With the inaugural Hnry Awards now wrapped up, we got the chance to chat with this year’s winners about their entries, their inspirations, and their experiences as independent earners.
We’re joined by:
- Grand Prize winner, Tim Hamilton, and his collaborator, Casey
- Julia Palm, first runner-up
- and Fifi Colston, second runner-up
Where did your entry idea come from?
Fifi Colston: I was sitting at a café thinking about the question Hnry had proposed. I’d had a great year last year, with great opportunities and work happening, but it was also full on and had left me facing 2020 quite depleted; physically and emotionally exhausted. I wasn’t sure if I could pull that rabbit out of the hat again for another year to provide financially. Magic up the work. I didn’t want to hustle anymore – I wanted certainty of income. I felt quite depressed, the image came to me very easily. I was going to paint it, or make a model of it, but then re-read the brief and saw that you were after ideas, not necessarily execution. I felt my diary sketch conveyed all it needed to without anything more at this point. So I scanned it, sent it and got on with life. Which is now not as we know it!
Julia Palm: I am a hugely visual person, and I really wanted to show a little slice of the world I live in. I have a pretty unique community, creative space and personality - and the only way to show this amalgamation was with a video.
Tim Hamilton: The idea for my entry comes from porn. I make media for a job and the world’s most popular media is porn, especially in a pandemic. A few of my mates are cam girls and I do struggle with money. But the target demographic and the people with money are straight-men. (That’s not an assumption, that’s porn-hub stats - so don’t argue in the comments). I lack much of the talent required. However, I am a great Visual Effects Artist so the decision was easy.
Casey: As the arts are so woefully underfunded in this country, many young female artists (filmmakers included) pay their bills with sex work, thus allowing them to invest more of thier time, attention, and extra cash into thier careers. The relationship between sex and art is nothing new, but unfortunately our cultural attitudes towards it are still in the dark ages. When Tim came to me with the idea, it felt like a great way to start a meaningful conversation about sex work and social stigma, all the while having a bloody good time.
How do you describe your career and your ‘leap’ into self-employment?
TH: An artist once asked me how I describe my career. I didn’t know the answer so he prophesied to me while painting my portrait on the wall of an ammonia-rich meth den in Mexico, “you are a historian”. We then fled from the Federales and I think he’s dead now. (Leandro, if you’re reading this, I left my field-recorder upstairs. Sell it. it’s worth more to you than me) But that’s another story.
The background of my career can be described like this: I was a homeless teen making advertisements for the local city library. I got a great girlfriend, her family fed me and I have now been a professional in the film industry across several countries as an editor, actor, VFX artist and camera op.
FC: I’m a multi layered, fingers-in-many-pies creative. I graduated from Design School back in the day and worked as a commercial illustrator for years, added TV work to that, book illustration, writing, costume and props making, wearable art, teaching workshops, touring schools….
Really I was forced into independent earning because I couldn’t get a job when I graduated! I was ‘too creative’ or ‘not experienced enough’ for every position I applied for. So I started freelancing and learned to say ‘yeah sure, I can do that’ when offered commissions, sound confident, upskill as I worked. Leaving a client feeling like they are in a safe pair of hands is critical to being self-employed. That, and delivering work on time and within the budget. No excuses. Also, I’d be terrible in an office, too many people around me whilst I work drives me nuts. I don’t even like a shared studio. Plus I talk too much, so I’d get no work done and neither would anyone else.
JP: My career so far has been a pretty amazing mashup of education, internships, travel, and invaluable support and encouragement from mentors and friends. After graduating Fashion school I moved to New York, and got some pretty huge opportunities working for Eckhaus Latta leading up to New York Fashion Week – being an assistant stylist at Opening Ceremony, and working in production for a luxury mens suiting brand. After this I moved to Stockholm, Sweden and rented an artist studio and got a sublease in a little apartment for four months. I worked on a few freelance projects alongside researching and designing a new collection in the depths of a snowy Scandinavian winter (it was -20degrees!). The artist studio I rented was in this epic large old building, and the hallways were so long everyone rode scooters to get from one side of the building to another.
Coming back to New Zealand two years ago, I wanted to take all of that inspiration and energy and jump into the deep end and become self-employed. New Zealand fashion felt so prescribed, and like it needed to have some different systems in the mix. It was in that moment, of coming back and not seeing the opportunities I wanted, that I soon realised I was going to have to create them myself. I wanted unscripted, multifaceted, creativity that focused on the actual making. And for me this happens to translate into fierce, wearable and unexpectedly beautiful clothing, photography and textile artworks. I’m pretty anti-gatekeeping, so I thrive in making my own opportunities and not waiting around for anyone else to deem my work worthy enough.
So I put my super powers to work and started JPalm as a multifaceted creative outlet (but mainly focusing on sustainable slow fashion). Now two years later, I am well on the road to making this universe a reality. It’s been so hard not having any financial backing and moving at a snail’s pace - but I think hard work has made it so much sweeter, having little moments of what I self define as success. It is and was fucking hard work but also endlessly rewarding, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I work full time as an independent earner, and part-time as an employee. I really hope one day I can be 100% self employed - and winning 1st runner up will certainly assist in that next step. It will be nice to one day not have to work as hard as I am right now - which pre-lockdown was on average about 12 hours a day 7 days a week.
How has your career been impacted by COVID-19 pandemic specifically?
JP: As soon as Covid19 started getting increasingly dangerous in New Zealand, I didn’t really know what to feel yet, but it was definitely a mixture of anxiety and the unknown. I am a pretty warm and open person, and incredibly good at planning and adapting, so I feel like I was ready for whatever situation was thrown at me, but it’s still scary.
