Alex Gale

UniversityFalmouth University

Graduation: 2016

Genre: Fine Art

Artist Statement:

Nothing here’s set in stone seeks to question our understanding of photography as a visual medium of representation. I believe as viewers we are conditioned into how to perceive and understand imagery. This series aims to exploit our reliance on the photographic medium as a representation of reality. In turn it presents the viewer with a level of uncertainty when observing the work. Once we view the work and struggle to understand, this prompts a self reflective process in which the viewer can then understand what they expect and want to see when looking at imagery. This reflection on the conditioned process needs to be questioned and I aim to provide the audience with a refreshing, fun and curious viewing experience.

From the series   Nothing here's set in stone

From the series Nothing here's set in stone

What are some standout moments from your time at university? The best moments for me were when developing a concept and trying to figure out the best way to represent this through my photography. I’d spend hours and hours processing and scanning my film; that moment when I see an image that I think works and represents my concept is amazing. It’s that “I think I’m on to something” feeling, during the early stages of a project. 

Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? My work is very suburban landscape and architecturally driven and I think almost by accident I become quite conceptually focused. So I would say my work falls under the ‘Fine Art’ photography category but I like to think I’m part of a fairly new movement within this category, pushing the boundaries and understanding of the genre. 

From the series   Nothing here's set in stone

From the series Nothing here's set in stone

What themes do you find yourself exploring? Since the second year of my course at Falmouth I found myself looking for a bit more than just taking an image. I am really interested in how we perceive and understand photography and how this understanding has come about. I aim to produce work that’s subconsciously provocative.

What attracted you to creating a project based around our perceptions of the photographic medium, and why did you photograph these particular places to portray your theory? As I tried to move away from just taking images of true locations I found myself struggling to come up with a concept. I’ve seen so many photographers within the ‘Fine Art’ category shoot challenging/troubling subject matter, and I find this work fairly ineffective, as I believe this has become a route many photographers chose to go down. My understanding was photographers choose to shoot such subject matter to provoke change, yet as their imagery is classed as ‘Fine Art’ the effect of the subject matter is lost. I wanted to question why we can so easily look past subject matter and only appreciate an image as art and how we as viewers are conditioned into this automatic process of perception. My practice became really focused on perception and how we rely on photography to represent reality, so I decided to use this realign to my advantage and start digitally manipulating my images. The general subject matter I chose to shoot would usually attract me because of architectural features and the colours within the location. I found shooting so fun as I could do more than just take the image, I could completely change the location when it came to post production and this is a notion I kept in mind when choosing a location to shoot.

Images from the series    Nothing here's set in stone

Images from the series Nothing here's set in stone

Can you tell us about any visual and/or theoretical influences you had whilst making the project, Nothing here’s set in stone? There are a few really big influences for me such as Bas Princen, Thomas Albdorf, Josef Schulz, Noémie Goudal, Jeff Wall and Edgar Martins. They all push the understanding of photography in their own unique ways. As for theoretical research, I found Slavoj Žižek’s Welcome to the Desert of the Real and Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception really interesting, and they both play a big part in developing and understanding my theoretical beliefs. 

What are your photographic plans and/or hopes for your post-graduate life? I’m really excited to explore opportunities of working in London and Amsterdam, preferably within a creative agency. I will always carry on my photographic practice alongside my job but I really want to eventually run a creative agency/collective. 

From the series   Nothing here's set in stone

From the series Nothing here's set in stone

You’ve photographed locations completely devoid of human presence; was this a conscious decision? Have you ever considered photographing figures in the places? My series was greatly focused on the viewer themselves, so I felt that for the viewer to be able to experience a self-reflective viewing process, the spaces they view must have no human presence. I wanted the viewer to focus on themselves and how they interpret the image. 

How long did each image take to manipulate? Can you show us one of the photographs before you edited it and explain the choices you made? The post production process varied a lot from image to image. Some images would only undergo very slight manipulation, for example removing a fence panel or a crack in a wall. Other images would take hours, mainly due to the often complex subject matter I shot, in terms of texture and pattern within the images. I have chosen to show one of the heavier manipulated images from my series to give an example of the post production process (shown below). With this image in particular, there were elements I really loved that attracted me to shoot this location, such as the empty house side, the fence and the mix of textures between these two elements. So I went about removing all the distracting elements within the image to allow the focus to be on the house and the fence. 

Before and after the image had been manipulated during post production. 

Before and after the image had been manipulated during post production. 

What camera did you use to shoot this project on? And is this your preferred camera to work with? I shot this project using a Mamiya 7ii with an 80mm lens. I love this camera; it’s so practical, the perfect 6x7 crop, and it also produces large negatives. I am currently saving to buy my own as I used to rent one from my university’s photography department. When shooting for this project, I did a lot of exploring and the conditions of shooting were often uncertain, so carrying round a 5x4 camera was not an option for me. 

What size were the final exhibition prints and why? The final framed prints for my degree exhibition were 18 by 21 inches. I had bespoke frames built for my exhibition as the viewing experience of my images was the primary focus of the series. Instead of using the usual glass, I replaced this with 1 inch think clear acrylic, within a 2.5 inch box frame. The acrylic produced a 3D depth effect when viewing the image, as the edges are reflected, making the print look as if it could be touched above the acrylic. The frames worked perfectly for me and they worked well with my concept of questioning reality within photography. 

Images from the series,   Nothing here's set in stone   on show at  Free Range 2016 . 

Images from the series, Nothing here's set in stone on show at Free Range 2016

Do you see the project, Nothing here’s set in stone as complete? If not, how do you wish to develop it? In terms of the series, I do think it is complete. I feel the flow and amount of images is exactly how I first envisaged the project to be. Having said that, I am still really influenced by the concept behind this series and I will definitely further develop and produce work involving some form of manipulation. 

Can you remember the moment you became interested in photography? If so, tell us more. I first started photography as a way to document me and my friends mountain biking and skating and this developed into a real interest into the technical side of photography. I progressed into shooting at night, in fact there was a long time where I would only shoot at night. I was always influenced by developing and pushing my technical skill and I guess this influence is still what drives me today having graduated from Falmouth University. 

What would be your dream photographic project? I would love to take a Mamiya 7ii and a big supply of Kodak Portra 400 to a weird location with interesting architecture. I generally like to explore and let the location provoke ideas and concepts, it’s usually a process of noticing unusual elements of a location and from this, I slowly develop something I want to question or experiment with.