Introducing 1854’s Fast Track Vol. 2 winners: Jessica Ledwich, Susan Richman and Samira Saidi

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1854’s FastTrack programme promotes fresh, unsigned talent in the commercial sphere. Three of this year’s winners discuss mental health, memory and visualising emotional experiences

The 39-year-old Jessica Ledwich describes her visual style as full of, “super-saturated, lush and sensual images that are two parts cheeky and one part provocative.” It’s no wonder, then, that one of the Melbourne-based photographer’s favourite commissions is the richly-lit and textural campaign she shot for the Australian adult store, Passionfruit. “It was challenging working with personal pleasure toys,” she says. “But I think the key to translating your vision into commissioned work is to understand how to turn an emotional experience into a visual one, through the language you speak as a photographer.”

As a winner of 1854’s second and most recent FastTrack programme – an initiative launched earlier this year to find and support fresh, unsigned talent – Ledwich was selected to have her work championed amongst talent representatives, advertising agencies and brands at LE BOOK Connections Europe and throughout 1854’s global network. Beginning her career working as a stylist and a model, it was only later that Ledwich moved behind the camera. She traced a path through fashion photography before finding her creative groove in the realm of staged still life.

© Jessica Ledwich.
© Jessica Ledwich.

“Flowers are beautiful and seductive – they symbolise love, desire, fertility, death – but they also have openings, and from a biological point of view they are sex organs. They offer endless playful opportunities.”

– Jessica Ledwich

Much of Ledwich’s work draws from themes of perversity and pleasure, finding a productive tension in the space between desire and taboo. In her personal project Monstrous Feminine, for instance, she explores, “the modern cultural obsession with physical appearance,” through absurd scenes of domestic bliss given a dark and horror-tinged twist. Meanwhile in Messy Beautiful, she ruminates on collective shame and desire through sticky, juicy shots of petals, liquids and suggestively-covered body parts. In all of her work, she says, flowers are important motifs. “Flowers are beautiful and seductive – they symbolise love, desire, fertility, death – but they also have openings, and from a biological point of view they are sex organs,” she says. “They offer endless playful opportunities.”

© Susan Richman.

The symbolic potential of flowers has also been a recurring interest for New York-based Susan Richman, another photographer from this edition’s FastTrack roster. Her latest series, titled Jenga, sees intricate assemblages of petals and insects stacked up under multiple layers of glass, and photographed. “I was inspired by Victorian Memento Mori, which were photos that exquisitely posed a deceased, beloved family member in their finest clothes and surrounded by their favourite objects,” she says. “With each photo, I am honouring and memorialising insects and other small animals whose troubling decline makes their recognition important.” 

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, Richman formed a lasting connection to nature and the environment. After a stint working as a commercial photographer, she switched gears and, “evolved into an artist,” primarily exploring the links between existence, decay and loss. Many of her projects push the boundaries of photography too, including Ephemeral, an alluring series of image-sculptures. “My technique involved mixing chemicals to water, adding dyes, melting the layers and edges of the objects and breaking and refreezing the layers to create imperfect shapes and ranges of colour that I then photographed on a light box,” she says.

Richman is now working on a new series, Augur, which she describes as, “a reaction to the staggering loss of nearly three billion birds in North America since 1970.” An Augur was a soothsayer in ancient Rome who was charged with interpreting omens for the public. “According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology director John W. Fitzpatrick, ‘declines in bird as well as insect populations are an omen that the very fabric of North America’s ecosystem is unraveling’,” she says. “Using the same techniques discovered while producing Jenga, Augur memorialises the loss of our bird and small animal population by creating fantasy environments for them to live in.”

© Susan Richman.

Another of Volume. 2’s selectees is 26-year-old Samira Saidi. She places portraiture and stories of human connection at the heart of her vision. “I often find myself returning to questions of belonging – physically and mentally,” she says. “As well as topics that are affecting my life right now.”

Born to an Austrian mother and a Ghanian father and growing up in Vienna, Saidi remembers being very aware of how white, conservative and Catholic her surroundings were when she was younger. “I was always eager to find ‘my people’,” she says. “This longing not only shaped me but also my artistic work.” Now based in Accra, she finally feels that she has found home.

“It began with my own scream for help. A scream that was silenced with the words ‘Samira, you are African. We Africans do not need therapy. We do not have these Western issues.’ This was the point where I realised the stigma around mental health in West African countries.”

Samira Saidi

© Samira Saidi.

Unafraid to tackle complex subjects, Saidi explores mental health in her most recent project, Ecosystems of Healing. “It began with my own scream for help,” she says. “A scream that was silenced with the words ‘Samira, you are African. We Africans do not need therapy. We do not have these Western issues.’ This was the point where I realised the stigma around mental health in West African countries.” In muted shades of blue, brown and green, Saidi feels around the topic through portraits of her friends shot against a coastal backdrop, their painted faces and homemade masks representing ideas of hiding and alienation.

Saidi is now working on a project about her emotional response to 19th century French paintings of Black women. She continues to seek out interesting stories, with a focus on the lived experiences of people of colour. Meanwhile, she says, she is continuing her studies in Applied Human Rights, finding ways to use the power of photography in that field too.

Joanna Cresswell

Joanna L. Cresswell is a writer and editor based in Brighton. She has written on photography and culture for over 40 international magazines and journals, and held positions as editor for organisations including The Photographers' Gallery, Unseen Amsterdam and Self Publish, Be Happy. She recently completed an MA in comparative literature and criticism at Goldsmiths College, University of London