Interview: Sally and Emily

Birthplace: Sydney, Australia

Grew up in: Jakarta, Indonesia

Currently based in: Sydney, Australia

Age(s): Sally Ann is 25 and Emily May is 28

Find them: website | Instagram | Art book: “Close” (2015) | Work in: Uniquely Aligned 

Quick things: Sally Ann and Emily May are a team of sisters making their mark in fashion and art photography. Catch their work within the pages of Indonesian magazines, or hanging up at a Sydney gallery, or in an international ad campaign.

(Photo courtesy of Sally and Emily)


This interview was conducted via email. It has been edited for clarity and length. 

Q: What drew you to photography? Why did you choose photography over other art forms?

Sally (S): Up until today, I am still fascinated by how photography captures things around me and it stands within time through that medium.

Emily (E): When I was 15 or 16, I would borrow my dad’s film camera and take pictures. I always had the need to create some sort of art in order to express myself, communicate through, and really put my feelings into. I carried a huge interest with photography and I always knew I wanted to do something creative in life.

Q: I think your work has a gorgeous sense of color and space. How did you develop your artistic vision, especially as a duo? How do you two differ artistically, how are you similar?

E: Thank you! When I had my first magazine gig shoot back in 2011, I had to shoot on my own because Sally was at school. In the pre-production process, Sally contributed on the storyboard making, ’cause she wasn’t able to be there on set — and this was the moment it clicked that we wanted to work as a team. It really happened organically after that. After finishing my college in Jakarta, we moved to Melbourne, Jakarta (again), and now back in Sydney. We moved around between cities, but our creative process stays the same. For instance, I might come up with an idea and then Sally makes a sketch that would develop it further. Or vice versa. We’re equally involved in every project, and our sisterhood impacts our work massively.

S: Our differences are very subtle and might only be obvious to us. Creatively, I find myself more spontaneous, and Emily is more of an observer. We don’t necessarily always agree, but it does work. Most times, we finish each other’s sentences, which is a balanced process.

Q: What influences your work? Where do you draw inspiration?

S: Personal experience and anything that runs deeply within me. I always channel back that energy through a creative outlet.

E: Things near and dear to me. On our previous show ‘Plastic Heart’, I found myself creating from a place of sadness. ‘Plastic Heart’ was heavily inspired by an array of instantly familiar moods: anger, obsession, loss, desire, self-pity, and self-reflection. It was a healing process. On the continuation show, ‘Secret Heart’, I was creating from a different place of happiness, freedom, and joy. And it’s proof that it is very possible to create from a place of love. I also consume tons of images and am inspired by other photographers, like Guy Bourdin and Juergen Teller.

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🐍 @sukebanmag

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Q: How do you take care of yourself in this industry? What sort of lessons have you had to learn along the way? What do you know now that you wish someone would’ve told you?

E: Learning that when you shoot something once, it’s not yours. When you shoot 10 times, then it’s yours.

S: Stop comparing yourself with other people. Support other artists and don’t be competitive. And always remember why you started.

Q: What advice do you have for other photographers/visual artists, especially for young women and other people of Indonesian heritage?

S: Don’t be afraid to spread your wings out there, to live and create outside of Indonesia. It doesn’t mean you’re being less of an Indonesian.

E: There are so many platforms that didn’t exist before for young women and minorities. And the internet plays a big part. It’s more accepting and there are more opportunities. Just remember that it’s important that we as female photographers don’t just get made into a commodity, ’cause “female photography” is never a genre.

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Dream baby dream 🌙 @rollover.reaction

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Q: While you were growing up, did you think of yourself as people of Indonesian heritage — why or why not? Did your family instill lessons about your heritage? What sort of stories did you grow up with? 

E: Definitely. Although we were born in Sydney, Bahasa was our first language. I think it’s interesting when you’re a child who grows up without English as a first language. You have to learn it, then you have two languages and you feel like your self is separated.

S: We were surrounded with Indonesian food, morning TV shows, sinetron (Indonesian soap operas), local music, media, friends, everything.

Q: When you’re in Australia, do you have an Indonesian community, or are there other people of Indonesian heritage who you’ve connected with? 

S: It feels pretty much like home and we don’t really get homesick. We have two of our closest friends from Indonesia who also live in Sydney. We also still have family here — plus, Indonesian food is so accessible here, so that is an absolute treat.

Q: What has your journey through the art/photography world in Australia and Indonesia been like so far? What are the differences? The similarities? The challenges?

S: There are a lot of similarities. The passion, the dream, the drive. Even though both speak different languages, but I find that these common traits always bring the art community together. A great advantage of being able to create digitally as well is we have more room to create outside of our comfort zones. But there are definitely cultural barriers when it comes to perception — for example, one time we posted our work that contained nudity. When it was exposed to the Indonesian online audience, it got taken down.

E: Globally, I would love for women photographers to have the same respect men do. Of course, there are a lot of powerful photographers that are female, but it’s always been the same men shooting the big campaigns. I also had a fair share of experience dealing with men’s magazines in Indonesia that refuse to work with female photographers to avoid a feminine flair in their pictures.

Q: What does your Indonesian heritage mean to you?

S: A sense of identity which we are very proud of. As we grow older, this old Indonesian phrase really sticks with us, “Jangan menjadi kacang yang lupa kulit,” which translates roughly to don’t forget where you came from.

Q: Do you have any future projects/plans/events that you would like to share?

S & E: Working on an upcoming exhibition — that’s all we can say for now!

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