Same Same would be nothing without our talented team of contributors. We’re paying homage to our most dedicated and talented photographers in our Same Same’s Shooting Stars series. The next photographer in the spotlight is Melbourne’s Alison Bennett, better known as Alleykat.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a middle aged mother of two! I work five jobs and am grateful that they all deal with the creative industries and photography. I’ve recently started teaching digital photo media at university and I love it! I feel incredibly passionate about giving students intellectual and technical access to a cultural medium that I adore. In addition to the queer scene and performance photography, my main focus is on photography as a visual art form. I currently have works in the group exhibition ‘Surveying the Field’ at Counihan Gallery until 16 August.
When and why did you first pick up a camera?
The first time I handled a camera was first year at art school in the 1980s. I think I had decided to major in photography already but it was seeing William Yang’s work that made me seriously want to be a photographer.
What is the best event you have ever shot?
The JD Samson gig 9 January this year was very special. There was an amazing energy in the room. Ellen, the organiser, commented that I managed to capture sense of stillness. We felt privileged to be there.
I also loved the zombie shuffle on Halloween last year. I felt like a ten year old – the most fun I have every had sober with my clothes on!
What is the worst gig you have ever shot?
Well, there was one gig where I felt like “why the f*ck am I doing this?” ... I don’t really want to go into it. Amongst a number of negative things that happened that night I had somebody approach me to say that they wanted me to remove a photograph from the public realm.
I actually learnt a lot from that experience – it prompted me to get advice from the Arts Law Centre on the legal foundations of doing scene photography but I also realised that despite my legal right to use the photograph, that I respected the feelings of my subjects and would do whatever it took to consider their feelings. Indeed, the trust of my subjects is one of my most valuable assets. If the community did not know that they could trust me, I could not continue to make images of this amazing scene.
What’s the best thing you’ve gotten out of your photography?
Umm, so much. Encounters with so many different people and places. It’s a passport and a shield. It allows me to communicate what I see and feel
What would be your number one tip for aspiring photographers/artists?
Indulge your passions and have faith in your aspirations.
Try not to conform to cliché – develop your own personal vision that resonates with your personality. Project your consciousness through the camera. Take photographs with your heart. Learn how to shoot in RAW files!
What kind of feedback have you received about your photography?
This very sweet woman told me that she had never before felt good about her appearance until she had seen my photographs of her, that they had changed the way she viewed and experienced herself. Indeed, she was getting quite a lot of attention from girls who recognised her from my scene photographs!
I sometimes tease people that I photograph the inner person and I do actually believe that everyone is beautiful. I feel enormously proud when people trust me to take their photo. I had a boy approach me at Fag Tag who let me know that he was amazed that he felt comfortable about my taking his photograph. It’s more than just the technical knowledge and equipment. As I have said to Melbourne Editor Travis de Jonk, good photographs are taken with your heart. You have to be open to making an instant connection and placing the camera in that process.
What inspired you to put together your book Alleykat 08?
It actually arose from a request from Travis to select 10 images for the SNAP exhibition during Midsumma this year. It prompted me to dig back through my photos for the year and realised that I had a substantial body of work. Choosing just ten was too hard so I decided to try out one of the online publishing services that have sprung up on the internet.
I made it initially to give as a thank you to the performers and promoters who have allowed me to stick my camera in their faces. For me, scene photography requires a weird combination of trust and bloody mindedness. Indeed, initially I found the women’s scene quite tough to break into – to get people to trust me. Now I get more complaints when I don’t take somebody’s photo! I am actually quite shy and sensitive but I find myself driven and compelled to photograph what I feel is this amazing cultural moment. The vitality and diversity of the Melbourne queer girls’ scene is continuing to grow.
Looking back over the year’s work, I recognise people who are now good friends. They are no longer faces in the crowd but fully formed people with personal histories and relationships. Indeed, one of the remarkable responses to the book is the excitement of people at seeing themselves, their friends and their community reflected in print.
What are some of the favourite photos in the book?
I’m very proud of my photographs of Crystal Love. She is so awesome. And Rabbit Hutch is a remarkable subject and a great performer, I’m a fan. But one photograph that has received a lot of response of the one of the woman dancing at SpeigelBent. I have not been able to track her down. I know the two boys in the background but I still don’t know who she is! She is so awesome – strong and beautiful.