Painting with light

Published:  April 22, 2010
Painting with light

There are many words you could use to describe the photographic creations of Alexia Sinclair. Stunning. Breathtaking. Inspiring. Yet none of these really sum up, in just the right way, the kind of gentle ‘butterflies fluttering in your stomach’ feeling that washes over you when taking in each piece.

Mythology and the old master painters are an obvious influence in Sinclair’s work, and her subjects are often lit so as to suggest the light is seeking them out, or that an inner glow radiates from their magnificent facades.

This June Alexia Sinclair will be one of the nine speakers taking the stage at Semi-Permanent in Brisbane, and let me tell you attendees – you’re in for a treat. To give you a peek into what you can expect at Semi-Permanent, we took a moment to catch Alexia in between shoots to ask her a few questions.


How did you get into the picture taking business?
Growing up, my parents were really into the arts and I was privileged to go to the ballet and art exhibitions. They loved travel and photography and printing their own prints in a darkroom. I had a camera by about ten and for my eighteenth birthday, I got my first SLR. I was always creative but photography was the tool that worked best for me. I’ve always said that my camera is my paintbrush and my computer screen, my canvas.


What sort of set-up are you using now equipment wise and what set up are you running for post-production work?
My current series is all shot on my H1 Hasselblad. I take it travelling with me as well as shooting my characters in the studio. It’s quite nerve-racking climbing the Himalayas with a Macbook pro and Blad on your back! When shooting I download to my Macbook and in the digital studio, I work on a beefy PC (horror!) that I have revamped once a year and an EIZO screen. Of course, once can’t survive without CS4 and a Wacom stylus.


What’s your studio space like?
It’s a cave… My digital studio houses two computer tables, two computers, two screens, and typically, two people. Too many hard drives, a filing cabinet and loads of books and magazines in a large library.


How much work typically takes place in post-production on your images?
I do a great deal of manipulation to my photographs. In the end, every single pixel in my image is manipulated and they are very much like a painting. I also illustrate throughout artworks, most noticeably, I illustrate many of the fantasy hairdos of my characters. My more complex artworks combine hundreds of photographic layers along with illustration.


You seem to have a fascination with mythology, fairy tales and nobility – where does this come from?
I’m a storyteller. My work always has a narrative. I almost always start a series with a framework that’s already developed in history or fantasy – something that’s familiar to us all. I’m interested in characters from history and I love to study their lives, their literature and their portraits.


Can you tell us about your ‘Regal Twelve’ series? How did this come together and what inspired it (besides the obvious of course!)?
I won a travelling scholarship whist doing my honours in Fine Art and decided to take this trip during first semester of my Masters. The scholarship was basically enough for a ticket to New York and accommodation in a hostel in Harlem! I saved my pennies and also won another Masters scholarship and extended my trip to five months shooting through Europe for my Masters series. Originally I was shooting architecture for an Escher-inspired digital montage. However, I come from a family of historians and with every château I visited, I keep hearing about incredible female rulers who weren’t the typical handful of Queens we hear of. Something else that struck me that that very few of the portraits represented the women in life, rather they were historical retouching and beautified versions of these women, Dorian Grey portraits filled to the brim with symbols and motifs that suggested strength and virtue and motherhood. I thought a contemporary version of this, inline with our contemporary notion of fashion, beauty and power, would make a wonderful Masters series. It truly was something I could sink my teeth into!


Are you currently working on a new series?
Yes, I’m working on a series called ‘The Royal Dozen’ – a series of twelve noble men, mirroring the themes of the series ‘The Regal Twelve’. In the same vein, I’m interested in producing works of some of the less celebrated and less obvious rulers of our past. Yes we have glorious warlords and famous peacocks but you can rest assured I’ll have some men who will make your toenails curl too! This series is booked to open in a new group show at the Australian Centre for Photography in Christmas 2010-2011.


How long would the shoots for these take to set up and how much time would you need to spend in post-production?
The series ‘The Regal Twelve’ took three years to produce because it was my Master of Fine Arts series and included a 22,000 word thesis, all of the illustration and postproduction and I not only styled and shot all of the characters but I also travelled the world shooting the backgrounds for this.

My NZ Opera campaign is an example of artworks with a much faster turnaround. I received my first email three weeks before the shoot, and my shoot and post on this series was closer to a fortnight for the two images.


And any final words… ?
I’d love to mention my blog on my website so that people can check out what I’m up to from time to time. I’m working on documenting some of my processes behind my current series of Kings and have also uploaded a ‘behind the scenes’ video from ‘Macbeth’ including all the postproduction. I hope you enjoy!

3 Responses

  1. JR

    Simply amazing and downright inspirational! Blown away!

  2. Nice web video! I was just wondering if you used after effects? Great work!

  3. Anna

    Awful-overworked and tacky!

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