Melbourne-based photographer Bri Hammond captures the refreshing spirit and story of feminist water-ballet group The Clams. A commercial and editorial photographer who has worked throughout Europe and Australia, Hammond uses her visual language and ability to connect with her subjects to illustrate a message of femme strength, confidence, and humor.
In this series, glossy and vivid reds and pinks dominate the compositions, infusing the members of the water-ballet group with elements of a fashion editorial. The members of The Clams put on performances that do anything but shy away from the all-to-relatable and stigmatized themes that many women deal with, such as body hair, periods, and female sexual pleasure.
Subjects that are often avoided in day-to-day conversation are applauded by The Clams, putting these themes in the limelight by way of water theatrics, underwater props, and matching costumes. Hammond discusses her involvement with The Clams as well as their journey creating performances with unforgettable and hilarious titles like Better Wetter and Crimson Tide.
What initially drew you to the water ballet group The Clams, and how did you find out about them?
“I had heard about The Clams through my good friend and collaborator (and Clam) Aimee Carruthers, who told me about how their women’s book club had turned into a feminist water ballet group developing a show around the menstrual cycle. I couldn’t have been more intrigued, and I was already wanting to join! Aimee asked me to do the promo shoot for their debut performance, and so the collaboration started.
“I then went on to become a Clam for their performances in the Melbourne Fringe Festival!
“I love working with The Clams because they’re strong, confident, hilarious, and are full of amazing creative ideas. They are never afraid to push the boundaries. I especially love that they’re not professional performers by any means; they’re just a bunch of amazing women with something to say.”
How does your own, personal projects and artistic vision align with The Clams’ feminist mission?
“I am a feminist, so my values align perfectly with The Clams’ feminist agenda. I think my work with The Clams has been some of the most important work I’ve ever done. Whilst my other personal work is not as political, I’ve always wanted to do my bit to contribute to the conversation.
“The designer in me thrives on working to a brief, for someone else to give me a theme to work to, and that’s why working with The Clams is great for me… It creates an outlet for me to explore these themes that I might have struggled to create from scratch on my own. A perfect match, really.”
This series has a glossy, editorial feel. Do you have a background in commercial photography?
“I am a commercial photographer, but funnily enough, my commercial work is generally more lifestyle based, with natural light and real environments rather than studio portraiture. The colourful and fun aesthetic of these photos was merely a reflection of who The Clams are. Dark and moody just wouldn’t have been right.”
The ladies in this series appear at ease; they are really enjoying themselves. How much time do you usually spend with your subjects? Can you tell us a bit about your process when capturing a person/s personality and being?
“Oh, that’s really great to hear, thanks! I pride myself on being able to put my subjects at ease, for my type of photography I think it’s really important.
“In this case, it mostly comes down to the fact that The Clams are all about making each other feel comfortable and confident, and they’re all really good friends with one another.
“We spend anywhere from half day to a full day on each shoot, but with that many girls it’s very hectic and goes so quickly.
“For individual photos, I spend only about 5-10 minutes with each girl, and much longer for the big group shots. It helps that I don’t take myself too seriously; I’m generally in a really silly and fun mood on these shoots myself, which I think allows my subjects to loosen up a bit too. Crack a few bottles of bubbly, and voila!”
Can you tell us a bit about the different shows that The Clams put on, such as Crimson Tide and Better Wetter? Which one were you particularly interested in, if not all?
“Their latest show was called Grow Your Own Way, a celebration of body hair and a woman’s individual right to choose to keep it or not.
“Their debut show, Crimson Tide, explored the different stages of the menstrual cycle and attempted to break the stigma around periods – think thrashing around giant tampons (made out of pool noodles and socks) to the tune of Peaches’ I Don’t Give A Fuck and ballet moves with red tulle underwater to look like blood.
“Better Wetter was a show celebrating female sex, masturbation, and pleasure. I love the messages behind all three themes. Shooting for Crimson at the Melbourne Baths was certainly a Clam highlight for me, I love getting out of the studio.”
Tell us about your journey working in Europe and now Melbourne. Originally from Australia, what brought you back?
“When I was 20, I won an award at a design conference for my socially-minded graphic design work and was awarded a trial at Fabrica, Benetton’s Creative Research Centre in Treviso, Italy.
“My trial was successful and a year later I returned and spent a year in the Visual Communication department of Fabrica, working on campaigns for Benetton and for non profit organisations, as well as researching, developing and creating a lot of personal work.
“Although my background was in graphic design, I was drawn to researching a lot about photography and almost everything I created in that year had a photography element to it.
“I returned to Australia – Adelaide – when my year at Fabrica was over and started getting freelance photography work from designers. I eventually decided that I should learn how to do it properly, so I moved to Melbourne to study commercial photography at RMIT University.
“I graduated three years ago and have been working full time as a freelance photographer ever since, shooting a mix of portraits, homes, travel, and lifestyle photos for magazines and businesses.”
What are you currently working on? Do you have anything coming up that you’d like to share?
“I actually have a new Clams shoot coming up soon, a collaboration between The Clams and Hello Cup, a menstrual cup company!
“Most of my time is currently spent working on putting together my first solo exhibition, titled Nuoto Da Sola (I swim alone), with photos that I took last year, during my first time returning to Italy since my year working at Fabrica.
“The photos were all taken on the seemingly abandoned beach at the seaside resort city of Rimini, and captured halfway into a two month solo trip through Europe, my first time travelling alone after being in a nine year relationship. All was shot on film, and the colour of the skies and beach umbrellas are really beautiful. I’m very excited to get the work out.”