Feature Image by: Sarah Sturm

Behind The Image: Suffocating Plastic

22nd June 2017

Photography student Sarah Sturm shares the experience behind her winning image from Canon Light Awards LIVE: Adelaide.

My email pinged. It was from my teacher at university—all I read was, “…awards…Canon…let me know by 4pm.” I replied, “Sign me up.”

Over the next few hours I had a deeper look into what happens at Canon Light Awards LIVE. To say I was excited for Toby Burrows’ commercial photography masterclass is an understatement. Burrows engages audiences using his fine art photography—which is where I hope to take my career after university. His style feels familiar—it draws me in.

During the masterclass I could feel my ideas spinning together in my head, weaving together like knitted jumpers. Each one being plucked and pulled, questioned, examined, loose strands being yanked.

“The fear of putting something out there that’s controversial is in itself brave.”

These words, spoken by Burrows, filled me with confidence and stuck in my mind during what was to come.

In the fleeting moment we were shown the brief —which we would have only 24 hours to complete—I decided three things:

One—The shoot would have to be done at night due to lack of time.
Two—I’m not promoting plastic bottles. As an aspiring environmental photographer it wouldn’t look good.
Three—This challenge is workable.

Night came like a whisper. By this time I was collecting a stash of plastic bottles, bags, and light sources, and shuttling them out into our old laundry.

I remembered Burrow’s suggesting we play with light. Following his advice I blew up a clear plastic bag, and held it up to the source, discovering it acted as a wonderful diffuser. I learnt to be patient with the light, to play with it as if it were clay, let it shape my work.

By midnight I had the shot. My back ached from squeezing under a sink to get the low angles. My arms were cramped from holding my gear to get the high angles. My head was pounding from consistently questioning, “Is this enough?” I didn’t expect it would be so draining—after all I’m a uni student. We live on all nighters!

It was emotional. I wanted to cry, purely from relief it was over. But, I was afraid of what people would say about my image the next day.

All too soon I was sitting in my seat the following day, shuddering at all the worst-case outcomes, which were unfolding in my head.

Then it happened. Half the room echoed with laughter, the rest gasped. With one quick glance I saw, sure enough, it was my image staring back at me. Everything stopped.

The moment I met my work face-to-face—as Burrows called my name—was the most surreal moment of my career.

Canon Light Awards Live Image by Sarah Sturm

If you’d told me I was going to be a finalist in Canon Light Awards LIVE, I would’ve probably laughed and turned on my heels, exiting stage left.

To those who hope to take part in this experience I can’t urge you enough. Not only does the Masterclass make the experience worthwhile on its own, but it pushes you, challenges your photography, helps you find the creases and iron them out. Chase that light, and don’t let judgement hold you back.

Visit Sarah's instagram to view more of her work.

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