[box]Wash the Dust Away will profile unique artists, travelers, and media-makers. Wash the Dust Away will examine the dynamics, cultural roles and phenomena of arts, culture and people that work to break stereotypes and engage complexity of travel around the world. [/box]
Wash the Dust Away
An Anthropologist’s Lens
An Interview with Rachel Bussières
“Travelling inspires me – and all artists I think,” said Quebec native, photographer Rachel Bussières. “The richness of encounters, the uprooting from one’s native soil and, the curiosity about difference all feed the spirit and open the mind. And that’s where you start to be creative.”
Bussières was always an artist; from a very young age her parents encouraged her creativity, thinking she might become a painter or an illustrator. She went on to study fine arts at college where she began experimenting with printing photographs onto mixed medias such as wood, fabric and metal. After receiving her art diploma, Bussières traveled to Central America for a year, where she began to shoot exclusively with a little digital camera. After returning from this long journey, she decided to study Anthropology.
“I had found a fascination for exotic cultures and others’ languages,” Bussières said. “During my first semester, I took the class ‘Visual Anthropology’ which made something click. Next thing I knew, I was buying professional photographic tools and was flying off to India for four months.”
Today, Bussières acts as a traveling photographer with an anthropological methodology, and is stationed back and forth from Quebec to the north coast of California continuing to develop her projects. Her knowledge of social anthropology reminds her that a subject’s context is crucial to understanding their culture. She describes her artistic process as capturing and reconstructing moments in a way that both reflect emotions and realities, but still accounts for their unique contexts.
Bussières is also prepared to take the time that is required to understand the diverse realities of culture by actively taking part in it.
“For talking about others realities, you have to live among them and participate in the everyday life,” she said. “As a photographer, I spend a lot of time wandering and walking around in the environment of my subjects. I’m inspired by [their] everyday life.”
Bussières’s subjects are varied from people in her own immediate reality to those that she encounters in other realities. Her personal photography includes series such as “Women”, which chronicles images of naked women in idyllic natural settings. There is also “I Remember Water” which includes placid images of trees and human hands reflecting against the surface of still water. The images across the board interact with nature in a subtle, intimate manner.
In addition to her many personal series, Bussières has published two photo- collaborations with The Tibetan Women’s Association in Dharmasala and The International Society for Ecology and Culture in Ladakh. Dharmasala came about while she first traveled through India. As she walked through the streets of Dharmasala – which is in the Himachal Pradesh state – she stopped at the Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA) out of curiosity.
“They were actually working on a photo journal project on Tibetan women in exile. I said I was interested in the project and I started to work for them the next day,” Bussières said.
Over the next two months, she visited a refugee center, a few Tibetan schools; went on a nuns retreat and visited elderly homes to integrate herself with Tibetan women. Before she photographed the women, she would routinely interview with a translator them to get a feeling for their energy and story.
“The encounter with those women was passionate, touching and inspiring. This experience changed me as a person, as an artist and as a woman,” Bussières said.
Next, Bussières traveled north to Ladakh, which she calls a “state of snow peaks and moony landscapes”. The altitude gave the environment a mystical quality because of the lack of oxygen. As she walked through the state’s capital, Leh, she stopped at The International Society for Ecology and Culture which works towards the preservation of the culture and environment of Ladakh. There, she met with a woman named Helena Borbeg-Hodge, the director of the center and the first westerner who had come to Ladakh thirty years ago.
“She spoke Ladakhi, lived there and knew everything about the Ladakhi culture. The next day, they sent me to a small Ladakhi village called Skindiyang to take photographs of the western changes on the local population.” Bussières said. “I stayed with a family for a week and half. Nobody spoke English except a young Ladaki teenager. She was my translator and would bring me to the school and to people’s houses.”
Bussières drank butter beer and ate tukpas (a soup with baked dough) with the people of Skindiyang, until she became sick from the severity in altitude and had to return to the capital. When she returned to Quebec City she prepared a series of her works from the village which she then showcased at her university in a solo exhibition. The photos were also part of two collective exhibitions in Quebec and Spain.
Like many traveling artists, Bussières also became interested in making paper as part of the artistic process. For Bussières, making paper helps her to connect with the environment of her subjects.
“During the production [of paper], I use environmental fibers and raw materials that I mix with a pulp of cotton, linter or abaca,” said Bussières. “Papermaking has become an integral part of my artistic process.”
After studying anthropology, Bussières decided that – despite her passion – she wouldn’t become a full time anthropologist because she felt that they spent too much time in the lab for her taste. She wanted to get out and move and now feels that traveling is an integral part of any artist or student’s learning.
“School gives you tools to intellectualize your practice, to learn others, to reinforce your capacity to talk about your work and vulgarize it,” she said, “but you have to get your inspiration from new and different forms of experience that can’t be taught at school. Traveling and moving around is one of the best things you can do to learn from life and get inspired by it.”
We can all certainly be inspired by Bussières’ beautiful artwork and her dedication to integrating herself with the cultures and environments she photographed, instead of remaining an outside looking in. By taking the time to understand the people she wanted to capture, her art obtains an organic quality that speaks to the humanity of her subjects and of the world at large.
“Photographing them,”she said, “helps me to reach a better understanding of humanity.”