Whether posing in the front or shooting back of the camera, the shift in roles is effortless for Wanda Orme. We have a talk with the New York based photographer/model, hailing from the Isle of Man, as she explores the notion of resonance and anonymity, among others, with her project Margo Echo.
Describe Wanda using only three words.
I couldn’t answer this so I asked my boyfriend and he said “seaweed in wave”.
Given your academic background, one would expect of you to follow such a career. You hold degrees in anthropology and psychology, whereas your father holds a Phd in thermodynamic engineering. How did your studies change the way in which you perceive the world? Did they impact your artistic vision and what is more, would you return to the academic field?
This is a big struggle for me, I don’t see my academic pursuits and my artistic pursuits as separate, not at all. But I’ve been under great pressure to define them as so. I find poetry in the world as it exists and I struggle to represent experience outside of that, which i am pressured to do in academia. Instead of seeing poetry as a distortion of reality, I see it as a way to represent something that you cannot completely capture.
Studying anthropology changed the way i perceive the world irrevocably, i learnt a respect for reality as multiple and the demand for humility in the face of this. It undid every hierarchy i’d ever learnt, and I’m very grateful for that. The question of participating in academia has become a question of freedom for me.
I’m not sure I am able to express what I feel without compromising or contorting its meaning too greatly to fit the demands of an institution, but I have not let go of it fully yet – it’s a negotiation I’m working on.
I am interested in points of contact; meeting at edges, shorelines, and between substance and memory. Margo is that point, in latin it means “margin” , or “edge”. She is the meeting of difference – liminal, not quite dissolution. Echo is the recognition of both something which exists and no longer exists, it proceeds us and has been sensed before. In this way we cannot own it, it arrives to us already consummate with the world. Echo reminds us that we are borrowed.
I’m interested in the feeling of resonance, the things you carry with you that you can’t fully know or grasp or understand, but you know when those aspects meet something that they recognize because you feel it. Here, yes – there is the idea of repetition, an eternal return. This is where Margo Echo came from, in part.
How did you start with photography and how did your style evolve?
My mum gave me her old Olympus OM10 camera when I was 12 or 13 years old and I began using it then. I befriended the photography teacher at my college and he let me use the dark room there, that’s when i really began to appreciate the chemical, substantive foundation of analogue photography – its’ an extension of alchemy.
I became interested in older cameras, the sense of something transpiring at the moment of releasing a shutter, a sort of communion with the subject. When I moved to California my mum’s OM10 took on a new significance and I became increasingly attached to it, not just as a way to document and make sense of a new land, but as an object with history and a tie to home.
It’s hard for me to conceptualize my “style” – I don’t think of my work that way, as something separate from myself. Sometimes what I chose to photograph is so deeply personal it reflects a part of me I didn’t even know – there’s a really interesting space of learning that comes by allowing yourself to engage with curiosity in the world and surprising yourself with what you’re drawn to. I look at my photographs and they give something back to me of myself and of others, an awareness I might not otherwise have had.
From the green isle of Man to urban London, and from there to dry LA and the concrete jungle of New York. How did you experience these transitions and where do you consider home?
The move from the isle of man to central London must have been quite abrupt, though I don’t really remember it. We moved from a farm house on top of a hill with a view to the Irish sea, to a central London apartment in the iconic brutalist Barbican – a 60s utopian housing project in cast concrete. We had incredible views even there though – to the edges of the city, so i’ve always had far vistas and horizons in my life.
I’ve always found it hard to pin point a specific location in terms of a sense of “home”, outside of relationships to people. Although i recognize something in the smell of the air on the isle of Man, perhaps the salt and northern latitude. My last name is Viking – from the Old Norse word for serpent or dragon, the figure on the prow of a viking long-ship, so seafaring voyages and exploration may well be written into me. I’ve always been attracted to the edges of things; coastlines, all the beaches of my childhood. Water as the metaphor for all.
