THE "A" SPOTLIGHT: Charlotte J Ward
Updated: Apr 2
Born (1992) in Lyon, Charlotte J Ward is a multi-disciplinary artist working with photography, movement and writing. Coming from a predominantly documentary and portrait photography background, she now specialises in self-portraiture, as a way to explore the human body within the EARTH BODY; a term which has become the title of her ongoing research, encompassing her photography and movement explorations.
Anuvada: You mention that you are “from a British mother and a French father, I grew up between both countries, languages, and cultures; somehow resulting in a sense of not really belonging anywhere”. You mention that you consider yourself a nomad; do you think that this kind of thought makes you become a nomad?
Charlotte J Ward: Maybe it does! When I use the word “nomad” here, I mean to give a sense of the amount of movement that has always been a part of my life. I would travel between cities from the age of 6, when my parents divorced, so that I could spend time with them both. My mother moved houses many times, which meant I changed schools almost every year, and I feel this act of moving has ingrained itself in my way of living. The longest I stayed still in the past ten years was when I lived in London, between 2011 and 2014, to complete my photography BA (Hons) at the London College of Communication; and even then, I changed flats and neighbourhoods every year. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time moving around India, Brazil, France, Germany and England, without really being based anywhere. I just can’t seem to stop moving! Having said that, the recent lockdowns have definitely been a way for me to settle down for a bit, which has been very enjoyable.
A: We live in a world where it seems that everyone must follow the same pattern of studying and keeping the same job until retirement. It seems more and more young people are stuck and belong nowhere. How has photography helped you? Is it difficult to become a nomad? (forgetting about Covid19)
CJW: I feel like this pattern you describe is increasingly disappearing from western society. At least in my generation, I see many people studying different subjects, and simultaneously working different jobs, which in my opinion results in a sense of freedom and flexibility rather than a feeling of being stuck. In my case, I could definitely say that photography has been a source of support in facilitating a ‘nomadic lifestyle’. It was the main reason I left London as soon as I graduated in 2014. I travelled around India and Sri Lanka for seven months, with a strong thirst to discover and record the world around me. In my way of seeing things, I find it much harder to live a sedentary life, and I know that this curiosity for the world around me, paired with my passion for photography have a lot to do with that.
A: One of the things I hate the most on Instagram is to see how pictures are embellished. Your pictures look really natural and that´s why we were impressed. How do you choose your best pictures if most of them are not edited?
CJW: Editing has never been my forte, neither has the technical side of photography to be honest. The main thing which attracted me towards this form of expression is the ever changing and fascinating beauty of natural light; and that is the kind of light I work with. I always say that I am more interested in photographing the light than the subject, and that if the light isn’t interesting then there’s no point in releasing the shutter! (most of the time). So when it comes to selecting which images I share, I’d say that’s one of the main factors.
A: Traveling and living in places like Brazil, Perú, India, and many more but living in Europe. How would you describe your experiences and cultural differences?
CJW: I find them deeply nourishing and enriching! I absolutely love being in new places, discovering other ways of living, of speaking, ways of cooking, dancing, praying etc.. It fills me with so much joy and inspiration to be around new people and cultures. I feel so curious about the world and its thousands of ways of expressing itself through the vast myriad of cultures human beings have created over the years. And I feel the contrast between cultures and countries is sometimes the most interesting thing, to observe and to learn from those differences.
A: Your documentary series about Nagaland (the most linguistically diverse state in India with 14 languages and 17 dialects with ‘Konyak’ being the most widely spoken language) is my favourite. I can imagine it must’ve been difficult to communicate with them, how would you describe the personality of these people?
CJW: My time in Nagaland was very short, as I spent about a week there. The initial motive of my visit was the annual Hornbill festival, known as “the festival of festivals” - a beautiful celebration of Nagaland’s indigenous tribes and their culture. Someone had told me about this festival during an art residency I took part in in Himachal Pradesh a couple weeks beforehand, and I was curious to discover this intriguing and far away land; known as one of the ‘Seven Sisters’ states of North-East India. As you mentioned, the multi-linguistic aspect of Nagaland is very strong, with English being much less present than in other Indian states. But I find there is always a way to communicate, even when the language barrier is strong; and I find that those “lost in translation” exchanges are sometimes the most interesting and enriching ones.
Again, I don’t feel I spent enough time there to answer this question fully, but based on the few days I spent there, I would say that Naga people are at once rough like the mountainous terrain they inhabit, and warm like the many fires they make. I was very well welcomed and looked after throughout my stay there.
A: Over the past few years, you seemed to have switched from documentary photography to self-portraiture. Can you tell us a little more about this? And how long you have been taking self-portraits for?
