photographer shannon may powell captures the beauty of temporary things

After years abroad, the creative returned home and found herself drawn to things that will not last.

by Wendy Syfret
29 March 2017, 2:00am

Shannon May Powell has spent the past few years moving around. Living between Australia and Europe, she chased the weather and her whims. But when she returned to Melbourne this year she found herself facing her own ideas of impermanence and an identity beyond a traveller. Her work has long dealt with with intimacy and connection, now static for the first time since childhood she began to observe how her pet themes took on new meaning. With the impermanence of her life in mind, she embraced the near impossible task of capturing the feeling of fleeting moments and memories too delicate to really hold.

The product of her exploration will be on display, fittingly, for one night only in her show Only Here, Only Now at the Honeymoon Suite.

Your work often looks at intimacy and connection, how does this show build on, or deviate, from that?
Most of my other photography work has been shot in foreign countries. So I'm usually exploring these themes from a distance, and I'm thinking about how I can find a sense of intimacy and connection as an outsider. But this work is very close. It's shot in my home country and most of the subjects I have a close relationship with. I move around and have lived away from home for a couple of years so this work is about the impermanence of those relationships, and on another level, it's about the impermanence of identity.

Are you conscious of how to keep work feeling fresh when you return to themes?
It's funny I don't usually set out to explore the same themes, but there are certain themes that just haunt you. You can't escape them until they have been fully exorcised. I imagine they have a life and expiry date of their own and the progression into a new theme just happens when it is meant to. At the moment, these themes still feel fresh and are being siphoned through a new lens.

What ideas or questions were you meditating on when putting together this show?
I was thinking about impermanence, which seemed like the most obvious and authentic theme in my life at the moment. I had a lot of change when I was growing up, moving between different homes, different countries, and different people, which seemed very jolting at the time but I'm grateful for it now because I feel like it helped me to develop an adaptive energy in the world. So I guess this work is about learning to love and move with that state of impermanence.

Your new show Only Here, Only Now will only be open for one night — why make the exhibition so brief?
The gallery director, Charlotte Cornish, offered me an exhibition but the space was booked out for most of the year so we decided to do a one night stand exhibition in-between two other exhibition installations. It tied into the themes I was exploring and the gallery is called The Honeymoon Suite so it's very fitting for a one night only event. It was fun to work with this limitation. I enjoy the challenge of producing work under a deadline because you fully immerse yourself out of necessity. I guess it will enhance the transient nature of the works, both the photography and installation piece have quite an elusive and temporal aesthetic. 

You also have a spoken word and installation element; how do you see these different medias expanding on your work?
The installation artist that I am working with, Clara Bradley, is someone I have collaborated with before. Our work really speaks to each other's. It's all very tactile and intimate. The spoken word element is something new that I'm exploring. Before I ever knew how to use a camera I was always writing. Now these two practices interact. I wanted to expand my writing practice in some way so I thought I'd move into performance because it's very different to the way I work, which is usually behind the scenes. It's still a bit freaky for me to do that, but when any practice starts feeling comfortable it usually means you need to try something new.

The title obviously refers to the short viewing time, but does it also relate to the work in other ways?
The title Only Here, Only Now is taken from a Virginia Woolf quote. I love the way she captures the potency of a single fleeting moment in her prose. To me that quote is about being fully present in a moment, no matter how impermanent it may be. It's a title that I had in my mind before the conception of the exhibition, so when it came up, and the themes and title were there, it all fit together quite serendipitously.

Only Here, Only Now will open and close on 2 April and The Honey Moon Suite.



Text Wendy Syfret
Photography Shannon May Powell

shannon may powell