Denisha Anderson is a Photographer and Director from London, currently living in Amsterdam. We find out what sparked the photography project Transformation; an intimate look at the daily lives of two transwomen sex workers and finding beauty in the everyday.
I studied film production and graduated in 2010. I was working on a variety of music videos and films but after a long slug I wasn’t really getting anywhere. I was tired of the sexism. When it came to handling equipment it was “I’ll hold it for you love” and I got bored of it really, it became creatively frustrating. After 5 years in London I was making documentaries, I emailed 40 companies and I ended up getting an internship as a production assistant.
How’s life in Amsterdam?
It’s different, in London I’m not networking. Whereas here you have to start it. With networking I’m just trying to keep it simple, some people are pushy and when you do that you don’t gain anything from it. For me it’s a merge of being conscious and casual. Whether I’m here or in London I always take people’s numbers, I have about 40 business cards at home but with numbers I actually call them.
Everything I’m doing right now is brand new. From living by myself, to living in a new country. Previously I was in feature films but now I’m moving into still photography. However my long term goal is to become a creative producer alongside photography and when I’m 45 / 50 I want to be shooting for National Geographic.
Thanks for sharing your photos of “Transformation” with us, what sparked the project idea?
What sparked this idea was a friend of mine who is a qualified anthropologist met her now good friend 10yrs ago in Brazil while she done field research on transgender sex workers and she was one of them. She then asked me to photograph her and her friends as part of an event she was having in Amsterdam which focussed on positive images of sex, and what masculinity and femininity meant.
You exhibited this work in Amsterdam, what was the response? And did any responses surprise you?
The title of this project is called "Transformation" and it focused on two transwomen sex workers, but their job or their transition wasn't the focus, I wanted to show not a man or woman but a person living & doing the normal things we do everyday at home.
Reactions were really positive, some were touched and identified with my subjects not necessarily as trans, but feeling as an outcast, having hardships from a different place and trying to integrate in a new country as well as just struggling with being their true selves in society. This was great to hear as I wanted to achieve a level of connection.
What was your experience in finding people willing to participate?
They were more than willing to participate, however it was challenging at times as I only had one evening so to gain their trust and comfortability, to kind of ignore me, which was difficult at times. There were moments when she didn’t want the camera near her at all and other times she would play up and pose for me.
Did you have an overall objective with the exhibition, or aim with this project?
As mentioned above I wanted to keep it simple, just show people living, I wanted to break down stereotypes and negative connotations towards those from poorer countries, those who are in the sex trade and those who are transgender. It’s a big subject and to deliver in a small series of pictures was a challenge as looking at people at home could be a really mundane exhibit but I think it worked in the end.
“I wanted to break down stereotypes and negative connotations”
Is it an ongoing project? and do you have anything coming up or a particular project you would like to work on?
It’s not on going but I would like to follow up at some point later whether it be the same individuals or different ones, maybe a younger crowd but that won't be for now. My focus now is on my next project; is a 3 part series which I'm in the middle of researching and developing. It’s focussed around women and sex, I can't say anymore than that at this stage I'm afraid but stay tuned!
You founded the event The Forum, can you tell us more?
I have talks as well as events. It’s good to just have a conversation on what we can relate to. I have held one with all women from different parts of the industry – a musician, a writer, Director etc. and it was there to empower people and let people know what it’s like in the industry; i.e this is what I’m doing, this is how I got here and this is where I’m going. Just to say ‘look you can do this as well’ and it’s nice to see black women, in front talking to an audience of black people, as well as white people as well as mixed race, indian people etc. just encouraging each other. It’s really important for me, so I did the same thing after that with all men. I had the creators of Roll Safe and Ivanno Jeremiah – an actor in Human’s on Channel 4 and it was really important for again my panel to all be black, and to be black intelligent men. We don’t celebrate that enough, and I don’t mean we as black people but the media. I’m trying to just keep moving in that momentum and look at what people are doing and get them involved.
Would you take The Forum to Amsterdam?
I would love to but I think I need to concentrate on me or just London, I don’t want to spread myself too thin. You have to keep on pushing and watching someone else is your own worst enemy. The thing is everybody knows it but we all still do it, that’s the worse thing.
“Watching someone else is your own worst enemy”
I am guilty of it.
I’m so guilty of it. I did it about two weeks ago, who am I fooling I did it about two days ago!
My friends are just killing it with what their doing. Being Directors, travelling around the world, I rate them! But I had that moment where I thought ‘why me’ but I’m over it now.
But then there is always someone who is watching you and watching your work, and they are doing the same thing. You probably just haven’t met that person, or if you have they just haven’t told you.
What is one thing you want people to take away from your work?
I’m all about the people and all of my work is very human focused in terms of the films that I make and even with the photography projects. I want to educate you, I want to inspire you, I want you to feel a little bit enlightened and I think I really did that with Transformation. My aim was not to show a man or a woman but to show a person. It was an intimate evening I spent with these two individuals from Brazil and we’d never met before. I chose to shoot on film and I didn’t know what situation I was going into, I had film stock but I just hoped that it worked for this project.
Me and my friend had these rough ideas so in Paris last March I shot 72 pictures (2 rolls of film) and I wanted to show 8 - 10 pictures at the exhibition. People received it well and asked how I got so close. They felt as if they were peering in which I thought was really nice to hear as while shooting we didn’t have that much time to bond.
The thing with film you never really know what you are going to get but still with those images it feels like you’re telling a story and it’s very natural and relaxed, almost as if they hadn’t noticed you were there.
I’m always trying to achieve this, I tried to achieve this even in college, the first time I started doing photography. I was more aware of myself than they were aware of me. There were some moments where they were loving the lens, and times where they just wanted the camera out of their face. I’m a people watcher generally and people in their natural state to me are their most beautiful. You’re not posed, or you might have a bit of food on your face and it doesn’t matter because we are human beings after all. I just want to capture that moment.
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Words: Swakara Atwell-Bennett
Photography: Denisha Anderson