Avoiding clichés, Sophie Wedgwood turns her lens on Havana

The recent recipient of the Magnum Photos Emerging Artist Award explores the performances of the everyday through photography.

Date
23 January 2020
Reading Time
3 minute read

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Sophie Wedgwood’s hobby has always been observing the street. Having grown up in Peckham and Camberwell, the bustling south east London area supplied her with ample creative content to pass the days. And, as time went by, Sophie turned her hobby into a career by capturing the atmosphere through photography.

Initially beginning her career as a photojournalist for The BBC, Sophie went on to be commissioned by the likes of Nike, Dazed & Confused, The Guardian and Valentino, to name only a few. Before long however, the London-based photographer was winning her first awards for her documentary works, the latest being a prestigious Magnum Photos Emerging Artist Awards with whom she is currently in the process of making a book with.

In her latest series, Sophie turns her lens on her husband’s indigenous Havana. Well known as a popular photography spot for keen travellers, Sophie was eager to avoid the common clichés of the Cuban city, while simultaneously addressing her role as a Western photographer at the same time. Exploring the rhythm of daily life and the performances of the everyday, Sophie’s series is an investigative accompaniment to her time living in Havana with her husband. “I think the images happened very naturally,” she tells It’s Nice That, “I’ve always found how we react to different people so interesting.”

“Sometimes,” she continues, “when I ask to take a photo of a subject, they will adjust themselves to what they think I want, or how they I see them.” She assesses how we often become the role that is expected of us, whether it’s in society or in a photographic portrait. “We come the role – men being men, women being women, tourists acting more tourist-y, the differences between young and old,” evaluates Sophie, astutely. And through her photography practice, she examines the way our subjective societies have shaped us – gender, class and age included.

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Sophie Wedgwood: Havana

For Sophie, these performances can be seen vividly in the street. With her eagle-eye, she snaps poignant moments or expressions that speak volumes about the subjects. “In Havana, it’s particularly interesting because there is an actual performance for the tourists,” adds the photographer. “It ends up that both [tourists and Havana’s residents] have an idea of each other which is exaggerated.” And it’s for this reason that Sophie was determined to photograph the tourists visiting Havana as well as local life, “I wanted to turn the camera on myself as a Westerner,” she says on the matter.

Capturing subtle moments of interaction, between hotel bell boys and passers-by, maids and office women in public bathrooms or roadside churro sellers and hungry pedestrians, Sophie makes use of an enhanced perspective and clarity of light to shine a light on her subjects. “In cities, you rush through everything and never get much below the surface, but when you slow things down, you can see the comedy of things or the fragility that people conceal,” she adds on the quiet nuances of the series. Slowing down the image by cropping into certain focal points, Sophie coaxes out a soft expression through the concentration of composition.

As a series, the viewer weaves in and out of different vantage points and varying close ups. In turn, this maintains the viewer’s full presence as the multiplicity of textured layers continue to build with image upon image framed by Sophie’s characteristic lyricism. “Sometimes the image looses its magic when it becomes a conscious style of ‘look’,” she goes on to tell us. “I love it when images have a je ne sais quoi, like in Vanessa Winship or Sanle Sory’s portraits. You can unpick so much from them.”

GallerySophie Wedgwood: Havana

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.

jo@itsnicethat.com

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