CJW: Documentary photography is my first love, which I feel I inherited, in a way, from my maternal grandfather, Michael Ward. A very talented documentary and portrait photographer who worked for many years as a reporter for the Sunday Times. He was my biggest inspiration as a child, and one of the reasons I felt attracted to this medium. Another reason, was of course this deep curiosity I have for the world around me, and documentary photography seemed to be the perfect way to simply record all of it.
The shift away from this style happened last year, when I was living in Brazil. At the time I was very much involved in the indigenous plant medicine ceremony world, and I feel this deeply intimate and very regular proximity with these plants geared my gaze away from people and towards the world of plants.
It’s at the same time that I “freed myself” from the restraints of shooting strictly analogue, towards experimentations with a digital camera. I think what I like most about shooting in this way that it allows me to see what I am creating in the moment of creation, just like a painter, or a potter. After many years using only analogue cameras, it felt amazing to gain this instant feedback. I compare my travels around Brazil to those I did in India, when all I had was my Mamiya 6 camera and lots of rolls. I shot and shot, and shot, without never seeing what I was producing until I went home seven months later. I could’ve had my rolls developed when going through big Indian cities (which was relatively rare), but I guess I enjoyed this sense of not knowing, at the time - the surprise at the end. And I still do when I do shoot film! But I must say that it is very helpful to have this instant feedback when shooting self-portraits.
Coming back to the world of plants, I feel like they were a transition towards self-portraiture. Plant medicines brought me face to face with deeper aspects of my being in very intense, and mostly, very beautiful way. Sadly my time in this realm was also very destructive, because of the nature of my romantic relationship at the time. Even though my ex-partner is a shaman and plant medicine healer who widened my horizons in many ways, ironically, I never felt so lost, confused and depressed as during this period of my life. I realised later on that I’d been dealing with narcissistic abuse, and it’s the break away from this relationship that led me towards further self-discovery. And what better way for a photographer to do this than through the practice of self-portraiture? The first self-portraiture series I shot, ‘BLOOM’, is an expression of this journey home to myself.
A: Let´s move on to your ‘EARTH BODY’ project. A lot of your self-portraits are in B&W. The self-portraits in ‘BLOOM’ gave me a feeling of sadness which changed completely towards the end of the series when your self-portraits start to become colour photographs. At what stage do you decide to shoot in Black&White or in colour? Does it happen when you’re shooting or in post-editing once you’ve seen the images? What is it that you are trying to express? Will we see any B&W documentary work in the future?
CJW: Shooting in B&W is very new for me. I remember doing it many years ago using film, but since then I’ve mostly shot in colour. However I must say I’m really appreciating the contrast and depth it brings to mix the two in one series.
The choice between whether an image will be colour or B&W always comes in the moment of shooting. I’d say it’s more of a feeling rather than a thought process. It’s really interesting to read that the self-portraits in ‘BLOOM’ made you feel this way, because this is what my soul was expressing through this creative process – a growth out of sadness, grief, and sorrow, into the blooming of a new life cycle. So again shooting in B&W wasn’t planned, but in retrospect, it turns out to have worked well to express what it is I was going through in my life at the time.
And I don’t think I’ve ever shot documentary work in B&W, but who knows, maybe if I start shooting in this style of photography again, it’ll be something to experiment with.
A: In ‘BLOOM’ you wrote a very beautiful poem, is writing something that you would like to make professionally? What about other projects apart from photography? Would you like to create something different?
CJW: Thank you! That poem is the longest I’ve ever written I think… it came through me at a time where I was in the depths of grief and sorrow. I keep saying that the most beautiful gift I received from this healing journey is all the creative inspiration and expression that it has gifted me along the way, and for that I am so grateful.
The correlation between photography and writing is something I’ve been interested in for a while now. I used to have a regular practice of writing Haikus (traditional Japanese short poems), which I would often pair with my photographs. More recently I have been writing short sentences or paragraphs to accompany some of the self-portraits I have been shooting for my ongoing ‘THIS EARTH BODY IS MY HOME’ series.
I have been working as a translator from French into English (and vice versa) for many years; and who knows, I might start writing some of my own words professionally too one day. Never say never.
Aside from photography and writing, I have recently completed a Yoga and Somatics teacher training, and I am just starting to teach. The style of Yoga I have been learning seeks to strengthen our connection to nature through movement. I am currently weaving this practice as part of my ‘EARTH BODY’ project, which looks to bring people closer to nature through photography and embodied explorations. Eventually, I would like to merge these two practices to create healing spaces for people to experience themselves in their rawest form and within nature. This is just a seed for now, but stay tuned for more to come soon.
A: The last body of work I’d like to ask you about is ‘MOON BLOOD’. Could you tell me about the photographic