A Series of Leigh: Amanda Billing x Leigh Munro

Leigh Munro

Artfull artists Amanda Billing and Leigh Munro share insight on their experience of an artist shooting an artist.

Words by Gemma Laverick

Photography by Amanda Billing

Read time 5 minutes

Artists Amanda Billing,Leigh Munro


Capturing the essence of a fellow artist through the lens is a unique and enriching experience, as recently demonstrated by Artfull artist Amanda Billing. In a compelling photo session, Amanda turned her camera towards another talented Artfull artist, Leigh Munro. This artistic exchange provided a profound insight into the dynamic interplay of creativity and mutual admiration between two artists, each bringing their own perspective and expertise to the process. We had the opportunity to speak with Amanda and Leigh about this collaboration, delving into their thoughts and reflections on what it means for an artist to photograph another artist.

Leigh Munro
Leigh Munro
Amanda's response

What is it like shooting the work of another artist? Did you have any hesitations or anxieties about capturing the essence of another artist's work?

Amanda Billing (AB) I feel a deep responsibility to capture artwork well. And by “well” I mean accurately in terms of colour balance, proportions, tone and so on. I have great equipment and wonderful light in my studio so I don’t feel too much anxiety about doing the work properly but I’m aware of how important good images are, both to the artist and to their work. 

Artwork capture is a significant job because it bridges the space between the artist and important institutions like galleries, selection panels, residency and grant managers and so on. Images also bridge the space between the artwork and its audience. In the context of Artfull, this audience is made up of potential collectors, so we are Artfull artists need great images. All artists need great images. You can do a lot with an iPhone if you know how but a proper camera can’t be beaten for accuracy and quality.

This is obvious but, as much as I can, I want artwork photos to look as much like the work does “in real life”. This can be tricky, especially in terms of colour balance and tone. We know that a photograph of an artwork isn’t the artwork but it does come to represent it, especially online, so I always want to do that as best I can, both for the sake of the artist who made the work and for the work itself. 


What was the most magical moment of the shoot? 

AB Leigh and I did our shoot in two parts: artwork capture in my studio and portraits in hers. She left her paintings with me and it was really lovely just hanging out with them, observing them, and capturing them quietly. I’m one of those weirdos (i.e. painters) who feels like each individual artwork has its own kind of “being”. This feeling gets amplified when I shoot a collection. Putting one work on the wall after another, spending time with all of them and paying really close attention to them does make you feel like a bit like you’re with a bunch of siblings. They each have a character that’s palpable; some are the loud ones and others sit quietly and don’t make a fuss. That’s quite magical, really.

In our portrait shoot, it was such a privilege to be in Leigh’s studio. I bar anyone from my studio space when I’m painting in the afternoon so I know that an artist’s studio can be a very private place. Almost like someone’s bedroom. It’s personal. Leigh’s dogs were with us a lot and her elderly poodle slept on his bed throughout the shoot - I loved having him there snoozing while we talked about painting and portrait-making.

Leigh Munro in her studio.
Leigh Munro in her studio.

How do you bring out the essence of Leigh as a woman and an artist in her portrait work? What’s your creative process as a photographer?

AB I mentioned the word personal earlier. I think the best portraits are personal portraits. This almost sounds tautological - portraits are always of a person, duh! 

I loathe bland, skin-deep portraits. I take a lot of headshots for self-employed people in the commercial world and every client who comes through my door is wanting more than just a professional headshot. Sure, images might be “for work” but if the essence of you or your character, style, whatever you want to call it isn’t communicated through your photo, that photo isn’t doing its job on the internet.

My portrait process, whether it’s in my studio or someone else’s, is always an improvisation. I work with natural light so I always have to do what I can with where the light’s coming from and what the weather is like. Then, when it comes to sitting down with someone and putting a camera in between us, the process becomes about developing connection. Portrait photographs may seem static but they are actually a snapshot of relationship, a freeze frame from an hour or so spent together. A lot of my process is about finding common ground, listening, laughing, and having conversations about things that really matter.

Leigh Munro
Leigh Munro

How does your photography practice and painting practice intertwine, if indeed it does? 

AB Well, for a few years now I have used my own photographs as starting points for drawings, paintings and monoprints. Many of the works I have on Artfull are based on photographs I’ve taken of a friend of mine, Brigid. She’s a choreographer and a dance teacher whom I met doing Pop Up Globe. She has been a wonderful collaborator. Working from images of a person you know well makes a difference to how the work develops and how it feels to make it.

