The work of photographic and video artist Sam Cannon creates a world where still life and motion meet with mesmerising consequences. Here she talks technique, technology and taking success in her stride.
Sam Cannon is a New York-based artist who creates short looping videos and Gifs that often feature the female body and different kinds of movements. She works with dissections, repetitions and loops, with arresting, colourful and sometimes quite ironic results that have a surrealist quality to them. Many of her works are beautiful yet uncanny portraits of the human form.
Now 24, Cannon is a new digital-age artist whose success has partly resulted from having successful social-media accounts, both on Tumblr and Instagram, where at last count she had more than 15,500 followers. By sharing her work using these platforms she has been able to generate a lot of interest in what she does and catch the attention of brands such as Gap, Veuve Clicquot and Nike.
Cannon admits she feels lucky to have grown up in a time when the presence of the internet in everyday life is as large as it is and acknowledges how it has been key in helping her to jumpstart her career so soon after graduating from New York Institute of Technology. While there, she studied fine art photographic illustration and applied imaging systems technology, but everything she does with motion, including for her commercial projects, has been self-taught, thanks again to the resources made possible by the growth of the internet. YouTube tutorials or the exchange of knowledge with others using the myriad forums that are accessible online mean we all have a chance of educating ourselves. But like every great invention that changes people’s lives, the internet also has drawbacks. For Cannon, the flood of images and information and the pressure of constantly having to create and share new content can pose challenges when it comes to staying true to herself as a creative person. The Forumist met up with her after her presentation at this year’s EyeEm festival, which took place in August in Berlin, to talk about this and more.
In your presentation you talked about the success of your Instagram account and the pressures that come with that. How do you cope with having to generate enough content to keep your followers happy?
“I originally started growing my following on Tumblr. One of the reasons I loved it so much was because if you visit a blog on Tumblr, you can’t see how many followers that particular artist has. It feels much more like you’ve found something special, as though you alone have discovered this gem that no one else was aware of.
“Instagram doesn’t function in the same way – you can clearly see how many followers people have, you can judge their success. It means there is much more pressure for creators to grow their following, to constantly share new work and make things that will generate likes. The number of likes you receive – or don’t – can consequently really influence your work, especially when you’re new to Instagram. That’s why it’s important to me not to react to the way people view or interact with my work online and to focus more on only sharing images that I think are important. My goal is not just to grow my following, but to grow a following who really understands my work and with whom my work resonates. I’m hoping that, at the end of the day, there is much more of a conversation between me and my followers rather than it just being me putting things out.”
What about your technique? We know how Gifs generally work, but some of your videos combine still and moving images. Are you familiar with the cinemagraph app and do you use it for your work?
“I love cinemagraphs. The artists who pioneered that format, Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg, are also based in New York and I had the pleasure of meeting them and talking to them about their work. I don’t use the app – all my work is done in After Effects and Photoshop and it’s all my own manual editing. I think cinemagraph is an amazing technique and I love this idea of saddle motion that you can also see throughout my personal work, but I’m not trying to appropriate this technique for my work. I have my own style and I would rather leave cinemagraphs to Beck and Burg, who led the way with this style of masking.”
How do you feel about how technology is constantly evolving and changing the way we create things? Do you feel new technology will enable you to create something different and better? Or do you feel resistant, in case it forces you to abandon your technique and learn something new?
“I think the existence and the rapid growth of technology is an amazing thing. The type of growth I have experienced with my work wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago. The downside to this is the pressure of the comparisons that are constantly being drawn with other photographers and of being bombarded with images throughout the day, meaning there are times when it’s hard to find inspiration within myself and come up with original ideas.
“What comes from within is still so important for my process, and interacting with lots of people online can end up being a negative experience, as people can be very judgmental. Maybe it’s not like this for everyone, but for me it is. Even though I have a strong presence on the internet and I share a lot of content, I try to restrict the amount of input I receive online.”
When you look at the social-media landscape now, it looks like everyone is done with Facebook, while Instagram seems to be trying to catch up with Snapchat by introducing its new Stories feature. Would you embrace a completely new social-media platform if something came up?
“Yeah, absolutely I would, but I really try to separate online who I am as a person and who I am as an artist. I don’t share any of my work on Snapchat – that’s just for interacting with my friends or for posting short videos I’ve made that I think are funny. And I have the same approach with Instagram. When it didn’t have the loop feature for videos, it wasn’t a good place for my work, so I only used it as a social platform, posting images of me and what I was doing in my day-to-day life. But as soon as the loop feature was introduced, I could finally share my work on Instagram. I started to use it for work only when it started to be appropriate for the kind of content I wanted to share. As an individual I am open to any form of social media, but as an artist I don’t want to put my work on a platform just because it’s popular. I want to wait until it’s appropriate for the kind of content I create.”
Words by Veronika Dorosheva
Artwork by Sam Cannon