Let's Talk: Tessa Frootko Gordon

Ahh...today brings another installation of the Let's Talk series and as usual, I'm very excited about today's guest. I've been in touch with South African photographer Tessa Frootko Gordon since early May when she got in touch with me regarding this post and over the months, I've enjoyed getting to know her a bit more and getting to explore her amazing photography. While being based in the Boston area, Tessa frequently travels back to South Africa throughout the year as well as spending time exploring other countries, including the Caribbean nation of Grenada which has been the focus for a lot of her work in recent years.

Out of our various threads of communication, one that really stands out is when Tessa asked why I was interested in the images that you see here (and a few that aren't here). First it was cool because I'm usually the one asking the questions when it comes to these interviews, so it was nice for the tables to be turned a bit. Second, I loved being questioned about my choices. When it comes to many creative images or designs, I usually go with what my gut tells me so in answering her question, I really got to explore why my gut is drawn to certain things and not others. But without getting too deep into the weeds, let's see what Tessa has to share with us....

What are the first five words that come to mind when you think about Africa?

Solid ground beneath my feet.

What is one of your favorite memories from time spent in Africa or around other Africans abroad?

For a brief period leading up to the 1994 elections in South Africa I was part of the group in Boston organizing absentee ballots. South Africans voted at the Massachusetts State House. The experience was surreal and overwhelming. The SA flag was raised and we sang the SA National Anthem on the State House steps. I remember having a bouquet of yellow flowers and being dressed in the green yellow and black colors of the ANC.

What is one thing that you think someone would be surprised to learn or see in South Africa?

People may be surprised to find that South Africa is both a first and third world country; that it is so geographically, climactically and culturally diverse. South Africans talk of “ubuntu”- a common humanity and interconnectedness that I think surprises visitors most. A recent example of “ubuntu” is the camaraderie and hospitality expressed by South Africans during the recent world cup.

If you could go to one place on the continent right now, where would it be and why?

Zanzibar- For its location, its Muslim influence and because I am fascinated by the insular nature of islands.

When did you first get interested in photography, and what made you decide to pursue this as a career?

I always wanted to draw or paint but didn’t have the aptitude. Photography seemed to come naturally. I would walk around framing things in my mind. I worked as a clinical social worker for about 10 years, photographing in my spare time. In the early 80s I took a workshop with a the late New York photographer, Lilo Raymond. Then 60,Lilo had started on a successful photo career at aged 40. She became my mentor and urged me to consider photography as a career. I was 35 when I quit social work and started art school. Had it not been for Lilo’s encouragement and support I might still be a social worker.

What brought you to the U.S. and particularly to Boston?

In a word: Apartheid. I became aware of Apartheid’s injustices when I was about 8 and grew up believing I would eventually leave. My husband and I were both activists. The events of 1976 seemed to make the decision for us, and we left with no set agenda, looking for a country. I still do not know whether this was a correct moral choice even though we continued our activism in the US. We came to Boston because just after we arrived in the US my husband was offered a job here. It was totally serendipitous.

When you are not taking stunning pictures, what else do you like to do?

I work on photo illustration, make journals combining image and text, and take classes in digital imaging. I serve on the boards of a regional symphony orchestra and the cultural alliance of my city. I also follow contemporary singer songwriters and current trends in photography. I am active in progressive Democratic Party politics and mentor a Women’s sewing and beading project in South Africa. I am a magazine junkie, Internet surfer and collector of trivia and the absurd. I also love to bicycle.

Where is your favorite hang out spot?

In Cape Town: The Olympia Café, Kalk Bay, Cape Town

In Boston: The De Luxe Town Diner in Watertown. The nicest people and world’s best pancakes

What is your personal soundtrack right now?

“Waving Flag” by K’naan.

Who or what has been your greatest inspiration?

My Mother

What has been your proudest achievement?

Ten years ago I may have thought my proudest achievement as something career related. I now measure achievement in terms of what I do in individual relationships and relationships with community. Caring for my mother during the ten-month illness leading to her death is undoubtedly the thing I have done best and of which I am proudest of in my life.

What is the best lesson you have learned so far?

The best -sometimes painful lesson- I continue to learn is to trust my instincts

What dream do you still want to fulfill?

I am working on a photographic book about the island of Grenada. My dream is to make this a tangible record of my love of Grenada and evidence of a passionate photographic life.

There are so many great aspects about this interview starting with "solid ground beneath my feet!" I really hope you have enjoyed this chat now all you need to do if click over to her site to explore so much more of her beautiful images.

Thanks Tessa!

{Photos: Tessa Frootko Gordon}

1 comment:

3pieceonline said...

This was a wonderful interview. I thoroughly enjoyed her responses and her images are beautiful.