Sarah Pickering

It is always great to hear from other photographers, and even better when you get to hear one talking about how hard it is to make a full-time living from being a photographic artist. Having worked in and out of photography for many a year, I do know how difficult it can be to secure a reliable income from your passion.

There are many things I picked up from watching the interview Sarah Pickering took part in for students on the Final Major project module, but it was her frustration that artists are oft overlooked when it comes to actually paying them, and that most need an alternative income, for Sarah it is teaching, to survive and fund their practice, that struck a chord.

It may seem odd for me to say I’m glad someone who is also talking about their work, their inspiration and what motivates them is willing to also point out that photographic work (of the non-commercial, teaching, medical etc. type) will not just fall into your lap upon graduating.

She illustrated her point by explaining her response to this via a performance piece she took part in at Manifesta, a Bienniale in Zurich. The group performance show took place at Cabaret Voltaire; Pickering explained that this is where the Dada Manifesto was first launched and performed, and that the whole point of the piece was to highlight how people make money.

She found it quite a juxtaposition to be looking at this topic when there was no fee for the artists involved.

These artists were to work with professionals such as doctors and scientists, but Pickering chose to work with a professional pickpocket.

She decided that the piece would be a “professional development workshop for artists, so artists would learn new skills and they’d also try and earn an income through this new skill” (Pickering, 2018).

She went on to create images, inspired by a movie about a pickpocket, that she or the professional pickpocket would ‘hand out’ for her. She described it as “reverse pickpocketing”. I take it as a play on the absurdity that artists should make work for free – to simply give it away.

This led on to her talking about her other works, influenced by pushing against established systems or what’s outside the law.

Pickering spoke about other work such as Explosions and Public Order but it was Celestial Objects (2013) where, photographing gunfire and smoke in total darkness, that she represented “the way that astronomers would locate an axis of locating constellations in the sky (Pickering, 2018) that stuck with me.

She said: “There’s parallels there with the way the astronomers visualise nebular, cosmos and all of that sort of thing. It’s just black and white data with wavelength information that they get, and then they choose techniques to colourise it. They are using ideas of gunshot to visualise how the big bang happened and they are looking at paintings like John Martin’s for ideas on how to make very romantic, appealing imagery of outer space, because ultimately it helps them get more funding and makes the public very sympathetic to the cause and the idea of doing that kind of investigation. It’s about making something compelling and beautiful.” (Pickering, 2018).

© Pickering, Sarah. 2013. MFG0834, MFG0823, MFG0832, from the Celestial Objects Series

For me, given that I compare my final non-fixed lumen work to images of our universe, her comments on how astronomers attract interest and funding by manipulating the raw data to create something “compelling and beautiful” is a perfect parallel.

Having recently questioned if the “beautification” of an environmental issue can still prompt a response in the viewer, it would seem that if astronomers have based a business case on doing so, then I shall continue along the same vein.


Pickering Sarah, McMurdo Wendy. Guest Lecture (Research) – Sarah Pickering. 2018. Online video interview shared on Canvas for academic purposes. Available at: [accessed April 30, 2018]

Pickering, Sarah. Available at: [accessed April 30, 2018]