University: University Campus Suffolk
Artist Statement: Alastair Bartlett is a recent graduate from UCS Ipswich. He received the Metro Imaging Graduate Award for his third year project Here We Are. One of the photographs from this series was also shortlisted for the Renaissance Photography Prize 2014 which was exhibited at Getty Images Gallery, London. Alastair worked closely with Metro Imaging and his mentorship program on his ongoing series Sandlings. This work intertwines his childhood memories and his innate need to document the surroundings. In 2015 work from the series was exhibited in both the RPS International Print Exhibition and the AOP Awards. In 2016 his work has been shortlisted in both the Fotofilmic Film Photography Prize and the Magenta Flash Forward Awards.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? The degree, for me, was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. I think if you’re passionate about something, this is often the way. Moments of self-doubt, extreme highs, panic and reward were all part of the process. If I had to pick one moment it would be finally hanging the degree show and seeing everyone’s efforts looking so perfect. It was a very special show, and for me, was the highlight.
Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? I guess at the moment its landscape. I hate saying that word to people. I guess it’s because it has many connotations attached to it - picture postcard etc. Subtle landscape?
What themes do you find yourself exploring? A lot of the time my work tends to explore tradition, identity and memory. I never really think about it too much. I think that’s key. People think too much about what they’re doing sometimes. They have it the wrong way around. Shoot first, think later. Perhaps that’s too harsh. Maybe it’s ‘Think a little - Shoot a lot - Think a little more.'
Tell us about your experience as the winner of the UCS Metro Prize in 2014. The mentoring scheme has given me the opportunity to be supported after graduating which I have really appreciated. I think to go from studying with peers and having tutors for three years to not having anyone to bounce ideas off and to be a soundboard would have been really challenging. It’s so nice to be able to go to Steve (Macleod, director of Metro Imaging) and the team at Metro and to share my ideas and get their support. I don’t talk to Steve much now but it’s nice to know his opinion is there if I need it. Another massive benefit was being able to process film and make prints without the worry of price. When you’re shooting film outside of university - it’s even more expensive!
In the project description for Here We Are, you’ve said, “I like to drive around the unfamiliar and take photographs.” What is it about the unfamiliar that you find so compelling? I think as we grow up we stop exploring as much. We go on holiday, maybe visit a new city, but most of the time we’re stuck in a routine. I grew up in a small village in Suffolk and I spent most days out in the fields, climbing trees and exploring. The unfamiliar gives me that feeling again. Taking photographs of it gives me a way of sharing that feeling.
And is this the approach you favour for your other projects as well? My new work has some similarities but it’s not a random as Here We Are. Sandlings is set in and around where I grew up so I know the places quite well. It’s more like me revisiting places I discovered when I was young. Having said that, some of the locations I’ve discovered recently. I’m not sure how to describe it but there’s a feeling I get in my gut when I find a shot. Another factor now is time. I have a lot less time now so I have to plan my shoots in advance and go before or after work. This makes me even more considered but a little more predictable? Both approaches have their merits.
Your work has gained a lot of exposure since you graduated. What advice would you give to a fresh graduate trying to get their work out there? Never give up. If you’re not making work, no one is going to see it. Make time to shoot. Don’t make excuses. Get up at 4 a.m. Shoot on your weekend. Invest your money. Make work for yourself - not other people.
What are the biggest influences on your practice? Anything that isn’t too obvious. Subtlety is key.
What/who is your favourite: photographer, photobook, photography journal/magazine? One of my favourite photographers is Alec Soth. I guess this is a bit of an obvious one but there’s something about his work that I love. The show he had at the Science Museum in London recently was breathtaking. I’m also a bit fan of Todd Hido. I think his work has some vague similarities with my own. Another obvious one is Joel Sternfeld. This is probably my top three of all time.
Here We Are is the only project on your website that has an accompanying description. Why have you decided to leave the others without one? Here We Are is the only project that actually feels finished. I don’t mean that I think its complete, as I don’t actually like it as a body of work anymore, but I’m finished working on it! The rest are either incomplete, or unfinished, or both!
How did you get into commercial photography? Tell us about your experiences of shooting on assignment. A lot of my friends work in the creative industries in London. This helped me get a few bits of work early on. It’s pretty hard getting that kind of work whilst living in Suffolk but I still do the odd job here and there. At the moment, it’s mostly friends, or friends of friends. I still find it tricky to distinguish between different styles. My personal work is a lot different to my commercial stuff and I worry that it may confuse people so I tend not to promote some of my work as much as I should! I need to change that.
Has your way of working changed since completing your degree? If so, tell us how and whether it's for the better. I think my style has become a lot more refined. I was still looking for my ‘look’ in the final year of the degree and I think I’ve found it since leaving. I guess I’ve become more refined in the way I make the work, and I take more time doing it. I don’t have a deadline at the moment, which is both good and bad! I only created around 4 final images last year but they seem to have done okay. I think I need to speed up a bit. I’d also like to vary my work a bit. I’d definitely like to produce some more portraits. I don’t want to get stuck in a style too long.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice before you started your BA, what would that be? Put everything you have into it. I went into it a bit older so I think I did this naturally. Effort = reward.
Which do you favour - film or digital? I love both. Some people go on about film, and I guess I’m one of them. It has its place but it would be a pain to use it solely! For my personal projects I don’t think I’d use anything but film as it gives me the detail and subtlety I need to make it work. I really don’t think these projects would work on digital. It’s not just the image itself, but the way it’s made. It takes about 30 minutes to set up and take the shot using a large format camera, so everything has to be perfect. It’s too expensive and time consuming to work like this for commercial work and the modern digital workflow is so quick and satisfying! It’ll be interesting to see the developments in the next few years as many manufacturers like Hasselblad and Phase One are starting to up their game for the general user. Not to mention the new Sony cameras. Digital is continually progressing and it’s exciting to see.
What are your creative goals for the future? Again, I’d love to make more portraits. I struggle with shooting these sometimes but I do like a challenge. I’d also love to publish a book - this is my all time goal!
What would be your dream photographic project? I’m not sure I have a dream project but it would be pretty ideal to travel around with unlimited supplies, making work. I guess it all comes back to the classic road trip project. I’d also love to have the opportunity to make work abroad. Scandinavia has always appealed to me and I think I could find a project somewhere there.