Q&A with Sally Ann and Emily May Gunawan

Sisters Sally Ann (b. 1994) & Emily May Gunawan (b. 1991) have nurtured a love of photography since their youth, which was inspired by the distinctive nature of fashion editorials. Born in Sydney, Australia, but raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, the duo maintain an aesthetic that exposes the colour and vibrancy of life. Their often humorous works carry narratives that uncover a layer of human emotion that is often absent in fashion work, demonstrating their belief that images speak louder than words. Having featured on the cover of Aesthetica Issue 65, we catch up with them about their latest series Unrequited Love.

A: Could you talk a little bit about your new series, Unrequited Love? With quite a strong sense of theme, was this something you had in mind when composing the images, and if so, how do you go about employing a narrative to a shoot?
S/E: It was almost Valentine back then when we decided to create Unrequited Love. With the overwhelming celebration of love that month, romance was purely overrated. So, we felt we could relate more to the thought of losing that person who answers all the demands of your imagination. We wanted to visualise this story and make people feel something when they see this. Because after all, it’s our love stories that define us most, don’t they?

A: Is a sense of narrative important in your series? Would you say that this is something you start with when approaching a shoot or is it more about the visuals that lead the creation?
S/E: Definitely. For personal projects like Unrequited Love, our life stories and the issues we’re facing are always the calling. Once you get the mood, the visual direction will lead effortlessly. In the end of the series, we like not to finish the story though, as we want to leave some space for your imagination.

A: With many of your works featuring couples as part of wedding shoots, how did you respond to producing works featuring one model and, in some respects, a lack of another? How does shooting with one person or two compare?
S/E: Shooting two models can be more challenging than one, as chemistry matters. Fashion shoots are nice cause you can be totally in control with everything. It helps a lot if we plan out the looks from their faces, styling, to hair & make-up thoroughly. When we shoot real-life couples, we always wanted to keep it real by showing their true personalities. It’s more honest in a way.

A: The palette in this particular series is incredibly delicate and perhaps evokes a certain kind of emotion in its audience. Is this something you consider for when arranging your sets? Could you talk a little bit about the process not seen by the camera before shooting?
S/E: Lately, we’ve been using lots of powdery and dusty palettes. We also have a thing with pink. Just like painting a picture, you choose what colours you want to brush. Same thing with photography, it’s how the way you coordinate lights, model, clothes, to props, as those little elements that will create the whole picture in the end.

A: The images seem to reference analogue photography in their resolution, yet comprise what seems to be aspects of digital art in the presence of an inanimate being, how do you respond to the two colliding? How do you think photography fits into a world of technological advancements?
S/E: Growing up in the 90’s, we familiarized ourselves with analogue cameras before digitals exist. Even until now, our love for film is no less than the practically of today’s pixelated frames. To be fair, there’s always a place for both, so for Unrequited Love, we decided to glue them together with a little bit of digital imaging as the cherry on top. The rise of tech definitely makes photography more practical and accessible, which is a good thing. But there’s always that special excitement analogue offers that make you wonder, realizing that moment only lasts within one shutter click.

A: How did you begin creating photographs? How do you think your collaboration works as opposed to singular photographers who work alone? How does your creative process work as a team?
S/E: It all started from taking pictures of ourselves and friends at school, just trying to be different. We never planned this out, to be a photographer duo. Strangely, maybe it turned out that the best things are always unplanned? We work like each other’s assistants (and also fight like sisters). From pre-production to post-production, decisive moments have to be done together. The best part is that it’s always fun and doesn’t feel like work!

A: Are there certain artists that influence your work?
S/E: Guy Bourdin, Mert & Marcus, Nguan, and Petra Collins.

A: In terms of future projects, what can we expect from you in the next 6 months?
S/E: We are pretty excited to do more collaborations and shoots overseas. It’s fascinating to connect with new people, learn different work cultures in different cities and countries. Also, it collides with our love for travel. So far it’s perfect!

1. Photographer: Sally Ann & Emily May. Hair & Makeup Artist: Sissy Sosro. Stylist: Andhika Dharmapermana. Model: Devona (@ The A Team)