An interview with Photograd Open 2018 exhibiting photographer Kerry Curl

Photography students at London Metropolitan University supported in the curation of our very first open exhibition and also selected a number of exhibiting photographers to interview about their work.

Here we have an interview with Kerry Curl.


KERRY_CURL_PHOTOGRAD_EXHIBITION_MAY_2018_NORWCH_JORDAN_WAKE_2017-7274.jpg

Who inspired you as a fashion photographer? I’ve just always been interested in style and people. As a child I’d draw fashion designs and would have sketchbooks full of entire wardrobe ideas for films I’d seen. When I thought I was destined to spend my life in call centre type jobs I’d be reading art books as an escape. Tracey Emin’s My Bed, I discovered by looking through those Best Of…, A-Z of Artists type books and not only did I connect with it on first sight, in that way you’re sometimes just grabbed by a piece of music right away, I found the artist herself really interesting. Her story made me question my own. Not coming from a creative family/background I found those books a really accessible way to view and learn about the visual arts. I still do.

There wasn’t really a ‘fashion’ photographer, who made me think ‘I want to do that!’ but the photographer who gave me what I refer to as That Emin feeling was Daido Moriyama. I saw his work exhibited at the Tate in 2012 and that’s when I knew I needed to start thinking about what photography means to me, what do I want from it, how can I learn more?

Although fashion is within my work and most people do refer to me as a fashion photographer, I actually find myself wondering more and more what a fashion photographer is in 2018?  Where do I fit in? Photography genres can and do merge. I’ve really started to question fashion within my work. It is part of the imagery but it’s not the works sole purpose.

A by-product of the way I create is that I often find myself working with second hand clothing. I’ve been wearing second hand clothes since birth really, starting from necessity and then as I got older through choice. It’s not a new notion to me at all. However now this shopping approach, chimes with the increasing interest in the mainstream for sustainability in the fashion industry.

There’s growing desire for sustainable fashion as consumers begin to ask where their clothes come from. Almost paradoxically, the consumer demand for sustainability imposes a commercial imperative on this most egalitarian of impulses. These are interesting times to be contributing to fashion media.

Many people are more conscious than they once were of the social implications of what they buy and wear, rather than the sheer quantity of what they could consume or the status it would afford them. In a portfolio review I once talked about fashion in this way and was told that I wasn’t talking about the photography enough. However as a medium, photography for me is so intertwined with other art forms and our world around us, they exist together and that’s a key part of my work. Beyond fashion, I will always cite music and film as things which inspire me greatly. Inspiration is everywhere, that may be a cliché but it’s true.

What advice would you give someone starting off as a fashion photographer? My honest advice is to drop the focus of ‘fashion’ and just start photographing style/people/subject matters which interest you.

Be inquisitive, be genuinely inquisitive in knowing and learning more, look to different art forms for inspiration. Explore who has influenced your influences. If you are shooting fashion work because you feel you should or it’s a trend you think you must follow, then don’t. That applies across the board with all subject matters really. I wish I could remember who said to me  “show the work you want to talk about” - it’s such sound advice.

What camera do you use for your portraits? My go to camera is a Nikon D810, but I’ll also still use an array of 35mm SLR cameras sometimes and we’re not talking top of the range. I mostly use ones I’ve picked up second hand, some are what would probably be classed as an ‘entry level’ SLR. I’m always in charity and second hand shops looking for things I can use within my work so I pick up random cameras from time to time, even point and shoots. If I can make work with it then I’m interested. I shoot with ANY film I can afford. How amazing it was when Poundland used to sell 35mm film, sadly I think that’s passed but I still always look out for it.

I also really enjoy instant film, I found an old Instax Wide camera in a charity shop for £1.50 which it turned out was in full working order. Although I’ve used Polaroid cameras, Instax film is more friendly for my budget and I’ve also found the film to be more reliable but there is still that interestingly  unpredictable quality of tone and focus which can be bitter-sweet. I read an interview with Brian Eno on openculture.com where he said:
“The real hooks, the moments that we most connect with and return to again and again, are often happy accidents.”

Although he was referring to music, this also really connects to the visual arts for me. The different materials and approaches keep me inquisitive. People have expressed surprise because I like to work with both digital and film but I just don’t feel the need to be exclusively one or the other right now.  I learned photography on film - before digital was a thing. I just like cameras really, not from a techno-geek sense, just as a physical object that I can create imagery with.

Where did you study? I did my BA (Hons) Photography at Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) , graduating with a 1st in 2017. I was thirty seven when I started my degree, although during my twenties and thirties I was lucky enough to access the adult education system whilst courses such as photography were much more available and accessible, with many classes being conducted in local secondary schools.

Indeed my first City and Guilds course was in my old school, which is ironic as the art options available when I was actually at that school as a teenager, were somewhat lacking and photography was certainly not on the curriculum. The Adult Education offerings, certainly in Norwich have changed so much over the last decade, they’ve really declined in course choice and have become much more expensive. This is a real shame.

Do you think social media such as Instagram has an effect on photography; does it benefit your work? Interesting question. I have a bit of a love vs ‘bored now’ relationship with social media but there’s no doubt that platforms like Instagram have democratised access to images and ideas that would once have been obscure or inaccessible.  You are not restricted to the grubby dog-eared stock in your under-resourced local library, or on what happens to be flavour of the month in The Face or NME.  Today, an image maker can be a self-curating cultural magpie in a way a predecessor even just a few years ago could not have imagined. However, I do feel lucky to know what life without social media was like...

It concerns me that it’s easy to put pressure on ourselves to constantly be ‘seen’ to be making work, checking if it’s being well received etc when really we just tossing it out in to an unknown seemingly ever changing algorithm which is someone else’s business model and so we are not really in control of its future anyway.

The positives are that it’s a great way to meet people to work with and it’s brilliant as a way to stay in touch. It can be a very supportive place but there’s a tipping point and it’s important to remind ourselves that we are more than a number.

What are your future aims and do they include photography? It feels like it’s taken me so long to finally be working with photography (my creative life has been far from linear!) that I can’t imagine photography not being a part of my future. I’m always questioning my practice, I learned through keeping journals at uni that I’m naturally a reflective person and that the work I make is often a response to what’s around me.

I’m planning on returning to education to do an MA in two or three years time. At present, I really want to spend some time making new work and gaining more experience out in the world - all of which I can take with me to my next education phase. I was approached by a uni professor who very kindly visited my degree show work and he suggested I could think about going straight for a PhD which whilst amazing to hear and has certainly made think of the long term possibilities, I feel personally if there is a PhD within my work (within me...)  then an MA is the stepping stone that I need to get me there. I can’t image not returning to education, it may sound dramatic but it has been life changing. It’s not a case of if I go back, it’s just a matter of when.

My degree show, final uni project and my dissertation continues to inform my personal work and ideas.  The show featured installation work of a seventies inspired lounge which I really enjoyed creating. The space invited the viewer to become part of the work. With my photography on the walls and my moving image work looping on period correct televisions, everyday I observed how the audience interacted with the work and I became even more convinced that photography for me was about imagery across disciplines and multi-media innovation, driving me to question the role of a photographer today.

I didn’t realise at the time when I was hauling pieces of furniture across London for my degree show installation that this wasn’t actually the final product, but in fact it was further research. I’m so glad I helped look after the degree show everyday because being able to watch the reactions to my work was really a lightbulb moment about it’s possibilities.

I’d love to exhibit again, I’m planning to keep working through ideas using photography, moving image and installation and I’m also looking at releasing work within a zine format. Ultimately I just want to keep making work which interests me enough to continue making more work.