What is your name and what do you do?
I’m Sarah Walker. I'm an artist who makes work about control, intimacy and anxiety.
Where can I start! You are a woman with many talents! What is your primary professional title?
It depends on the day! I work across several different forms. My usual bio is ‘writer, photographer and fine artist.’ Most of my income over the past decade has come from photography: I’m a promotional and production photographer for Melbourne’s theatre and performance industry. Or at least, I am when the entire industry hasn’t been shattered by a global pandemic. You know how it is.
How did it become your focus and why do you love it?
I feel like whenever I read an interview with a photographer, they’ve got a story about how they got their first camera from their grandpa, and grew up with it glued to their face. Not me: I became a photographer more or less by accident. I was an actor when I was young, and once I started university I almost immediately started spending all of my time at the student theatre instead of attending my law lectures (the legal profession is not missing out, I’m telling you right now. I was terrible at it).
Nobody was shooting the shows at the time, so I hauled my clunky little camera along and started taking photos. Soon enough, the ratio of calls I was getting about acting vs photography started tipping towards the latter, and before I knew it, I was running a business.
I can be easily bored, and working in the performance sector means that every day is different, often in wonderful and complex ways. There’s a lot of exciting problem solving. One day it’s promo shots for a camp queer production of Dracula; the next it’s sliding around a theatre with a pair of kneepads shooting a six-hour musical, or brewing fake blood on the kitchen stove, or taking serious, professional headshots of a festival director. It’s always vibrant, and I’m surrounded by passionate creatives pushing the edges of their practice outwards.
Sarah Walker in GI Jane/Space Oddity (edition of 2 + AP), 2019 by Sarah Walker
Apart from photography, what else do you do?
Quite a few things! My art practice involves my own work and collaborations. I work with video, sound and text, to try to figure out surprising ways to approach death, disaster and catastrophe. That might look like an immersive binaural sound walk set in a futuristic, speculative version of Melbourne, or making a comedic video will to show how euphemistically we talk about dying, or making a seven metre wide text piece that you need a UV torch to see. I often collaborate with festival makers or theatre folk. At the moment, I’m working on an epic video installation in Queenstown, Tasmania, and a performance piece for one human and 48 iPads.
I’m also a writer and critic. I write creative nonfiction about bodies and how unpredictable they are, and how we might learn to be kinder to them.
‘The First Time I thought I was Dying’, 2021 by Sarah Walker
Your debut essay collection ‘The First Time I thought I was Dying’ came out recently. Can you please tell us more about it? What was your experience in its’ publication.
It’s a collection of eight essays about how the world tells us we should be constantly in control of ourselves, but our bodies and minds have other ideas. There’s writing about body image and Photoshop, phobias and religion, sex scenes and onstage violence, death and grief. It’s funny and honest, and it tries to figure out how we might learn to embrace our own chaos.
'a good example of how even if
something doesn’t seem to be worthwhile at the time,
you never know who might remember you.'
I’ve been very fortunate in my dealings with my publisher. My work was passed onto her when I (unsuccessfully) entered a writing prize some years ago — a good example of how even if something doesn’t seem to be worthwhile at the time, you never know who might remember you. She got in touch and suggested I put together a book pitch. I’ve been so supported throughout the experience. They’ve been very patient with my many naïve questions about the publishing industry!
Do you plan on doing more books in the future? What is your next project?
I’m currently working on a collection of short apocalyptic fiction called ‘The Part Where We Panic’, that slowly unravels into a metatextual mess about writing, imagining disaster and preparing for the future. It’s a bit bonkers, but I’m having a great time feeling my way through it.
Sarah in her Amygdala Top
This is a hard question. From your Writing, Art and Photography, Can you please tell us your favourite piece from each category? And tell us why, please!
Writing: The book just came out in early August, so that’s definitely a current winner. It’s been so thrilling to see it out in the world, and to have people — strangers! — reading it, responding to it, and finding resonances with their own lives in it. That’s been just the most extraordinary experience.
Art: I have made several site-specific audio pieces that are designed to be heard in the place that they were recorded, which overlay a fictional future narrative over the existing space. I recently went for a walk around my neighbourhood and listened to several, and they work fairly well even outside their physical contexts. I made ‘Surface Creep’ at a college campus in Singapore, but I’d recommend doing it wherever you are: go for a walk, wear headphones and ignore the instructions to turn left and right. The strange intrusion of a future world of infinite sand still feels a bit magical and unsettling.
I also worked on a project last year called Dark Talk Time, which was a phone-based piece. Strangers called in for a hosted conversation about life, change and being human. It was such a beautiful project to take us through last year’s lockdown, and we’re bringing it back in September. If anyone is feeling desperate for a conversation with depth and beauty (and that that isn’t about the pandemic!), and for intimate connection with a stranger, you can book via the website.
