I have asked Heleana, a good friend of mine and fellow (graduate) architect, to lend herself to the game of being one of the first women to be interviewed for Aloud. She agreed with her usual enthusiasm for any new and original idea. Successfully combining at least two and maybe three creative careers, in Architecture, Photography and recently adding Graphics Design, Heleana has always been an inspiration as someone who always acts on her ideas, with a surprising mix of assurance and selflessness. She seeks beauty, clarity and fairness in equal measure, does it with a strong conscience, a healthy dose of humour and an unflinching positive attitude. And yet, it’s impossible not to like her so it is an honour to have her as a friend and as the first ever entry on a little blog called Aloud.
ALOUD: Heleana, how and when did your interest in the fields of Architecture and Photography emerge?
HELEANA GENAUS: As a kid, I used to dream up houses and draw them. I didn’t know at the time what an architect was or what that meant but when I had to make a decision on what I wanted to continue studying, Architecture was a “no brainer”. Photography came a couple years after I started Architecture. I took a year off because I wanted life experience before embarking on this degree for the next 6 years. What I wanted to do was develop a skill so I did a night course in Photography, got into a dark room and studio, created my own work. From then, I’ve always had this focus on creating and developing skills. Photography came to me, I didn’t think very hard, I just went with my gut. It has worked so far (laughs)
ALOUD: Why photography? Did you do it for fun beforehand?
HELEANA: As an early teen, I started taking the camera off my dad. I used to pose my brother under a tree and shoot him (laughs). I was always looking, I don’t know if I had a particularly good eye but at least I was looking, for good compositions or interesting portraits. It didn’t come out of nowhere, I knew I liked it and went with that.
ALOUD: Did you envision that it might become a secondary career when you started the night course? Were you serious about it then?
HELEANA: At that point, I wasn’t sure I would be going back to Architecture. I went into photography thinking I would make something of it. When I went back to Uni, I wanted both so I spent a few years working out how to fuse them. Many people said “ Why don’t you shoot Architecture? ” but I like things that talk back. I was freelancing, shooting friends bands, so I could build up a portfolio. That was fun but it was free. It was always my nightlife. Architecture by day, photography by night. Then I found VAIG which is a glamour portrait studio where I honed intensely my skill as a photographer while I was studying full-time. I had a shift there every week, I could just turn up and focus on shooting. I think I got pretty good at getting every day people in front of the camera and making them feel like themselves. That’s what I wanted to do and I could just relax instead of having to work so hard at just finding the work. It’s taken the last 2 years to understand the founding similarities between Photography and Architecture, in my world, and that’s people. Dealing with clients is the same in both fields and it’s the part I really enjoy. Being able to put all the stuff they poured out to you together and present it back to them in a way that makes complete sense. That’s the reward.
ALOUD: When you are working on your own photography projects, how is it to be your own client?
HELEANA: When I am creating art for my own sake, I find it difficult because there is no measure of what is a success. People never really tell you whether it’s good or bad and there is no measure against it. I get lost every time I embark on something like that. If I want to be an artist, I have to learn to kick myself in the ass but not beat myself up too much either. It’s a delicate balance.
ALOUD: Do you have mentors or people you can bounce things off, to give you a measure of what you are doing?
HELEANA: I’ve developed relationships with people who have been in either industry for an extraordinarily long time and are able to sum it up in a few words. I really rely on that. When you live in your own little bubble, it’s really easy to disconnect yourself from everything and get caught up on insecurities.
ALOUD: Do you find it totally natural to go and talk to people? I’m very reluctant to talk about ideas because I’m protecting them and protecting myself from people saying “well that’s stupid” but maybe it’s better to hear it.
HELEANA: I’m not scared at all, sometimes I should be. I’m happy for someone to tell me it’s a shit idea. In fact, stopping myself from talking about it is something I would have to force myself to do.
ALOUD: Well, tell us about your current projects in Architecture and Photography.
