s work is quite graphic.

How did you become interested in photography?

I always liked the idea of ‘creating your own world’. The idea of showing people how you see the world always seemed appealing. The first couple of weeks I picked up a camera I felt happy, like I did have my own world, and I never wanted to put that camera down. I’ve been photographing ever since.

Do you have any formal training in photography or are you self taught?

Self taught!

What inspires you?

Long corridors, sad songs, movies that make me cry.

Who are some of your favourite photographers?

I love Tim Walker, Robert and Shana Parkeharrison. I love main online ‘flickr’ photographers too!

What’s on your gear list?

I use the Canon 5d MkII and 50 1.4 lens for almost everything at the moment. I edit my photos using cs5.

What are you currently working on?

I am mainly working on client work right now, I am focusing a lot on Weddings over the summer. I have a couple of personal projects coming up, I’m taking my time though.

How would you describe your photography?

I think it can be very dark and dramatic at times. I would describe it as ‘A diary to my emotions’.

In your bio description on your Flickr page you openly say that you have a personality disorder. Can you tell us a bit about this, and how it has inspired your photography?

I went through quite a lot when I was younger; my life was never a fairy tale (but whose is!). I was diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder when I was 18 years old. Borderline Personality disorder is a little like Bi-polar, but less dramatic and less common. I’d say 99% of my photograph ideas in the first couple of years came from my BPD experiences. I had so many emotions that they use to destroy my life; I use them to my benefit now.

Within your photography you deal with some sensitive subjects. For example your series titled “A-Z of mental illness and disease”. This series is a collection of images that are all very strong in content and in nature. What inspired this project?

People judge mental illness so quickly. I think this mainly stems from horror movies, there’s always I twist where someone turns out to be schizophrenic or dissociative identity disorder or another mental illness and  people start to judge people out there. I just wanted to dig a little deeper into personality disorders and show people out there that they’re not alone struggling with them, as I’m sure many of them have felt.

What was the biggest thing that you took from this project once it was completed?

I had a lot more understanding of the illnesses and was very glad I took the time to find out.

When going through your photos, people can quickly pick up on the fact that you have an interest in horror, blood, etc.

Where do you think this interest comes from?

I love psychology and looking into reasons why people behave the way they do. I like creepy photos…perhaps that comes from a lot of horror movies I watch and games I play!

What image do you consider to be the most successful in your “horror series”?

Probably this one (image below), it was a lot of fun to take!

Let’s talk about your small series “smoking”. I am not sure of how you feel about cigarettes. In some of the images the model is made to look glamorous, beautiful, and fashionable. While in others the model is shown in hospital gowns with tubes down their throat.

How do you feel about smoking/cigarettes and what do you hope to accomplish with this small series?

To be honest, at this point in my life, I’m not too sure how I feel about smoking. Smoking can be a beautiful and ugly thing. I know that a lot of people smoke to help them through things; it’s a pain-relief and an addiction. But I always ask myself, is any addiction a good thing? I don’t think smoking has a happy ending, but is the journey or the ending more important.
For me, the smoking series was a way for me to help me through certain events and low points of my life I was struggling with. I think it will always be an ongoing project – an ending without an ending.

What is your proudest moment as a photographer?

I owned my own photography studio for 2 years which was pretty cool. Having my work displayed in exhibitions has been an amazing experience too. But I think what I’m most proud of is the fact I never gave up on photography, I never gave up doing what I love. Sometimes taking on your own business is hard, worrying about money and ends not meeting. I’m proud of myself for carrying on at every downward spiral and working towards my dream.

What is the definition of “beauty” to you?

Colour, details, doorknobs, I love the sound of bawdy old telephones, making mistakes, dappled sunlight and soft grass. I love the bare minimum, poetry and visual stimulation (there should be nothing but) and perfect moments, sleeping boys and shallow breathing. Beauty spots and crisp, fresh notebooks. raindrop patterns on my window and spiders in my panes. texture and bark and velvet and marble and satin. touch, sight, sound. blood and the rough and ready. Mess and tidy. skin on skin and colours dancing behind eyelids. lipstick prints on glasses. Strawberries without the cream, criss-cross ice cream cones and amaretto. difference and clear-thinking. Humanity. Lips and eyelashes and flushed cheeks and warm breath.

