Sukey Parnell, fine art photographer and lecturer, won bronze in the series category of Let’s Face It: 5. The images are a series of Sukey’s daughter, Lola. She explains her desire to document Lola as the reason she got seriously into photography.
“Much of my work is involved in rites of passage of women and the photography of transition. Lola is just at that tender age when she is navigating the exit from childhood and the entry into young womanhood. She is a very sophisticated 12 but she is still a girl. I am acutely aware that she is on the cusp and, so I am alert to times when she is playing with that fault line. I notice her rehearsing and playing with her image. I see her struggling with her appearance in a society that is bombarded with images. I see her rehearse 'the look' without knowing what it is. Knowing that this is where she is, I have reached for my camera a few times and recorded those moments of heightened intensity. “
Sukey comes from a performing background and has spent time in front of the camera before she ventured behind it. “That training in gesture, empathy, how to carry a message and express emotion - how much is at stake in a portrait, all of this is very important in my photography,” she says. “ When my son, Xac was two, I was at a crossroads. Photography emerged out of that time. I signed up for a BA at Thames Valley University without really realising how much it would change my life. I chose a course that that straddled analogue and digital practice and promptly became obsessed. A year ago, I graduated with a distinction at Masters and went straight into a spell of lecturing which ended in the Summer.” Sukey is certain that the LPA Awards and the National Portrait Gallery Photographic Prize have opened doors for her and given her both confidence and a profile that she would not have otherwise.
Sukey’s images have appeared in various publications: the Independent on Sunday, Radio Times, Blues & Soul, Sunday Magazine, Textile View and others. She ha have exhibited a number of times and has built her profile by entering competitions. She won the Focal Press competition, then Tetley, has been placed in a few LPA competitions and been in the Photographic Prize at the NPG twice.
“Bill Bailey phoned a few months back having seen a piece of work that was online and commissioned me to take a series of portraits of him,” she recalls. “That was an interesting shoot! He collects rare animals and has a rescue centre at his house. He has four dingoes as guard dogs - they were very suspicious of my photographic gear! Bill’s four cockatoos and two chameleons emerged and were part of everything. It was fun!”
Apart from Bill, Sukey has shot well-known names including Dame Joan Bakewell, Angela Rippon, Joycelyn Brown, Charles Shaar-Murray, Carrie Grant, Trevor Laird, Dolly Rockets and Katherine Ellis.
Saga Magazine recently discovered Sukey via the National Portrait Gallery and she has her first cover next month. “Things have been building a momentum of their own,” she says. “I feel it's time now to get out and go and see people, but there's nothing like word of mouth!”
Sukey is currently continuing work with an ongoing project “Women of an Uncertain Age” and is travelling to New York April where she has a print in a charity auction - so I'm going to that.
Interview - Antigone Foster on Sukey Parnell