When you close one door another opens, or in this case, a red velvet curtain. An incurable collector, Paula has been photographing herself in photo-booths for over 20 years – first in the train stations or shopping centres of the world and more recently in her very own booths – an original 1960′s analogue photo-booth and the custom designed ‘retro-digital’ booth she has recently acquired.
STRIP OF A LIFETIME is one of the latest projects supported by Renew Newcastle and is a hipster’s heaven, celebrating all things lo-fi and analogue. Showcasing Paula’s lifelong collection of retro items, from ties to polaroid cameras, most things are available for hire, including her precious photo-booths.
In anticipation of “The Colour Factory Failure” – A series of polaroid photographs by Paula Birch (opening on Thursday 24th May – 5pm to 7pm in the shop), ALOUD. caught up with Paula to talk about the compulsion to collect her own likeness, her beautiful Renew Newcastle space and why ‘happily ever after’ is an over-rated concept.
On STRIP OF A LIFETIME and getting involved with RENEW NEWCASTLE.
The project Strip of a Lifetime started in 1992 as a photo-booth documentary of myself. It sounds strange but when I was young, I had a premonition that I wasn’t going to live to be old. After popping into a photo-booth the first time, I found – in the format and the process – a way to explore a notion of identity, something to hold on to and to be remembered by. I sort of got obsessed with it and started collecting these strips.
I then sourced the photo-booth itself so I could keep collecting photos of myself over the years and it gradually turned into a business. When the opportunity came up with Renew Newcastle, I put in an application. Now Strip of a Lifetime is a photo-booth, vintage hire and analog art gallery. It’s the synthesis of all the things that I love doing and an opportunity to invite other creatives into the space to exhibit or collaborate.
On THE ONE.
I remember the first time I stepped into a photobooth with a boyfriend, my first real true boyfriend, and I remember having this romantic idea – probably from movies – that when you are with someone “special” you get in a photo-booth with them (laughs). Then, when the relationship ended, I just transfered that romantic notion onto the next person I was in a relationship with. I never intended to collect them (laughs).
I can’t help but treat every relationship as if this could be “The One” even though I don’t actually believe there is One person. I believe people come and go through our lives and I’m OK with that. The fun I had with that series was to let go of that too – the social conditioning that is placed on girls and women to meet someone and have a fairy tale wedding.
On exploring IDENTITY.
There are plenty of artists who play with the notion of identity in their work – Cindy Sherman, Tracy Emin, Nikki Lee to name a few- and that’s something I have always been interested in.
Nikki Lee completely transforms her identity and lives a different life for a few years. She’ll become a business person, lives the life, changes her hair, her looks, her clothes. She documents it and then disappears and becomes a street artist for a while.
I have always loved playing with that but also, some of it is challenging my role, how I feel as a woman and what feels like is imposed on me by society. What I noticed retrospectively, was how much these experiments with “identity” were reflected in the person I was dating at the time. I explore who I think I am and my identity through those I choose to have as partners.
The series where I cut my hair was about stripping that layer off. I called it “The Evolution of Woman” because I felt that by cutting my hair off, as opposed to growing it, I was evolving into a woman rather than the other way around.
On ANALOGUE PHOTOGRAPHY.
I think there is a spirit in analogue that I find very seductive – the way it slows down time in an age when everything is trying to be fast and efficient. It’s also having something you can touch and feel. It’s long-lasting and tangible. People have a very different relationship to digital photos. You don’t hold them. They don’t go in a drawer to be discovered later. You know this idea of throwing something in a box, and stumbling across it later, when you had forgotten about it. It’s hard to stumble across a digital photograph.
On WALKING AWAY & TAKING THE LEAP.
One of the biggest challenges was giving myself permission to walk away from Architecture as a full-time career. I had put a lot of pressure on myself about what I should be doing and after years of studying and working, it was a hard decision to make.
The whole concept of Strip of a Lifetime has been in my head for so long and knowing that I gave this a shot is very rewarding. Having complete control creatively over something makes it really worthwhile and accepting the consequences that come with that too. Even making mistakes is rewarding. I don’t want to regret anything.
1) Favourite Art gallery / cultural institution?
I’m still in the process of exploring the ever-changing and inspiring spaces of my fellow ReNew Newcastle projects that are activating the otherwise empty spaces of this city!
2) Favourite bar / pub for a Friday night drink?
‘Bar Petite’ (Newcastle East) for its intimate atmosphere, boutique selection of wines and eccentric entertainment or ‘The Cambridge Hotel’ (Newcastle West) for the best live music.
3) Favourite breakfast / coffee spot?
‘Three Monkey’s’ on Darby Street makes the best coffee in town and has the friendliest staff on the planet.
4) Where do you get your art / work supplies?
Analog Art supplies (Photobooth paper, darkroom chemicals and Polaroid film) are hard to come by these days. I have a heap of out of date stock from the past 5 years but mostly (and sadly) I have to source my stock abroad and online.
5) Best kept secret?
Newcastle Ocean Baths (I’m easily seduced by divine sunshine and weightlessness)
6) (Other) favourite shop in town?
When all else fails, Mayfield ‘Lifeline’ Op Shop can always be counted on to provide me with at least one vintage ‘Pierre Cardin’ tie (I have a collection of over 300).
Hop in the photo-booth : Shop 20, Food Court Level, Market Square, 119 Hunter St Mall Newcastle. Tues & Sat 12pm to 4pm, Thu & Fri 10am to 4pm, or by appointment.
This Thursday 24th May: “The Colour Factory Failure” – A series of polaroid photographs by Paula Birch. Find out more on Facebook.
If you are an artist or designer and have turned your passion into your livelihood, I would love to hear from you and help you get the word out there. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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- ALOUD interviews HANNAH ROBINSON – Photographer – NEWCASTLE, Australia (interviewsaloud.com)