Soraya Jansen is a photographer who studied Fine Art Photography at the Glasgow School of Art. Her work as been featured in Contributor Magazine and TRIP Mag. Her most recent photo series was taken in Summer 2016, where she was invited to assist Indonesian artist arahmaiani in Tibet. Most of the photos capture the Chinese occupation of Tibet through the Tibetans taking part in a Chinese celebration, illustrating the various forms the occupation took and takes on today.
Can you describe your photographic process?
I'm not the type to carry my camera around on a day to day basis, I usually only shoot when I'm travelling and it's with my Contax t2. Shooting and processing film is so expensive that I only take a photograph when I feel the moment is there; which makes it much more special in my opinion than aimlessly shooting
Can you tell us more about your photo series on Tibet and how it's a departure from your earlier photography?
My earlier work was a very personal exploration of the 'non-place' and my subjects were mainly spaces lacking human presence. But now in the past year where there is such a divide between cultures and people, I feel it is my duty (as a child from both the east as the west) to express the issues of the marginalised; whether it's Muslim women protesting in Malaysia or the perseverance of the Tibetan plateau & nomadic culture.
You touch upon the Chinese occupation, particularly upon Tibetan culture, how does your series deal with this?
I travelled to Tibet not as a tourist but to assist an Indonesian artist called Arahmaiani, who has been making environmental work there for the last 5 years. I was very lucky to have had this experience as normally a foreigner is only allowed to visit Tibet through a travel agency with an already planned itinerary- and only in Lhasa. However I was in Yushu, a part of Tibet that got horribly damaged by an earthquake, and the monastery/village I was in (where most of those photographs were shot) was 2.5 hours away and so remote that you can't locate it on google maps. it was beautiful. It was so immensely spiritual- I just felt such an energy being there so high up in the mountains that I forgot about the horrendous past the monks and Tibetan people went through, which is still happening today. I'm still in the process of editing a mini- documentary I shot there focusing on the situation in detail, the work that Arahmaiani has been doing there regarding the nomadic culture and the environmental impact that has also had on the rest of Asia, because I think Arahmaiani's work there is such an inspiring footstep for other young artists to follow!
Given the photos' perspective (as an onlooker from the crowd), would you say your role as a photographer is in this series, are you attempting to maintain a distanced, objective documentarian role or is there another angle you are taking on?
I was trying to look at this issue from the least subjective way possible, while simultaneously taking in one of the most surreal moments of my life. I was attempting to capture this experience through the eyes of an outsider unbiased to the Tibetan situation, which is such a touchy subject- and I think it's shown really well in my series: the awkwardness of Tibetans taking part in a Chinese celebration (children's day) where the children had to give speeches and sing songs in Chinese (since the Chinese occupation, Tibetan language culture and history is not taught in schools, which is worrying to the older generation as tradition is such a big part of Tibetan culture). At the end of this parade the lama made a very long speech in Tibetan which was such a beautiful reminder for the young to preserve their heritage and culture.
Do you have any favorite photographers right now?
Martin Paar has always been my favourite photographer and biggest inspiration from his style to composition, but to be honest I’m looking more at female artists now like Rummana Hussein, Arahmaiani, Lee Bul who all have used photography in their practice to document their performances
Any photo series in the works that we should be on the lookout for?
Yes! My biggest conflict with being both a model and a creative is that I am always portraying someone else's version of myself, and somehow along the way I feel as if my work as a model doesn't depict my truest self, which I can change through simply using my body in my own work. So I'm currently working on a series of self portraits exploring the idea of the veil which I'm very excited about.
Images courtesy of Soraya Jansen
words PERWANA NAZIF