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Bubble and Speak Breakfast Seminar Series 2011 – Candy Bowers + Sonny Vandervelde

December 5, 2011
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Once again, Katie O’Brien (Interior Designer, BVN Architecture and design writer), takes to the mike to review the last Bubble and Speak Breakfast Seminar for 2011 which was held at Brisbane’s Emporium Hotel recently. This series is part of the Design Institute of Australia‘s (DIA) annual program and focuses on bringing doses of inspiration from creative industry professionals to creative industry professionals. Katie says it like it is, so let’s get straight on with it… Thanks Katie…

So, when people say… ’It finished with a BANG!’ generally, this means the event went off. I guess in this case, you could say that the last DIA’s Bubble and Speak seminar series for 2011 finished with a PHENOMENAL BANG! So damn good that it implodes, then jumps straight back out and slaps you in the face, but instead of feeling offended, you’re kind of turned on and want it to happen again. Is that naughty? Well I don’t care if it is, because that’s exactly what first speaker Candy Bowers did.

The epitome of modern woman stood before us that day in the Emporium hotel. Intelligent, well spoken and dramatic. 

Part South African, Part Asian, Candy Bowers introduced us to her ‘Balaysian’ heritage. Her confident aura of self that no doubt assists Candy in her pivotal role educating youths in the Juvenile Justice Program that she champions. Taking kids and their love of hip hop into amazing performance spaces where hip-hop ain’t usually allowed. You get the impression that the kids Candy works with will see right through her unless she owns herself and ‘works it’. And it’s her amazing sense of pride for herself and her history that is no doubt as infectious to the under privileged traditionally black kids she works with. They identify and connect with her.

On this day, the Bubble crowd is not treated to a presentation of works in traditional Bubble format. Instead, we become the audience of an impromptu performance. From her early days of NIDA graduation emerging into an industry where due to her colour the only roles she was offered were that of wet nurses, maids and characters often 40 years older than she is. The biggest kick in the guts was when she was told by agencies she approached, ‘Sorry we already have a black girl on our books and she doesn’t get much work’. A comment like this could knock you down and keep you there, but Candy tuned this beat down into something great.

She became super passionate about issues close to her and we witness Candy’s hip hop genetics with her playful work as MC Platypus, an educational Hip hop show for kiddies, comedy act Sista She with the well known triple J song, ‘What are youse girls doin’?’ and her acclaimed solo show ‘Who’s that chik?’ ruffling all the right feathers everywhere.

In a world where everyone is so afraid of stepping on one another’s toes and rubbing each other up the wrong way with politically incorrect terms, Candy is driving the anti-authority anti-establishment bus and you can’t help but want to jump on board with her. But, the bus isn’t just a joy ride, it’s a journey of creative collaboration, where Candy is the intercultural innovator bringing people of all backgrounds together for a REAL purpose. To some, it may seem idealistic, but is one cool ‘chik’ making a difference and that’s all that matters. Peace.

Quote of the day: “I had to break through the skylight”, Candy commenting on the acting industry and the fact that she wasn’t even granted access to the ‘building’ to break through the glass ceiling.

Sonny Vandervelde. If there is one down to earth guy in the international fashion industry, he would have to be it.

Half Belgian, half Australian, he has that perfect mix of European class and relaxed Australian outlook – a dichotomy similar in nature to Candy Bowers. And it’s this mixed cultural upbringing that has resulted in a skewed view of reality that most of ‘Straylians’ aren’t privy to.

With his humble beginnings shooting the amazing blue skies of Northern Sydney’s Narrabeen, Sonny tells the story of his catapult to fashion photography royalty as an effortless series of events that kind of just happened. But you get the impression that under this casual laid back attitude, this long haired scruffy guy has worked damn hard and pushed some boundaries to get where he is today. And it was this forward thinking that began cranking the catapult into position.

In a time where fashion models were all serious and moody, primed and poised in controlled environments, set against white backdrops with studio bulbs flashing in their eyes, Sonny grabbed them by the wrist, threw them in a smelly paddock and made them stand in the rain and god forbid SMILE! What resulted was a market in Europe where ‘lifestyle fashion’ emerged and the fashion folk over there went mental for it.

Sonny likes to tell a story with his work and stories are hard to narrate in a studio. But when you get outside and start to show interesting architecture and environmental elements as backdrops, contrary to popular belief, it does not dwarf the fashion but rather enhances its beauty and appeal to a wider audience.

Shooting in sites that range from a castle in Sweden, a bridge from Sydney to Newcastle and Sand dunes on the eastern Australian coastline, presents some interesting weather complications. But Sonny says this line of work is the most enjoyable when you ask models to hang from chandeliers or scream as loud as they can into the lens, they look at him as if to say ‘Who is this crazy Australian?’

It’s easy to view the fashion industry as indulgent and excessive and a little thin here and there (in more ways than physical), but listening to Sonny speak it feels like he’s bringing the humanity back into an industry that people view as superficial. And it’s his work as backstage photographer that has bought about this. A coveted role and invite only, a select few photographers are given the role to capture the happenings of a backstage runway show and it’s apparent just how much Sonny relishes this role. The serious façade of the models is left at the curtain after their runway walk and Sonny snaps them as soon as they emerge from front stage to backstage, the adrenalin pumping and smiles galore – they know him now and give him what he wants. Wide gapped smiles, bright doe eyes, the ‘Oz gang’ of models play up to him and give him what he wants.

And when viewing these images, it’s actually more fun looking at the impromptu back stage pics that offer personality and a ‘story’ that Sonny so often talks of creating, rather than a straight faced static glare that you get in all the high gloss pages of Vogue and the like.

Sonny leaves us wanting more (it’s easy to look at pictures of beautiful people being well, beautiful), but gives hope to common gals everywhere he says he doesn’t look for the prettiest girl to shoot, this isn’t always the focus, but instead character and personality is what comes out in the photo’s. Score. I am so in.

So with that in mind, we are left dreaming of a model life, jet setting around the globe, wearing a teeny tiny Chanel bikini, being shot in subzero temperatures on the banks of an icy Scottish lake and oh bugger it, I prefer sitting on an old beat up Holden drinking tallies out of brown paper bags overlooking the ocean – oh wait – Sonny has shot that too! Maybe I am a model, I just didn’t know it.

Quote of the day: “I’m sitting in this $15,000 Parisian hotel room with a model wearing a $30,000 Chanel jacket thinking ‘Is this real?’”. The boy from Oz reminiscing about the world he has created for himself.

Thanks Katie for your words allowing me to reprint the review on my blog. We’ll have to wait another six months before we get stuck into the next Bubble and Speak Breakfast Seminar Series. Good thing we’ll have the DIAlogues series to tide us over… See you in 2012 DIA Queensland!

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