HELEANA: In Architecture world, working for Paul Pholeros has turned more towards Healthabitat this year so the architecture side has taken a back foot. It’s all very important work but it’s not design related. I am also part of “ludlites” which is a lo-fi lomography group. I’m shooting for a show early next year. In the last couple of months, I have been working on some graphic design packages for music clients, doing photography and combining that with graphic art for promotional material, albums and websites. It’s just establishing at the moment but it’s heaps of fun.
ALOUD: Did you teach yourself the skills to do that?
HELEANA: In Architecture, we always had to communicate visually and with Photography, I couldn’t really avoid photoshop. I had a fairly good understanding of how to use inDesign and Illustrator. I’m about to do a 3 day course on graphic design to crystallize it all in my head.
ALOUD: How would a typical week break up between your various activities?
HELEANA: About 60% is dedicated to the office, ideally 20% would be dedicated to photography and the rest of the time is finding new ways to promote my website, my work, looking for courses, finding new work, doing artwork for “Designer Pilot’s” album. It’s barely structured.
ALOUD: Do your projects blend into one another?
HELEANA: They do overlap. For example, Healthabitat just created a book to promote the work we do in Nepal so my graphic design skills came into that. It had to communicate the importance of the sanitation projects in a way that honored the integrity of the people involved. Sometimes, I also do a bit of photography for Healthabitat. I also found out recently that I do enjoy shooting architecture because it makes things that I hate in architecture look amazing and makes me think again about really urban landscapes. From that, I started shooting a series called “concrete bungle”.
ALOUD: When you are doing things for clients, you have to use high-tech equipment but when you are working for yourself, you like to use low-tech. Is it a way of making it less work and more play?
HELEANA: What I miss from University days is the hands-on approach to communication. Crafting what you see into a 2 dimensional thing. I always enjoyed the process. Shooting on digital for clients is safe and everything is perfect. When I shoot on lo-fi, I’m forced to lend myself back to the early days of my photography career when I had no idea what I was doing and enjoy the accidents that come across. With “ludlites”, we’re fanatics of this regression from perfection, embracing the uncertainty and the delayed gratification of film. Even if it takes 3 rolls and I get only 2 amazing frames, I’m happy.
ALOUD: Do you have a plan or are you letting it all evolve naturally?
HELEANA: There has to be a goal in order for me to even have an idea. From there, the process can be fairly organic. I usually call it percolating.
ALOUD: It’s fine to take detours as long as you keep your eyes on the goal. How do you make important decisions? What would make you say no even if there was money or publicity involved?
HELEANA: If I had no idea what the client wanted, it would compromise the integrity of what I do and I probably wouldn’t do a very good job.
ALOUD: Was there a time when you felt that you probably couldn’t say no to things?
HELEANA: Yes, definitely and it hurts (laughs). I’ve been in tears at the way I’ve been treated as a photographer and I would go back for more because I couldn’t afford to say no.
ALOUD: What did you learn from doing those awful jobs?
HELEANA: I’ve learned that no pay check is worth succumbing to, if it makes you miserable. Whether it’s for a moment or a week, it’s not worth it.
ALOUD: Is working for yourself an important aspect of what you do?
HELEANA: It gives me the flexibility to have my hands in 6 different baskets at any one time but I don’t thrive working alone. I think having a good balance between solitude and bouncing ideas off people is the ideal.
ALOUD: Do you think it helps your creative work to go to the office and do uncreative things for 3 days a week?
HELEANA: It’s good only having 3 days because I have enough energy to take other things on, as well. It also makes me a little bit lazier. If I had less time, I would probably do more.
ALOUD: The discipline thing is really hard when you feel like you have plenty of time. Are you able to make a living only from things you want to be doing?
HELEANA: Yes, I’m earning a living out of Architecture which is funding my photographic adventures. The goal was always to get to a point where I could work myself out as a photographer and not be tied down by money. That’s been an absolute blessing in itself.
ALOUD: So how do you promote yourself?