Recently, I’ve been working with photographs I’ve found while researching the earliest connections between photographers and painters. Photography was invented while history painting was still a big thing and painters found it useful to work from sets of “études nus” as well as from models who came to the studio. I’m working the same way, just 150 years later. Some of the young women in the photographs are wonderful “actors”, they really embody character and intention. Some of the Pre-Raphaelites and Symbolist painters took photographs and worked from those as well, so I feel like what I’m interested in is an extension of this. I’m using photography as a tool to create paintings which aren’t representational as such, they’re more about emotion and narrative, however ambiguous.

I think also that my practice painting influences the way I photograph people. My paintings, although they may start with a photograph, are improvisations just the way my photoshoots are. I’m thinking on the spot and going by feel in every job I do (I’m an actor as well). I think these pursuits - painting, portrait photography, and performance - are all threads I’m weaving together. They’re all about presence, beauty, meaning.

I can’t ensure anything really, but I can trust that it will all unfold as it should.

When you're shooting an artist's work, what are you thinking about capturing and how do you ensure you capture the object and the details and colours as well as the intangible qualities of the work? 

AB In a way, photographing artwork and photographing people are fundamentally about technical things like light, point of view, stability, tone. I am always focussed on getting the basics solid so I can then have a light touch, letting whatever and whoever I’m photographing just kind of “be itself”. Maybe there’s a quantum thing going on, the observer effect, where because I have affection and respect for whatever I’m capturing, some of that gets translated. Or maybe it’s magic. I can’t ensure anything really, but I can trust that it will all unfold as it should.

Leigh Munro
Leigh Munro
Leigh's response

Working with Amanda has proven to be an act of good fortune. We came together as I needed the assistance of an experienced Photographer to take some seriously good images of my work (I don’t have that skill base), but what transpired was nothing short of astonishing!

I was not prepared for the mutual support and understanding we share. Working as an Artist can be isolating and I find myself questioning and justifying my work and practice. In working with Amanda we were able to discuss this openly, it became a natural flow of exchange between the pair of us as we started to work together.

I had the privilege of visiting Amanda’s studio and she mine, that in itself was special, we were sharing our sacred spaces.  My Studio is a space that I like to protect, it is my zone of creation and comfort so opening it up completely to someone I didn’t know initially was a bit confronting, it left me feeling slightly vulnerable, however within sharing our studio  spaces we were equally vulnerable and equally honest with one another.

It created a beautiful exchange and dialogue between us, we could share and explore our mutual experiences in a candid and sincere way in complete safety.

I loved watching Amanda work with her camera, it was a beautiful thing to behold, her focus, her skill and her approach, it requires empathy and sensitivity. I found myself surprised and wondering as I began to see how she worked, and appreciate how she created a connection with her subject. This went far deeper than the mere act of “getting the right image”  it was about humanness, relationship and quiet competency that put me at ease, enabling me to relax and drop my defences to reveal who I am. 

Within the process of working together we started to naturally exchange ideas, explore or opinions and thoughts, that is powerful. We started brain storming concepts that flowed in an innovative exchange. There is something delightful in sharing a co-creative space with another human being. There is that saying “no man is an Island” and I do believe that to be true, and even more so, in relation to forming ideas, bouncing thoughts and images of one another generates momentum.

About 3 years ago I had decided I would like to attempt painting some abstract representations of how I perceived someone, their presence and personality. This provide to be the perfect time to explore this.  As we were “on a roll” exploring different ideas, we both decided it would be a great opportunity for me to explore this “side shoot” so I am presently working on painting four Abstract works of different individuals, their energy and how I perceive them in colour shape and form. Obviously Amanda is one of these. Truthfully, I decided to experiment on a couple of people before I endeavoured on Amanda’s work as I wanted to make sure I could pull this off and I wasn’t just “kidding” myself. This created a whole new approach to my work, I was the one in the driver seat, and I had to make myself extremely vulnerable to be able to pick-up, empathise and connect with my sitter. I had to drop all my guard, leaving me feeling vulnerable, naked and raw, but in doing so my sitters opened up to me in an uninhibited truthful and honest way creating a sensitive, honest and true exchange.

I think that is the absolute underpinning of co-creation, the willingness to drop everything and truly share your thoughts and feelings.

So far I have completed two successful works and am halfway through number three and then on to Amanda’s Personality/Individual portrait.

There is immense power in working with open, like minded people who are prepared to bare all, with no pretence. This has been a beautiful experience that has proved very rewarding and all through the happy circumstance of needing what I thought would be just a couple of photo’s taken. How illuminating, I had no idea what would be revealed through this process.

I am very grateful.