The Level 4 lockdown was announced in New Zealand as I was sitting in my studio on Courtenay Place - the Neither Project. I instantly dropped everything I was doing, and with the crushing reality of only having 48hours to prepare for a month at home, I set to work. I made a total of 60 cotton PPE face masks (for free) for my immediate community of friends and collaborators in Wellington. I spent a solid 12 hours, until 2am, cutting, sewing and sizing them. The next day before going into isolation, I drove all around Wellington and delivered them contactless into people’s letterboxes. Thorndon - Hataitai - Berhampore - Island Bay - Aro Valley - Karori.
I have been fortunate that I have been able to keep my part time job during lockdown, as well as the government wage subsidy easing things up a little. I have also still had the amazing support from my customers, and freelance work coming in on top of this - but it truly has taken a big PAUSE on everything (emotionally and physically). Before lockdown and Level 4 were announced, I was preparing for my biggest busiest month EVER, so it was very disorientating having to push pause whilst in that turbo work headspace. I think now more than ever people will be wanting to support New Zealand made sustainable products - and I really hope that my work resonates with people. I am optimistic about the future of New Zealand fashion - but also a little scared about what the recession will bring. I guess it’s still too early to know the true effects of COVID-19, but I am still very excited for what 2020 has in store for me.
FC: All the paid work I had lined up pre-COVID-19, right up to October, has been canned. I listed the gigs on a spreadsheet: it amounts to thousands of dollars. I said that I didn’t want to hustle this year – be careful what you wish for!
TH: There is a saying in the film industry, “fake it till you make it”. But a few of us aren’t faking it, so when COVID closed all the major productions, we gained a lot of work. And I have maintained work with some awesome local production houses. Miramar in Wellington has this wild ‘once upon a time in Wellywood’ underground scene. We’re out here building groundbreaking technology and supplying each other feijoas and booze. I walk down Park Road and encounter 3 or 4 other makers in 10 minutes, all with wild stories. It’s a very exciting time for independent film in New Zealand.
For the sex workers, it’s a different story. With the lockdown killing all in-person sex services, many working girls/boys have had to take their bussiness online. While sex work has been decriminalised in New Zealand, there is still a strong social stigma attached to this legal profession. As a result, many sex workers who don’t have the luxury of being “out” have lost their main source of income and they can’t even talk about it to thier friends and family.
What are your plans for your cash prize?
TH: Half goes directly to Casey and supporting sex-workers affected by COVID-19. The other half I am paying unpaid GST. I very much hope the IRD doesn’t read online articles!
Casey: In addition to giving me some much needed financial breathing room, winning this competition has given us a chance to kickstart a meaningful conversation with the New Zealand public about sex workers and the social stigma they still face.
JP: After the winners were announced, I was pretty ecstatic. I have never won a competition before, and it was a whirlwind of emotions. I will be spending the $7500 on things I have never been able to access because of lack of funding. Mainly I will be paying myself a small weekly wage, and also getting some sock and knitwear designs manufactured in New Zealand. I will also be treating myself to some new tools for the studio that I have never been able to afford (maybe a new die set for my foot press or maybe even a new specialized industrial sewing machine).
FC: Boringly, I have put it aside to pay bills as things get tougher. And they will. If we weren’t in a pandemic, and life was as it was, I’d probably have hedonistically booked tickets to Barcelona to see the Sagrada Familia in July. I can feel good about my lack of carbon footprint instead. I’m ok with that. No, really, I am.
What’s next for you and your creative practice?
FC: I’m working on a huge and complex graphic novel of sorts that will take forever to finish, but right now I can do it because there is literally nothing else on my dance card. It’s hard to concentrate on this elephant, but I’m eating it one bite at a time. I’ve had to change the narrative to include a post pandemic world. And I don’t know what that is yet, I’m curious to find out.
My future career will likely involve more rabbits, pulled from more hats. The hats may all have different shapes, and the rabbits will be multi coloured. But magic will still happen, because that’s what creatives do.
TH: I’m making a piece about a dog I loved who kept me alive through 3 months of isolation travelling the wilderness in an RV. He is dead, but his story could direct attention towards caring for animals.
Casey and I have been collaborating on a bananas digital series called “Damo Johnston; Intergalactic Gourmand”. One of the lead characters is a sex-robot turned camera-man - it’s a role custom written for me to play as a means of using the video’s viral reach to continue this meaningful conversation about sex work, and the importance of loving, understanding friends who accept you for who you are.
JP: Before the lockdown was announced, I was halfway through my biggest project to date. I have a whole new collection of garments that are designed, cut, and ready for me to sew - which is what I am working towards in Level 3. Once this is done and dusted, I will be collaborating with an amazing dream team of model/photographer/makeup artist and getting this ready to send to my stockists: The Service Depot and Palm Boutique. I will also be hosting a small VIP event in my studio/workroom/showroom NEITHER.project so that my friends and family can have a look and celebrate this project with me.
I have a number of collaborations lined up with different creative practitioners in Aotearoa, so I will be taking action on these projects later in the year. One big project I have had on the backburner for the past two years - is an exhibition event with multi-disciplined creatives - music, perfume, textile art, fashion installation, and performance. It will take a lot of energy to pull it all off - but I hope it can happen in the next year. I also have so many side projects waiting for me in the wings - zines, newspapers, photoshoots, textile artworks, collaborations, events, fashion videos.
I guess I will just continue on the same path, but more and bigger and better haha. The JPalm universe is only just beginning.
Tim Hamilton can be reached on his Instagram @tim.diddle; Julia Palm can be reached on Instagram @_jpalm_ or her website; and Fifi Colston can be found on Facebook, her Instagram @fificolston, or her website.