What do you do in your free time when you’re not behind the camera?

Outside of photography I am quite honestly one of the most boring people. I read, watch movies, and listen to music. I’m quite an introvert, its fun!

There are many images of yours where the model is featured in a hospital gown, has a face mask on, or is in what appears to be a hospital room.

What is your opinion on hospitals?

I don’t mind hospitals; they’re a lot less scary when they’re derelict. I don’t like open hospitals as much, but then again, every visit to an open hospital can’t be for a good reason.

Can you tell us about the photo titled “Hey Mr Hangman, go get your rope”?

It’s a very morbid photo, yet it is so powerful and beautiful. I’m so interested in it.

The title is from one of my favourite songs ‘You Won’t Know by Brand new’. I visit a lot of abandoned buildings to take photographs. This photo was taken in an abandoned asylum. Asylums are so eerie, when you walk into them there’s just a sense of hopelessness and loss around. As soon as I saw the bed I knew I wanted to take this photo. In my mind it portrays a story of an ‘asylum patient’ at their lowest and somewhere between finding the strength to carry on or fighting that little bit longer. The things that happened in asylums years ago were shocking and drove a lot of people to do crazy things they wouldn’t have dreamed of doing outside those 4 walls.

What do you enjoy photographing the most?

Probably horror photos, I love playing around with SFX make up. It’s always fun walking a model through a crowded street with a can stuck on her eye or big fake cuts.

What’s your favourite image that you’ve ever taken?

A couple of years back I took a photo of my Grandad and a couple of months later he passed away. That was my favourite photo because it meant so much to me. I like photos with stories, and it showed a great story of his life.

On the contrary, what image of yours did you have the most difficulty creating? (due to obstacles like light, weather, models, editing, etc)

I hate bright sunlight! Luckily living in England, we don’t get a lot of that. But occasionally when the sun decides to shine I find it extremely difficult to manage.

However, I think my most difficult photo was maybe this one, a self portrait taken on timer. I had to place my tripod/camera on the roof and it was very painfully cold lying on the snow! (image directly below)

How do you overcome a creative block?

Listen to lots and lots of music. Watch movies and read books!

What do you want people to take from your photography?

I would hope that a few people would learn from my photography, maybe see the world in a little bit of a different way.

How long is the process of creating an image for you? (Conceptualizing, shooting, editing)

About 10-15 minutes shooting each photo (maybe a little longer on self portraits) and 30 minutes editing.

Could we see a before/after of one of your most edited images?

I delete a lot of old personal work, but here’s a recent one!

What type of lighting do you use within your photography? Do you have a preference of natural vs. artificial/studio lighting?

I had my own studio for a couple of years and used elinchrom lighting inside the studio. I MUCH more prefer natural lighting. I find studio lights quite harsh for my style of photography.

Any big plans for the future?

Just to take every day as it comes. I’m not where I want to be with photography yet and it’s going to take a while to get there. I’m going to try my hardest to be the best I can be and will hopefully achieve that.

If you could go back and tell give your 18 year old self advice (about photography or not) what would it be?

Probably just not to take (not so- constructive) criticism to heart. I used to get so upset when people wrote mean comments on my photos; I struggled with a lot of self-confidence issues. I’d tell myself just to enjoy myself more, and enjoy life in general more. People can be very cruel online, but also people can be very supportive. I would have liked to ignore the spitefulness and appreciate the nice words more.
Interviewed By: Angela Butler

To keep up with Amy and her work you can do so on her Blog, Flickr, Twitter, and Facebook Page.


user image You
(will not be published)

  • user image
    Jeff Azoudis

    Great interview. Thanks for introducing us to Amy and her work.

  • user image

    I love these photographs so much! They are very inspiring, I’m interested in photographing mental disorders and true identity vs how we act around people or big crouds.