HELEANA: At the beginning of the year, I had two exhibitions and got a bit of hype around at least one of them. It’s not the most efficient way to get yourself out there. It’s an expensive process and there is no guarantee. So I’m taking a step back, working my style out so that when I head back into that scene, I can do it with some momentum and consistency. I don’t think I promote myself very well and I’m still working out how to do that properly.
ALOUD: Do you use the internet a lot?
HELEANA: I do use social media. I need to keep creating work, putting it up to keep people interested in such an instant sort of world. If you’re not constantly producing and showing that you are still around, you get forgotten.
ALOUD: How do you create momentum? It goes back to the question of promotion and being really present.
HELEANA: I haven’t really had time to test things out. It’s a matter of using contacts, building contacts and having work already done that the clients are really happy with. By having a small back catalogue and a good reputation, I can start getting more artists in our little circle that will extend out. It could be a really slow process or a really fast one depending on the timing.
ALOUD: On a philosophical note, do you agree with this quote by Confucius “Chose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life” ?
HELEANA: Yes, I do. Architecture has been difficult and I wouldn’t say I loved every minute of it, same with Photography but because I love both of them, those hard times are always trumped by the good ones and there are far more good moments than there are bad.
ALOUD: Do you think that your life and your work are the same thing?
HELEANA: I have always tried to separate them. By having two professions, it makes it even easier because I don’t belong to one school of thought. I can look at things as a photographer and the next moment, I’ll be looking at things as an architect but it’s also really easy for me to switch that off.
ALOUD: Because you do photography for pleasure and for work, it would be easy to have no limits between what’s life and what’s work.
HELEANA: If I’m not in architecture world at a particular moment, I sort of don’t care. I do the same with photography. Some moments should just be lived and not seen constantly through the back of your camera. I thought, maybe I’m not a dedicated enough photographer to not care about doing that but I think it makes me a better photographer or architect to just be a person living life sometimes.
ALOUD: How would you like to see things evolve in your future ?
HELEANA: I’ve come to realise very recently that the only thing that is certain is change. I could have this grand plan to be retired by 40 and have built a skyscraper in Dubai but there is no point coming up with those sorts of definitive goals. The more short-term goal is to be in a studio where architecture, design, photography come together. I would spend less time working out where I am and more time focusing on the work.
ALOUD: Are there particular skills or experiences you want to add to your repertoire?
HELEANA: Early next year, I’m embarking on a workshop where I can design and create my own timber furniture. With photography, I want to create a lab to get back to creating my own prints. Being more tactile with the process again but I need the space and the money.
ALOUD: You won’t be a very popular tenant if you paint the bathroom black. Well, as far as the future goes, que sera sera. Do you think that the risk is worth the reward?
HELEANA: I think risk is always worth it because even if you make a massive mistake, in that process, you’ve learned an incredibly valuable lesson. That in itself is a reward.
At the end of the interview, I asked Heleana to suggest another woman who should be on this blog. She nominated not one but two women who are distinguishing themselves in their fields in their own unique and very different ways:
Sandra Meihubers, a dentist from Australia, works as a dental public health consultant specialising in improving dental services to Aboriginal communities in remote areas. Her work ranges from supporting local people to gain skills and self-confidence, to advising governments on broader policy issues. For the last 10 years she has also coordinated volunteer projects in East Timor and Nepal, including a sanitation project in a remote village in Nepal.
Foxtrot India has been one of the hottest acts on the Burlesque scene since her debut in London in 2007. She is currently working as a Burlesque performer and choreographer in Australia. She is passionate about working with up and coming performers on their choreography and presentation to make their acts ‘performance perfect’. Foxtrot strongly believes in the importance of mentorship within the Burlesque community to encourage and improve the professionalism of the artform and the industry.
I look forward to presenting their work on Aloud. in their own voice.
You can see Heleana’s work on her website www.icantakephotos.com and her icantakephotos page on Facebook. She is currently shooting for the second annual “Ludlites love…” group exhibition, which will take place in Sydney early next year and will explore the theme of Fire. Finally, Heleana has started shooting a new body of work inspired by the world of Burlesque in a homage to these champions of positive affirmation and body image.