Australian photographer and documentary filmmaker Stephen Dupont boasts a career that has spanned over 20 years and earned him international awards. Stephen has balanced many roles from a photojournalist, documentary film-maker and educator to co-founder of the Sydney Reportage Festival. Stephen spoke to arts interview about his artistic practice and the projects he is currently involved in.
Interview by Vanessa Anthea Macris
What do you consider your role to be as a photographer?
I see several roles, but primarily I see myself as a visual storyteller through photographs. I see my work existing in two worlds, which tend to cross over; the documentary/photojournalism world and the ‘art world’. Essentially, I look to document real life, people and events so the background to my work is definitely documentary photography with a very personal agenda. This is what influences the subjects and the stories I present.
I focus on long term projects that I see as artist’s books, exhibitions or both. In a way my role is about preserving and presenting these important stories and subjects. There is also an educative role in my work in that I focus on projects, which are important enough culturally, politically and historically to present to audiences in both a journalistic and artistic way. For example the story of Afghanistan which I have committed most of my life to covering as well as Papua New Guinea and the changes to that society which are taking place due to influences from the West and globalisation.
What multiple roles do you have in your practice?
The end result of my photographs, films and artist’s books serve many roles. On the one hand, my photographs are there to be journalistic, educative forms of evidence. Whilst on the other hand, my photographs serve as objects of art. I am very conscious of the process of truth telling in my work, be it for journalism or for art. I believe that my photography is important enough to go and risk my life for because I feel it is essential that the subject matter and the stories they present will have a place in history. This links into the educational world whereby I teach workshops and seminars on photography and give lectures at universities where I promote the work and the stories that come from the work. I am not interested in self-promoting myself as a photographer but promoting the stories of the subjects I photograph.
How do you manage or balance the commercial, the artistic and the educational aspects of each?
I think the priority is always the artistic non-commercial side of things, in that I am looking for the story before I am looking for the dollar. I am more concerned about the subjects I explore and the work that I am doing creatively. I believe that the commercial side tends to happen naturally because I am producing the best work that I can when I do my personal work and exploring the subjects that inspire me.
Initially, I prefer to tackle the work and present the best photographs I can and once I have completed a project the commercial seems to fall into place. It would be too confusing for me to consider the commercial side in the first instance.
What projects are you currently working on?
My main focus this year is working on a series about detribalisation and the changes affecting the society of Papua New Guinea as part of the Gardner Fellowship at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology (Stephen was awarded this fellowship in 2010). I am also preparing for an upcoming photography workshop in Bali, in November with Jack Picone. It is an ongoing relationship, in which we produce workshops around the world a couple of times a year. We are currently campaigning for people to get involved in the upcoming workshop.
Interested in further reading on roles in the arts: