To accompany the new edition of PGZ, we have interviewed some photography graduates from the submissions received for the Photograd blog. Here we have an interview with Arts University Bournemouth graduate Alex Jones.
Tell us about your time at university. Have you got any stand out moments you can tell us about? I’d been taking pictures for a long time before Uni and wasn’t sure if it was something I needed to study, I was trying to think what my life would look like if I went to uni and wasn’t sure if I would like it. I was sitting there in my room looking at apprenticeships for jobs I wouldn’t mind working, carpentry, arboriculture; outdoor work mostly. But all the people I went to school with were getting married or having babies so I really saw it as an escape before the walls closed in. I was really happy I applied in the end. I felt lucky to be where I was; it really expanded my mind to entirely new ways of thinking about photography and culture. The staff were constantly supportive and the course really challenged me to reconsider conventional narratives in contemporary photography. Beyond the curriculum, my tutors and classmates fostered a great community that I felt was pretty special to be a part of, just looking at our grad show proved that. Most of all I made life-long friendships with incredibly talented people who constantly inspire me and whose support for one another runs contra to the neo-liberal competitive bullshit that pervades the creative industries.
Tell us about your selection of images. What themes do you explore in your work? The photographs I have selected are a small part of a large series I produced in 2017-2018 titled 바람/Wind.
The project is a narrative of two bodies meeting in time and space despite incredibly distant beginnings. Through observational snapshot photography the project forms a journal of my relationship with my girlfriend, Nasung, and a journey we made together to her homeland and beyond. The photographs explore distance, connection, time and love.
What initially inspired you to make this series about your relationship with your girlfriend? I wasn’t really making personal work throughout university; I was more interested in exploring other ideas. I suppose an overarching theme of my work is escapism. I had been making a lot of travel projects: I walked across Cornwall, hitchhiked around Iceland and drove to Wales and Northern Spain, I even made an entire road trip series in a video game. I was interested in boredom, time, meditative states, distance; all the kinds of things you think about on a long drive or a rhythmic hike in open spaces.
I was thinking about photography’s failure to convey lived experience, I wondered why I should bother making photographs while travelling if there was already 1000s of images like it on the internet, I wanted to figure out how I could overcome this. I wrote a kind of manifesto for my dissertation that attempted to overcome my concerns. I was looking at the photographs of Kawauchi Rinko, Asako Narahashi and Bertien Van Manen, among others; their work was closest to the idea of separating oneself from the act of photographing but still capturing a lived experience. I was reading up on cognitive science and phenomenology. Part of my conclusion - the photographer that is active in their engagement of the world will not only photograph phenomenological experiences well, but they will experience life well.
And so I took the travel work I had been attempting and pulled it deeper into the personal experience; I opened my diary and threw it out there for anyone to look at, whether it was unique or not didn’t really bother me, it was (and continues to be) a beautiful part of my life, shared with someone who I love.
Depending on the outcome of Brexit and the future of the UK, where do you picture your photography taking you in the future? Do you think you will continue to make work around this subject? The isolationist, xenophobic bullshit of Brexit is utterly demoralising but not surprising. I’m not sure how well photography can combat these issues, and I personally struggle to find the energy for it. I’m from Cornwall and I had never felt so disappointed in my entire life the day the results came in, 56% of my people had been totally fooled. The cynical, more privileged, part of me wants to give up; how could they have fallen for the lies so easily, why, when Cornwall is one of the areas that receive the most EU support in all of Europe had they voted to reject that. I doubt the solution to these problems lie in photography, it would be much more worthwhile for me to leave the camera at home and go chat to my neighbours, start an action group etc. I love Cornwall, and the Cornish, and I see hope in the younger generations, but with deeper problems such as a seasonal economy, low wages, second homes and so on; young people will continue to leave and old white people will continue to vote to keep things the same. I’m in two minds about the whole thing, give up and leave, or stay and fight. ‘Fighting’ for me would inevitably lead back to photography, since it’s my tool; I have ideas, it’s just finding the energy. I could become very political in my work or I could retreat. 바람/Wind is about connection; the word for Wind in Korean has a similar meaning to hopeful aspiration, which I felt encapsulated love in a way. I was also thinking about the feelings love and connection brings, and photographing things that I related to these feelings: warm ocean water, a summer breeze, clear blue sky; these elemental, natural phenomena that are sensorial and for me, therapeutic. No matter how fucked up this country becomes I think there is hope for connection to prevail.
Do you think it's important for us to know where you girlfriend is from and where you made these images? It might be, for the audience. But it’s a universal narrative that I believe a lot of people can relate to. What I do believe is important is that the audience understands the significance of the journey and being invited into someone’s life; to see their world and the way they see it.
With regards to Brexit, our country is becoming a much more insular place. Our future has always seemed fragile, having homes 5000 miles apart, but Brexit has only made it seem even more so. Harsher and more hostile rules on Visas and immigration have brought even more uncertainty to our relationship. Despite this we continue to love and be loved, knowing that it may become difficult or even unfeasible in the future. This project celebrates the joy of sharing your life with someone regardless of politics, nationality or distance.
The images here aren't specifically of your girlfriend, but of the landscape and sometimes include a few other people who we don't know. Why have you edited your series in this way? This is just a small part of the much larger body of work. The project itself actually exists as a publication consisting of 5 books (each for a different chapter and location of our journey) and a 14-meter long scroll print with over 100 images displayed along it. The photographs depict my observations on this journey but interspersed throughout there are a large number of portraits of Nasung and our shared experiences. Despite her not being in many of the photographs you can feel her presence in nearly all of the images, whether she was just waiting for me or occupied by her own curiosity, there is a presence of companionship throughout the series. Nasung was also my guide on this trip and so the things we did and subsequently the things I photographed were directly influenced by her. The structure of the project became clear to me suddenly one day. By chance I was listening to a Sun Kil Moon/Jesu album in which Mark Kozelek reads his diary to the experimental accompaniment of Jesu. In the song Beautiful You, Kozelek nonchalantly describes his day; walking down to the beach, reading some emails, watching a documentary on tv, but interspersed through the quotidian lyrics is the chorus of ‘Beautiful You’ repeated in an almost angelic voice in appreciation of his partner; I thought this really captured the way that being with someone can elevate your day the monotony of the everyday. 바람/Wind is part of my diary but it is elevated by periods of appreciation, admiration and thankfulness for sharing my experiences with my best friend.
What does your girlfriend think of you making these images? We enjoy making photographs of one another, all my favourite photographs I’ve taken are of her, and she takes all my favourite photographs of myself. Sometimes it feels like if you care about someone then you will make a nicer photograph of them. As for this project Nasung was my collaborator from the beginning, we made the photographs together, made the final selection together and edited the books together. I tried my best to shirk the authority of representation, but at the end of the day this is my best friend, she makes me happy so I want to document that. I was well aware of similar male-gazey works. I wanted her to have a voice, not just in her editing and self-representation, so I asked her to write the introductions to each book. We put a lot of work in to the project together and it’s great to see both our names together on the front cover. It means a lot to me that the project was a collaboration. Of course there I lots of images that didn’t make the cut, and many moments that were never photographed, I think its nice that no matter how much people see in this project they will never no the full story, Nasung and I will always have the moments that only we share.
What would you like for viewers to learn from your work? There’s a lot that could be said about these photographs and the narrative they depict. But all I really want to say is that I hope in some way they come even within a mile of describing what it’s like to love and be loved.
Have you got any exciting future plans? In June I will be exhibiting the original scroll and launching 바람/Wind as a self-published photobook in Falmouth (dates announcing soon) and maybe London too.
In September Nasung will have one year left on her student visa, I will make lots of photographs just like always and maybe this will become an epilogue to 바람/Wind.
Long-term I’m not sure, see how Brexit plays out, move away, maybe to Korea or a more enlightened European country.