Photography: In 2019, I worked with my friend Fleur on a series called ‘Conversations with Landscapes’, looking at anthropomorphism and settler habits of relating to the land. I shot a series of tongue-in-cheek images of landscapes in Colac, Victoria and Springbrook, QLD, using the conventions of portraiture. I came across them again recently. They still make me giggle.
‘Conversations with Landscapes’, 2019 by Sarah & Fleur
Aside from our gratification of all the positive things in our lives, the world is not exactly kind to live in at the moment. How do you cope with it and can you suggest some books or activities to do in lockdown.
It is a rough time, isn’t it! I keep thinking about a recent Instagram caption from artist Hayley Millar Baker. In it, she wrote ‘We are in lockdown 6, and I’m doing the minimum. I’m not a minimum person.’
I’ve spent so many years being incredibly mobile, working on dozens of things simultaneously. Every time there’s a lockdown, all of my paid work slams to a halt. I’m learning, slowly, to have very small goals for each day: to exercise, to write 1000 words, and to cook a good meal. Everything else is a bonus. I’m very fortunate in that I’m eligible for government support, and I don’t have the stress of having to entertain children in lockdown. Our quiet house is a real blessing.
Sarah in her Amygdala Dress
I’m cooking a lot of Hetty McKinnon at the moment. Her shoyu ramen is super easy, and enormously comforting. I’ve also discovered a great food site called Leviathan Food. Unlike most other recipe blogs, they don’t tell you the life story of their great aunt before they’ll tell you how much rice you need. Their charred leeks with Romanesco sauce is incredibly tasty.
Shoyu Ramen by Hetty McKinnon
I’m also trying to undo the habit of cynicism, because god knows, we could all use a bit of enthusiasm. I have been unashamedly enjoying Youtube workouts hosted by extremely perky Americans. Sometimes they tell you to give yourself a high five, and I always do it, and you know what? I always feel a bit better.
I’ve also overcome my millennial hatred of phone calls — why did I ever hate phone calls? — and have been going on long walks while nattering to a friend. That’s been really lovely, and isn’t exhausting in the way a Zoom call is. Having the voice of a loved one in your ear, getting some sun and air. It’s been good.
Sarah in her Amygdala Top
You are a lover of Perple’s Amygdalas - You own both Amygdala Dress and Amygdala Top - Please tell us why you love those pieces?
I have a large tattoo across my chest and stomach, and I often joke that not nearly enough people get to appreciate how well done it is, because it’s always hidden under clothes. When I first saw the Amygdala Dress, I couldn’t believe that you’d made a garment that so perfectly shows it off! It feels like it was designed just for me!
I love Perple’s architectural forms — I don’t know any other brands that design with such attention to detail. You balance bold structure with delicate details so beautifully. I love how the cutouts in the Amygdala Dress echo the shape of the sleeves, and then the back slit is a surprise: a totally different line, all angular. I love that the Amygdala Top looks quite demure from the front, and is all party in the back. I love the hint of sparkle in the fabric.
I bought the Dress a year in advance of my book launch, and even though I didn’t get to wear it in person, when I logged onto the Zoom call, the first thing that the host said was ‘Whoa, you’re gonna need to stand up so I can see that amazing dress.’ I feel like such a rockstar in these clothes!
Sarah in her Amygdala Dress
Lastly, Can you please tell us your current favourite books/music/films/small businesses/intagram accounts, so we can go check them out and support?
Okay, here are some things that have given me joy in the last little while:
Book: ‘The Remains of the Day’ by Kazuo Ishiguro. Shout out to the nice man at the bookshop on my street for urging me to read this. Recommended if you like ‘Downton Abbey’ and also having your heart broken. The narrator is an English butler working as his profession slowly becomes irrelevant, and the spare prose is so funny, and then so, so devastating. When I finished reading it, I just stared into space with a thunderstruck expression for about ten minutes before I could move. It was extraordinary.
Film: ‘The American Astronaut’, by Cory McAbee. A space Western musical? Shot in black and white? Mostly as an excuse for some absolutely ridiculous songs? YES. Sometimes, you need to watch something that was made for almost no money, with almost no crew, to remind yourself that parameters on art can be freeing, not just constricting.
Poem: ‘The Glass Poem’ by Anne Carson. In the wake of a breakup, Carson goes to visit her mother on the Canadian moors and writes about desperation, longing and Emily Brontë. More of a lyric essay than a poem, it’s stunning. Reading about her moving from a place of shock into life again is a good reminder, in this weird time, of how everything changes, even grief.
Song: ‘Slow Mover’ by Angie McMahon. Sultry banger about big things taking time. Terrific stuff.
Instagram follow: Pier Carthew is a Melbourne-based photographer whose still life and architectural photography make me swoon every. single. time. I had to stop myself from flooding every post with effusive responses because I felt like a creep. Do yourself a favour and follow his gorgeous, calm photos.
Bonus point for: Mike Greaney, whose comics are full of joy and depth and a bloody smart eye for the crevices in Australian culture. Also happens to be my partner, v. handsome, etc.
Thanks very much Sarah for your time!