Interview with Tanya Ahmed

New York based Photographer Tanya Ahmed  answers questions about her inspiration and artistic method.


SG: What first drew you to photography—and how did you discover it?

TA: Sitting on the floor of the library  with a book age 13, researching into a career as a journalist, I came across a section on photography. From that moment I knew that I would pursue photography instead. I had already used the family Brownie, Polaroid and 126, but my father got me a present of a used SLR camera and I began my education in photography at school & college.


SG: How do you choose the subject matter for each project? Is it a single image that sparks a project or do you slowly build up a collection of photographs and go from there?

TA: Usually the subject matter chooses me, by drawing my attention repeatedly. As I begin to photograph it becomes clearer what I am looking at. For example my project El Barrio was originally started in black and white, I was concerned with texture, materials and structures but I quickly switched to colour. The essence of El Barrio was in the wonderful colours and I hadn’t understood or recognized that, until I started photographing.


SG: When you are out shooting—how much of it is instinctual versus planned?

 TA: Often I don’t know where a project will end up, so I just start and see what happens. In Reading I was looking for specific sites I had photographed in the 1980s, the gates just kept creeping in, I was surprised, I hadn’t noticed them when I had been there before. I found them attractive with their individual styles and textures, so very alien to where I live now, maybe that's why I noticed them this time. They also seemed organic and gently protective rather than offensive and repelling like the gates found around newly built gated compounds.


SG: Where do you get your inspiration from? Can you talk about your ideas and how they evolve?

TA: I get my inspiration from the urban environment around me. The material structures that burn themselves into our subconcious. We walk past them to go to work or the shops, staring at them without really seeing them when we look out of the bus or car window. Some aspect will just jump out at me.


SG: How would you describe your work?

 TA: A discovery of the delights of the ordinary. Usually serendipitous. A bit autobiographical too.

 SG: What art movements do you identify your practice with, and are there any texts you have read that have been inspirational to your practice?

TA: Modernist, architectural, abstract, documentary and street photography have all informed my work. I get inspiration from good writing. Colson Whitehead’s book,The Colossus of New York:  A city in thirteen parts, is the best explanation of New York I have ever read and explains why I photograph it. Photographer Robert Adam’s book Why People Photograph and Geoff Dyer’s The Ongoing Moment are both thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening. Finally, Martin Parr and Gerry Badger’s ThePhotobook: A History Vol. 1 & 2- what a labour of love, as is Parr’s enthusiasm for photography generally,


SG: What are you working on at the moment?

 TA: I spent the summer going back to the beginning of my photography training and career by photographing in the same geographical area that I walked and photographed in when I went to college 3 decades ago! (The Newtown area of East Reading). It’s been interesting to dip into my archive and reconnect with it. I may do some more of that and I still have lots of New York City to photograph - I don’t think I’ll ever be done with that!


SG: Is there a specific theme or concept you keep in all of your work or does it change with each series?

 TA: All of my imagery revolves around my personal exposure to the urban environment. The style of photography changes as needed by the specific site and its aura. 


SG: Which artists do you admire?

TA: Bill Brandt and David Bailey (NW1) are perhaps my all time favourites. Idris Khan my current favourite. Others that I always enjoy are: Henry Moore, Alberto Giacommetti, David Hockney, Jasper Johns, Michael Wolf, Laura Letinsky, Todd Hido and of course Eugene Atget.


SG: Are you a part of any artists groups or organisations that have been beneficial (to your work in general or career as an artist)?

TA: I am a member of professional Women Photographers in NYC and am currently doing an MA with the Open College of the Arts, (based in Barnsley) the diversely talented cohort are hugely inspirational. 


SG: If you could own one work of art what would it be?

 TA:  If only one? Maybe something that a friend had made for me. If we are looking to the famous - a photograph of buildings in London by Bill Brandt or David Bailey or maybe a curvy sculpture by Henry Moore that I could run my hand over repeatedly. I just acquired a digital version of an Idris Khan artwork, it might be nice to have an actual photograph of his too.


SG: What do you want your viewers to take away from your work?

 TA: An encouragement to see something new and amazing in the environment.

View Tanya Ahmed's work