Rebecca Freemantle’s photography is a world you want to jump into. Her work oscillates gracefully between unadulterated candidness, touching intimacy and a certain brand of cheeky hilarity. Chance and flexibility are her truest partners; she rarely plans her shoots and isn’t afraid of capturing the messy bits. The dreamy palettes and saturation offer an element of nostalgia, which is heightened by her technical mastery of film. Shameless and without passing judgement, her photographs capture what it’s like to live without tip-toeing.
Underneath the aesthetics of youth, Rebecca uses her work to cope with the uncertainties of life and loss, describing her photographs as evidence — a collection of unfortunate events, an antidote to forgetting, and at times, a way to memorialize. These sentiments can be felt often within her photographs, something so endearing one can’t help but feel it
Hi Rebecca! Tell me a bit about how you got into photography. Do you remember the first picture you took?
I began using digital and would add fake grain on them! I started shooting on cheap disposable cameras at parties and they were honestly awful. It’s a terrible story so I’ll stop there.
Did you study any photographers or artists in school when you were younger who influenced your practice?
There is a three-and-a-half minute scene within Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present performance at MoMA in 2010 that I touch base with every couple of months, for the backstory behind her and Ulay’s older performance peice(s), which are beautifully vulnerable. Artistically, I mainly explored collage as a medium when I was younger and began to see everything fragmented into basic forms. I had a project where I wanted to collage my brother Matthew but needed to photograph headshot of him first. He was five at the time and started to cry (Sorry!) which threw me a bit off guard, but they became the images I used. It worked out really well. My dad didn’t really understand a crying collage of my brother, but oh well.
Cape Town is very different from London, where you’re now based. I imagine this change of pace influenced your work as well.
I’m a bit contradictory in that I like to work both quickly and slowly. Cape Town offers this space of being able to plan ideas out over months which is lovely, except people get lazy, bored or the process drags itself out. I find most spaces have been reused photographically and that it has become harder to escape certain types of aesthetics on offer, so I have a lot of respect for all the new content I see coming out of Cape Town. The grey skies here in London project a sort of eerie light over an image, which in return saturates colors and is really special. I’m more on par with the pace here for sure.
I love your work for it’s unabashed, in-the-moment qualities. A lot of your shots reflect the indeterminacy and excitement of young adult life, victories and mistakes alike. Is this something you actively try to capture? Almost like a record of avant-garde living?
That’s lovely to hear, so thank you. Parts certainly stem from a fear of forgetfulness, but I’m not really too sure how to classify what I photograph. If this is any substance of an example, the other night I spilt soup all over my laptop and instead of cleaning it up, I grabbed my camera and photographed it. In doing do, I knocked over a glass and photographed that too. My life can sometimes feel like a series of unfortunate events and for reasons unknown, it feels good having tangible evidence of it. Nothing is ever really planned unless it’s for a publication, etc., but even then themes alway seem to come on a whim.
Some photographers swear by the phrase “Don’t think, just shoot.” Do you agree with that?
I guess so. I’ve wasted a lot of film on stupid things over the years and used to criticize myself merely for how much I paid for rolls and their development. There’s a folder on my laptop called ‘fucked up film’ and I’ve really come to love and utilize it, so I guess this has subconsciously applied itself.
So tell me about your first project, Beauty is a Funny Thing.
Beauty is a Funny Thing is an extremely personal, melancholic insight into the preceding events of my mother’s suicide last August. I begin and end two pages of text with the title and discuss the disconnect between two halves of beauty: the aesthetic half which we commonly associate with the word; and beauty’s deeper, emotional context. That’s followed by a thirty-six page series of images. Despite the extreme love and support I received and am forever grateful for, it acts as a catharsis from a very tender and authentic place.
And your second project features young women in their rooms and explores a coming-of-age theme of living away from home. Does it feel different shooting people in their own curated environments as opposed to shooting people and things you see in public spaces?
This was a super interesting project. I went to Finland for a month in December and arrived home to realize our first apartment in London had been robbed. I became fascinated with sentimentality and the differences in how people live. A handful of friends had recently moved to London from Cape Town, and I developed a book around a photographic series documenting the way women live when curating a temporary scene for themselves. It goes without saying that there are multi-faceted differences between the presentation of public and private spaces.
What are you up to now?
I just finished co-art directing a music video for London-based producer Tony Njoku and am about to begin another for an extremely talented friend of mine, JoJo Keiper. I run an online visual platform (rlfartists.com) cultivating profiles and works of artists, photographers, art directors and designers within creative industries. This is a fairly new venture, but an exhibition for September in East London, in collaboration with art director Bior Elliot, is in the mix.
Images courtesy of Rebecca Freemantle
interview SARAH CARTER