“Love brought to me to NY”. Actually relationships have been part of every move i’ve ever made, and love affairs have always involved movement. California was a period of enchantment and devastation. Once in San Diego I was having a particularly bad day and sitting on the bus with the usual selection of homeless and otherwise disenfranchised individuals when a homeless guy sitting opposite me with his headphones on, pulled one earphone out, leaned forward and looked at me with complete sincerity and said “that’s America, girl; we love a fight”.
I thought that was such a perfect moment of humanity and perceptiveness in the most unexpected place. He was probably the only person who spoke to me that day with that level of clarity and intuition and concern for the reality of an other. This summed up a lot about the USA for me at that moment.
What is your definition of beauty?
I don’t have one, but I know it when I feel it; something that cannot be fully captured.
You have been photographed nude and have also photographed others, both men and women in the same manner. Since you have stood οn both sides of the camera, would you like to elaborate on the feelings and thoughts when it comes to your approach?
I grew up in a very liberal home, I spent most of my childhood naked – so I am very comfortable that way. Taking your clothes off for a lover, or a photographer for the first time – that feeling of vulnerability remains the same I think, even with years of experience. I find it liberating and empowering to be naked, for me that comes from embracing the vulnerability and realizing your own fragility and form.
There is a paradox of honesty and performance in being nude which can makes it very free and playful. Photographing others nude gives me great pleasure because of the intimacy of the experience and the learning and trust that can be built between two or more people in that space if it is handled right. I really think we should all spend more time naked.
You are very comfortable in your own skin and the human body is an integral part of your work. What is more, the element of anonymity appears with high frequency. One could argue that anonymity objectifies the body. What do you seek to express by focusing on the body and not on the face?
I spent 5 years from 11-16 at a theatre arts school, dancing everyday. I think this gave me a very good relationship to my body – an awareness of what it means to inhabit it and a respect for what it can create. It also fed my appreciation for a sensuous engagement with the world and with other bodies.
I want to challenge the idea of a body as essentially any more of an object than the face – I’m interested in the question of anonymity and intimacy, and what it means to inhabit a body which holds so much a-priori meaning in the world (the body of a “woman”).
Playing with anonymity provokes immediate reactions of outrage from people who see the body as an object – but that is their vision, not mine – and this is my way of challenging that vision. Why is a body any more of an object or less of a subject than a face – is this not an implicit assumption that should be critiqued and questioned?
My legs are as much me as my eyes, or any other part. An image of a woman’s face is somehow presumed to convey her greater agency, I do not agree. Hiding a face can be as much a way of retaining agency as showing it. I want to fight for this appreciation, and the liberation that can be experienced through being in a body, and really inhabiting it.
What is your opinion of the fashion industry?
I’m grateful to it. I’ve found an abundance of exceptionally talented, creative and wonderful people who have taken me in here in NYC.
If you had the chance to collaborate with three persons, from the present or the past, who would they be?
Is there a talent would you like to have?
What would you do if you were invisible for a day?
Get very close to things that would otherwise, unavoidably be scared of me – like wild animals or birds, and also to animals or other beings that might otherwise want to hurt or eat me – to sit among a pride of lions for example. I guess I mean; be in the company of either great vulnerability or great power.
” I’m not a sardine, I’m a radiator ”
– my mother
Is there a specific animal or plant that you love and why so?
Too many… my black cat, named “Cactus”, covers two of them.
Film and double exposures, the desert, vast horizons and open skies, rocks and water, both sweet and salty, the body in its natural state in natural surroundings; ubiquitous constants that define your photographic work. Should they be given a second reading and decoded or do you like the visual element?
As visual elements they stand for themselves – Ι’m drawn to them, I think that resonance speaks for itself.
Which books do hold dear?
And when it comes to cinema, which films do you love the most?
In the end of the day, what makes you happy?
What should we expect to see in the future?
More of me 😉
Interview conducted by Demetrios Drystellas