Do judge this pianist by her cover!

My official Limelight Magazine blog, Do judge this pianist by her cover!!

Take a moment to picture these:

Clapboards (preferably the old-fashioned chalkboard types)
Spotlights blazing and projectors in silhouette
Box office windows, preferably Art Deco
Usherettes with flashlights
Red velvet curtains with gold tassels
A candy bar counter stocked with goodies: popcorn and choc-tops

Do you feel like going to the movies now? Do you want to sit in the back row and stuff your face with popcorn and snuggle with your sweetheart in the dark? Do you want to escape your humdrum life for a couple of hours? Yes? Then the mere mention of this imagery is having the desired effect.

It’s all typical album cover material for a typical film music compilation. The message it sends is very clear. Scores of compilations are released all the time with images like these plastered on the cover, and in my mind they all blend into one giant mass of celluloid sludge. Let’s face it; in the context of this album cover business, such images have become more than a little generic and predictable. It goes without saying that the cover for my little cinematically inspired offering The Good, the Bad and the Awkward must stand out from these.

Enter Tina Fiveash.

I had known about Tina’s work a long time before I met her. It was a particularly visible series the photographer did for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival way back in 2001, in collaboration with Deborah Kelly, that got me really interested in her work. It was calledHey Hetero! and rather playfully questioned, in a very public way, the inherent privileges of heterosexuality of which straight people are often blissfully unaware.


“Hey, Hetero! Get married because you can!” from Hey, Hetero! (2001)

This confronted Sydney’s public on billboards and posters and advertising postcards all over the city. I found myself enjoying a bit of a giggle every time I passed a bus stop, not only because the images were funny but also through sneaking peeks at the perplexed looks on the faces of passers-by. It was the era of “we’re here, we’re queer, we’re everywhere, get used to it.” And getting used to it, they certainly were! I really identified with this work and got online to look for more, only to discover that Tina was the artist who had created a host of other artworks I’d enjoyed over the years, particularly the series Stories for Girls. In the words of the artist herself, this is “a tongue-in-cheek attempt to recreate missing lesbian photographic history from an era where homosexuality was a criminal offence, and lesbians were forced to remain in the closet and keep their relationships hidden from society”.

Twilight Lovers

Fast forward to mid 2010, the era of (love it or loathe it) Facebook. I turned on my computer one day, logged in and saw in a column at the right-hand side of the screen a little box of “people you may know”. There was Tina’s name, accompanied by a thumbnail picture of a slightly naughty looking 1950s nurse. It was my gut instinct to click straight away. I knew in my heart that one day we would work together – somehow, somewhere – though at the time I wasn’t too clear on the details. At any rate, we’re working together now and I couldn’t be happier about it! See? Social media really is good for something!

I had a chat with Tina about her work, and thought I would share her words with you.

Sally: My first exposure to your work was through Hey Hetero! andStories for Girls. Given that your work has a much broader scope than these examples, do you sometimes feel typecast as “that lesbian photographer”?

Tina: Yes, most people would associate me with my early sexuality and gender-themed work as they received such wide publicity. Both series continue to attract attention internationally and have more or less developed lives of their own. Most recently, two of my lesbian-themed photographs were exhibited in Paris and also featured in the German publication L-Mag. I do at times feel typecast as “that lesbian photographer”, however, overwhelmingly it has been a positive thing – and gained my work international exposure.

Sally: Your last major exhibition Grace involved some new media for you – lenticular prints and film. Was there a particular reason that you were drawn to these media?

Tina: I have always felt passionately attracted to both photography and cinema as art mediums, but frustrated that cinema cannot be hung on the wall and repetitively viewed and enjoyed like a photograph. I love the live nature and animation aspects of cinema, and the stillness and contemplative aspects of photography. Most recently I have been experimenting with animated lenticular photography – a technically complex medium which hovers at the intersections of photography and cinema, creating an illusion of animation within a flat photograph. I have found my god. I have also been experimenting with sound and animated photographic stills to create short films, which were exhibited my latest series Grace.

Sally: How do you approach working to a fairly tight creative parameter that is not necessarily all of your own making? Do you have a particular method?

Tina: I wouldn’t say I have a particular method – however I think it’s very important and necessary to have a brainstorming session and to keep our minds loose and flexible within the parameters, in order to facilitate ideas. I also think it’s very important that we are both excited and in agreement about the idea; without excitement and/or agreement there isn’t energy. I believe photographs which work well have an energy and life imbued in them. We need to be in synchronicity with our thinking.

Sally: Will the images for The Good, the Bad and the Awkward be your first for an album cover? Have you worked with artists from other disciplines before?

Tina: I actually produced the album photography for a small Canberra-based group called Trouser Trouser in the mid-90s and was most recently commissioned to produce publicity photography for Sydney group Bo-Banta. I love working collaboratively on projects with other creative artists as it frequently involves innovative thinking, creative problem-solving and usually a lot of fun! And for one-off projects such as this you can really sink your teeth into them and come up with something completely outside your normal subject matter, process, or even style. It’s like taking a creative excursion to somewhere completely different. I’m very excited to be working on the album photography with you.