cloudy rhodes thinks everyone deserves a love story
The photographer and filmmaker’s work celebrates first love and queer relationships.
Cloudy Rhodes was born in a little house in Bondi, to hippy parents who named her after the sky. By the time she was 9-years-old she was a pro surfer, and spent the rest of her childhood travelling the world in the pursuit of waves and success. She's a pure manifestation of what we imagine the ideal Australian existence is. But sitting beyond the waves day after day, she began to want something more than swells.
While she's technically still a professional, she hasn't surfed competitively for years. Today she focuses on photography and film, although her sunbaked style borrows heavily from her salt-crusted youth. Just as she detangled herself from a coastal dream, her work also presses to be about more than sand and sun.
As a young gay woman she wants to bring the innate romance of her life and work to queer narratives. Discontent with how LGBT stories seem fated to be tragedies, she's out make beautiful and sweet offerings about queer kids and the ones they love.
Her new short film Lo Loves You is about the first blush of teenage infatuation. It follows two girls as they disappear for the day and retreat to the beach. We spoke to Cloudy about happy endings.
Before you took photos and made movies you were a pro surfer, today how do you define yourself?
I want to be a filmmaker, that's where all my intention is now. I want to be directing feature films, so that's where all of my focus has been for the last year. I still surf everyday but I let that die away a bit. I'm an image maker I guess.
Are you conscious of those different interests bleeding into each other in your work?
I think everything links in some way, I mean even my colours - the washed out blues and creams - all tie back to nature and my experience of the ocean.
Looking at your work thematically, what are the key subjects or concerns you find yourself returning to?
As a young woman I find myself interested in the female experience. And being gay I'm drawn to sexuality and love, particularly between two girls or two boys. That's where I end up, intentionally or not. All my filmmaking seems to come back to romance lately.
It's nice to see queer relationships presented as romantic though. So often they're tragic or doomed.
Completely. I read an article recently that said it's almost impossible to find a gay love story with a happy ending, which I find really interesting. I want to normalise it and have it told in a natural way, as it is for so many people, rather than hyper-sexualising it or making it too in your face. Queer relationships are always treated harshly, even filmmakers I love like Larry Clark show the whole world of youth culture being super dark and druggy. I kinda wanted to stay away from that. Beautiful, happy art is refreshing sometimes.
It can be powerful too.
I'd like to go more into that in the future. I feel queer film is shown as a genre in itself; you're watching a "queer film" as opposed to watching a romantic comedy where the main characters just happen to be two young guys.
You have a very distinct aesthetic. When you're dealing with something nuanced like a first queer relationship, are you conscious of not letting the lovely, dreamy visual elements flatten or fetishise the subject?
It's interesting that you say that. I'm actually busy working on my next film at the moment that is shooting in two weeks and then it will be out in December. The subject matter is a lot heavier and there's a lot of dialogue, there's suicide, it's quite a full on piece. Already I'm interested to see how it works because it can't be all this floaty, esoteric, beautiful dream state. It's more hardcore reality.
I suppose it's hard to just drop an innate style, it's like talking without an accent. Can you disrupt something so natural in your work?
Exactly. For me, no matter what the subject matter is, no matter how dark it is, I always aesthetically want it to have beauty in it.
Circling back to your next project, most young filmmakers have their eyes on the US. Considering your work is so embedded with this really beautiful, idealised version of Australia, how do you think it would translate in other countries?
It's that typical thing, your own environment is never as romantic or exciting as where everyone else happens to be. I was in a meeting today with the Ellery girls, talking about doing a film, and they're like, "It would just be so cool to do something in Sydney. Everything is Paris, Paris, Paris!" I was thinking, "Fuck, all I want to do is go to Paris!" The overseas markets are obsessed with the ocean and Australia and our raw environment. I love Australia, I'm really drawn to the harsh sunlight and the wildness of it all.
Text Wendy Syfret
Photography Cloudy Rhodes