Andrea Allan

University: Manchester School of Art

Graduation: 2014

Genre: Narrative

Artist Statement: Through my work I explore the real and imaginary and the gap between subject and object in an attempt to better understand the links between our past, present and future. Combining photography with the written word I am able to weave the ideas of past narratives into the fabric of present places.

The series the Village grew out of my own disconnection to the village I’ve grown up in. The idea of community in the village has started to fragment. Its identity has come under threat over the past decade as its boundaries have become blurred by the influences of infrastructure, technology and expansion.

From the series  the Village

From the series the Village

What are some standout moments from your time at university? I’d been out of education for a few years before starting the MA, so being back in the academic environment, with tutors for feedback, peers to discuss work with and facilities galore was in itself a standout moment. 

When the final exhibition was installed, it was the moment that a one yearlong piece of work all came together.

What themes do you find yourself exploring? Distilled right down I would have to say human nature. I find the way we behave, our social and cultural constructs to be fascinating. My work takes note of the past and how it’s influencing the future, there are always tensions between the two, and it’s this ethereal section that holds power, which I want to explore. 

From the series  the Village

From the series the Village

What encouraged you to progress onto studying for an MA in photography? Whilst studying at Sunderland University we had a number of talks given by practising artists that the MA students used to come along to. Myself and a few of my friends would talk to them about what they were doing on the course and what it was like. Thus planting the seed that progressing on to an MA was the right way to go. 

It’s worth noting that I took a 4-year gap between the BA and MA, I felt it was important to my own practice to cut the academic umbilical cord and produce work for myself and to my own deadlines.

What motivated you to produce a photobook for your series the Village? I became interested in how audiences read work in different formats. With the work being narrative based I started to think about the artist book. A book itself is indicative of an invitation to reflect on the work that is presented to you. Despite controversy over its definition the artist book is seen to be an original work of art, one that is not a reproduced version of pre-existing work that integrates its thematic of aesthetic issues with its production and realisation. With this in mind I wanted the book to reference the exhibition piece, whilst at the same time become an object in its own right. 

the Village  photobook

the Village photobook

What equipment did you use to create this body of work? Is your chosen camera important to your way of working? Everything for the Village was shot on a D800. I’ve struggled in the past to create bodies of work in colour. When I started taking photographs everything was black and white film, the same as all the documentary photographers work I took influence from. It was imperative that the Village was shot in colour so I chose the easy option of shooting digital, that way I could work through a lot of different ideas without shooting through 100 roles of film. 

Personally the camera is very important to the way that I work. I prefer to shoot film, black and white, medium format, all of these elements combined slow the process of taking a photograph down. It takes time to take light meter readings, set the camera up, choose the right lens, whilst doing all of these things you’re thinking about the image. I’ve taken 20 minutes setting up a shot to then walk away without photographing it, realising that it wasn’t what I wanted. 

From the series  the Village

From the series the Village

Name some photographers who always influence your work. Depending on what I’m working on the influences change frequently, lately I’ve found myself being inspired by sculptures and conceptual artists. 

There are those photographers whose work you continually come back though, and for me they are Lorna Simpson, Sophie Calle, Duane Michals, Anton Corbijn, Joel-Peter Witkin, and Gregory Crewdson. 

From the series  the Village

From the series the Village

What’s your reasoning for placing your work under the genre of ‘narrative’?  My work has always been heavily based around narrative and story telling. I’m sure I once read that stories could be used as currency, that nomads could sleep and eat with you if they had a good story to tell. Whether or not it’s true I don’t know, but I think it’s interesting to see how we as humans interact with one another, and more often than not its through narratives. With my work there is always an issue I want to discuss, to highlight with the viewer, I find the most effective way for myself to do this is through photography and text. 

You’ve exhibited this work previously, but how did you go about doing so? How did you present the images and text?  The size of the images in the book and the exhibition are linked. There were three different sizes in total. For the exhibition layout I wanted to have clusters of images with enough space around them to suggest that they were linked as a whole piece whilst also maintaining this sense of isolation. 

the Village  installation image

the Village installation image

I had tried printing onto various papers, letterpress and none of them really worked with the images. In the end it was done with vinyl lettering, which I felt worked really well, it wasn’t overpowering the images; there was a good balance. 

What have you learnt from making this series? Do you now feel a stronger connection to the village you grew up in? At the time of shooting this work I was living in Manchester and coming home to photograph. One night I went to my parents for dinner and walked home, it was dark and there was no one around which was usual. Yet something didn’t feel right, normally I listen to music whilst walking, but I felt I needed to switch it off and listen. Complete silence. It was really unnerving, all of a sudden I didn’t feel safe anymore, it was too quiet. 

In a city you expect various forms of social pollution, crime for example, yet in a village less so, this is steadily changing. The sense of community in cities is slowly increasing, at the same time the exact opposite is happening in villages, people are becoming even more isolated from one another. 

From the series  the Village

From the series the Village

The lighting in your images is perfect, and brings an eerie presence for the viewer; something suggests we need to look deeper. Do you spend a lot of time in post-production perfecting your work? When I started on my BA at Sunderland University the whole of first year was analogue, you didn’t even touch a digital camera. I spent hours in the darkroom learning how to print from negatives, it’s quite limiting in relation to Photoshop. Shooting on film makes you really slow down and think about what you’re doing; is the crop right, is the exposure right for how I want to print it etc. This all limits time in the darkroom. It’s something I’ve carried across when working digitally, only editing to the same level that I can with film. 

Where does the accompanying text come from? Have you written it yourself? A lot of my work includes text, so far it’s always been written by myself, although I would like to work with a writer at some point. With regards to the Village, the text was based on overheard conversations that I experienced myself, highlighting the somewhat darker side of village life. For example;

I stood in the aisle looking down at the tops

Green blue red

That’s when I heard her say it

That he’d just stepped out

It was the first train of the morning

He’d left a note she said

To his wife and kids

But then, no one buys from the milkman anymore

This was a conversation I overheard in our local Co-op. It was in reference to the fact that one of milkmen in the village had taken his own life by stepping out in front of a train in the next village over, supposedly because business wasn’t going well as people tend to buy milk at the supermarket now. 

From the series  the Village

From the series the Village

What opportunities do you hope for your work to bring you in the future? I’m working on a new piece at present that will last a couple of years. It’s personal work, so it’s going in a slightly different direction to work I’ve done before. There are going to be a lot of challenges that I’m really looking forward to in a weird sort of way, it’s putting in to practice a lot of ideas and research that I’ve been doing on the dissemination of photography. I’m sure there will be opportunities associated with it, I’ve just completed a commission for Oh Comely magazine that’s linked to it, although right now my main focus is doing the work, any opportunities that present themselves are all additional extras.