Residency Speaker Spotlight: Karah Mew
The first of our speaker spotlights for this year’s Residency of the North focuses on the amazing Karah Mew, better known to some as The Glass Narrator. An internationally acclaimed storytelling documentary photographer, Karah is based in Portsmouth, Hampshire and describes herself as ‘an avid collector and maker of visual memories.’
“I produce real photographs that offer my clients future selves the ability to take a step back into time and soak up the tiny details, which for many families are being photographically lost in the social media perfect world that is dominating our lives. My family or newborn sessions focus on recording the truthful moments, with the outcome of the sessions being treasured images worthy of the family photo album and equally pride of place on a wall as stunning wall art.”
Karah’s workshop at the Residency of the North, Power of the Personal, focuses on these aspects of her documentary style of photographic storytelling. Karah will be discussing her style & working process, talking about personal projects & how they can improve you as a photographer, personal driven photographs and making sure there are no gaps in your clients family album.
“From the moment I realised I had a space under my bed, I began to collect tangible memories and started archiving my personal collections in boxes next to my slippers. Layers of small Christmas tags complete with spider handwriting, tops from empty bottles of beer, postcards, love letters, napkins and drawings. Theatre tickets, bus passes, magazine cuttings, party invites, birthday cards and of course photographs.
Those shoeboxes filled with items started my longing to preserve my backstories visually with photography. I went from having a need to save addressed envelopes to having a burning desire to capture moments on film, instant polaroid and then over the years, digitally.
I learnt that my favourite images from my childhood were not the flash studio shots, but the real life emotions caught just at the right time. The images of the ones I love, but with younger faces in rooms I grew in. Holding these photographs in my hand, I am transported back to a time that’s no longer accessible physically, but once seen and soaked up – I’m there. Right back there.
In our fast-paced world, documentary photography for me is my grounding force. It slows me down and makes me pace myself. It opens my eyes and expands my mind. With my camera in hand, everything else stops and I can concentrate solely on what’s in front of me. Recording those stories.”
With such a unique style of photography we wanted to sit down with Karah and get a bit of background on her process and her journey to becoming the photographer she is today:
Who inspired you to become a photographer?
I never found school easy and even though I worked hard whilst I was there, academically I didn’t tick all the boxes. When the time came to leave and go onto further education , it was the most amazing time to really absorb myself in the subjects that I was good at. At the age of 16, I was offered a place at university to study Fine Art and over a 5 year period I achieved a BTEC, 2 A Art Levels and a BA Hons Degree. Whilst studying I became hooked on film photography and all my time was spent in the darkroom. I enjoyed everything about the medium and it became the base for many hours of experimenting and developing my own professional practice. Whilst I attended Portsmouth University, my passion for research and learning was ignited and I clearly remember purchasing a photo essay book by Duane Michals and feeling this ripple within. I still have that book and equally, I still get that feeling when making photos and learning.
What is your all-time favourite photography shoot?
For me nothing feels as good as photographing your own. Nothing. I am highly motivated about the obvious relation photography has with the passing of time and how it preserves slices of importance into tiny rectangles. Family life is ever changing, nothing lasts or stays the same. People die, situations transform and what we call ‘home ‘ is forever morphing into something new. Some may look at my work and feel it is simply snapshots, but to photograph the ones you love, it burns. The layers of emotional connection, the back stories, the intimate surroundings, it isn’t always easy and the thing is, it shouldn’t be. When we photograph the ones we love, we can never outgrow those images or feelings, the story in front of the lens and the story which one day will only be available in printed tangible items, will be our most cherished tale.
What makes you so passionate about the work you do?
When photographing clients I really try hard to record them in the same approach I photograph my own. I really love giving them professional images of their beautiful ordinary moments and highlighting to them, that their life as it is, is picture perfect.
What is your camera of choice and why?
I shoot all my digital work on Fuji gear. It ticks all my boxes and most importantly gives me crazy amounts of joy! The ergonomics are perfect, the weight and size is amazing, it’s discreet and packs a punch in the fast style I work in. I’ve recently purchased a small film camera, Olympus XA2, that is the same model my Grandmother used to photograph my childhood and I’m seriously excited about using that more.
Other than your camera – what one piece of kit can you not live without?
I may have a crazy obsession with SD cards. I’m addicted to them! I always dual shoot, so I find I can go through an awful lot in a month – and I’m not the fastest photographer when it comes to editing. I equally couldn’t live without my handmade cord camera straps, they are so comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
What advice would you give to any aspiring photographer?
Find your creative tribe. Never be scared to ask for help. Don’t copy others, listen to what gets your juices going. Make personal work your future self will thank you for. It’s okay to be different.
Finally, what one thing would you love to photograph more than anything else?
I would love the chance to photograph more births . Birth photography is on the rise and I don’t think there is anything more wonderful than to celebrate new life in such a visual way. Photography during this momentous time not only locks down memories, they can help to heal and give us something we may need without knowing it.
Karah will be holding her workshop ‘The Power of the Personal‘ at the Residency of the North this July. For further details on speakers, workshops, venue and tickets for the Residency, please click the link below: