Wisdom Teeth: Behind the Zine with Rose Boakes

Rose Boakes explores the intricacies of teenage years, delving into themes of growth, rebellion, and the spaces in between. Her debut book, Wisdom Teeth, showcases surreal beauty in the familiar, blending nostalgic memories with bold experimentation. 

Drawing from backgrounds in sociology, English literature, art photography, and a passion for film, Boakes’s diverse foundation shapes her art. In this interview, we discuss her photographs, creative process, and advice for others to find their voice in visual art.

You’re a student, photographer, and creative. Tell us about your creative journey to get to where you are today.

I’ve always been around creative people and motivated to not just be academic. I grew up with my grandma teaching me and my sister to collage and draw with our left hands.  I watched my dad on holiday taking photos with a camera he would soon give to me—as well as admiring my uncle’s photography. 

The passion then bloomed as I started to study photography at school and promote it using social media and any submissions I could get my hands on. I think, especially within art, it’s super important to put yourself out there and submit to as much as you can. 

In July 2022, I submitted three images to a small online zine (the kids are talking) titled “Cowgirl.” It is a small achievement but one that would motivate me to submit to other publications like the Philm Red Addition in 2023. Right now, I’m focusing on exploring photography techniques as I continue to use the darkroom and camera-less styles.

Close-up of Rose Boakes holding the Wisdom Teeth photography zine with a Polaroid-style photo on the cover

If you had to describe your work using only three words, what would they be?

I think in this book, the photography really varies. At the start, they feel more nostalgic; in the middle, they feel more rebellious; and the book ends with quite surreal and weird images. I guess those are my three: nostalgic, rebellious, weird. In that order.

How have your studies influenced your work?

For my A-levels, I take sociology, English literature, and art photography. They have all influenced my work in some way, whether it was consciously or not. Even though it’s not a set study of mine, I think one of the big areas that influences my work is film. Moving image is definitely something I would love to explore in the future.

What is the most adventurous thing you’ve done in pursuit of the perfect shot?

Something I definitely want to do with my work is be braver and more outlandish, but in this book, you can see quite tame adventures. For example, in images ‘fish, lion’ and ‘woodlouse,’ I convinced my friends to set up a blow-up mattress in a public park whilst wearing pyjamas. In the very same park, I’ve photographed friends suffocating in alien masks and camouflage outfits.

What inspired you to create the book Wisdom Teeth? And where did the title come from?

I was inspired to create this book by my photographer role models whose pages sit on my shelves—as a sense of accomplishment definitely comes from a physical body of work. 

I chose the title Wisdom Teeth mainly because I thought mine may have been coming through as I was constructing the book. The title also nicely sums up ideas about growing up and teenage life, which I tried to present.

Rose Boakes flipping through the pages of her Wisdom Teeth zine, showing photographs of a person on a swing set in a park setting and handwritten page numbers

Can you share a behind-the-scenes story about a photograph in Wisdom Teeth that would surprise readers?

The main thing that may seem surprising about the book is that a majority of it was used for GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) coursework. In fact, the mixed media pieces ‘fish, lion’ and ‘woodlouse’ were my graded final pieces. As you get to the end of the book, you see my more recent A-level pieces, which I’m continuing to explore.

How did you decide on the final sequence and layout of photographs in your book? Was there a particular narrative or flow you were aiming for?

The last few images in the book are from a shoot I did around the idea of man versus alien. I’ve always been fascinated with space and sci-fi, and especially the fear around it, so I wanted to show a staged, low-budget, DIY, and childish adaptation of quite sinister and violent scenes. 

Specifically, the inspirations here stemmed from short films my dad made when he was my age, with him and his friends frolicking in forests playing war. So, to enhance this naive viewpoint of conflict, I made paper-mache alien and robot helmets and constructed cardboard tubular guns. 

In terms of layout, since it’s my first book, I wanted to experiment with different page designs. I spanned one of the images over two pages, splitting up the aliens from the men. 

Describe your bookmaking process from curation to final design. Can you share an unexpected lesson you learned about yourself during the process?

The first thing I did was choose the images I wanted to include. To bring some order to the chaos of the book, I decided to only include digital images and not limit the curation to a certain theme (something I will most definitely do in the future). 

One of the last additions to the book was the handwritten elements. I hand-wrote, scanned, and inverted my page numbers and titles as I wanted them to feel authentic and scrapbook-y. 

This project has probably been one of my longest, and I’ve definitely learnt about taking my time and trying out many options. If I went with my first layout, we would be looking at a very different book!

Two Polaroids from Wisdom Teeth by Rose Boakes, a self-published photography zine, with creative imagery.

What’s the most valuable piece of feedback you’ve received on your work, and how might it help others in their creative journey?

One of the best pieces of advice or feedback I’ve been given is to photograph more. It seems simple, but there have been countless times when I’ve seen something, and my camera hasn’t been in my pocket.

What advice would you give to photography students about developing their unique artistic voice?

Inspiration is so widely available now that it can be hard to develop a unique voice. A lot of it comes from research and finding out what you like when looking at other people’s images—and what you do with those ideas. There’s no use in collating inspiration if you don’t plan on being inspired by it.

I also think it’s just all in experimentation. Recently, I’ve tried out chemigrams but realised that they aren’t something I like because they lack too much control.

Do you have plans for future publications or creative works, and if so, can you give us a sneak peek?

Leading on nicely from the last few pages of the book, I’m trying to explore those narratives more in-depth and create a more vast display of work. In the future, I want to present different photographic techniques. And, because this book didn’t follow a preset theme, I would love to focus on a single narrative next time.


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