A Q&A with Arts University Bournemouth 2019 graduate Ellen Stewart

We recently called for work from both BA and MA photographers who are graduating from a UK university course this year. We’ve made selections and are in the process of conducting interviews and uploading new work to Photograd which you can find here.

We selected Arts University Bournemouth BA (Hons) Photography 2019 graduate Ellen Stewart to support for the next year. You can find here an informal Q&A with Ellen to find out more about her work and plans moving forward.


Ellen Stewart PG 01.jpg
Ellen Stewart PG 02.jpg

Hi Ellen, your work really stood out to Photograd due to its unique subject matter and well presented scenarios. Before we begin to support your work over the next few months we would love to find out more about what your goals are. Can you start by telling us about your university and Free Range experience? Hello, I’ve just graduated from the Arts University Bournemouth. The university itself has supplied me with the most valuable mentorship throughout my three years and has great inter-disciplinary links with other subjects. Coming from a painting background the course has given me such an expansive view of photography and its relationship to wider culture. Free Range was a great experience to collectively fund and organise our course to participate. Participating as an exhibitor opened up so many options for my work to be seen by industry professionals not only through the exhibition itself but through their social media handles, it’s been a really exciting time. One of the most educational parts of Free Range was understanding how putting a large scale exhibition works; the packaging of work, transportation, curation, advertising etc. 

Although you aim to confuse and question associations with private space, I think we can all relate to a few images in your series especially. Where did your inspiration come from and how do you plan to move forward to further play with your viewer? I really like this idea of creating confusion within subjects and objects that are familiar. I feel the inspiration came from that prior to this series I was creating work away from the home trying to photograph subject matter that I didn’t understand in a way to understand. I started to think more about mediating on the concept of playing with imagery that I seemingly do understand and physically pushing it to an extent where it is no longer familiar to me but it was important to me not to include any ‘strange’ objects or people. The strangeness had to come from removing, placing or collaging as such, mundane everyday items and family members to try and explore the bizarre in the normal. Joanna Piotrowska has been a big inspiration on my work especially going to her exhibition at the Tate was really intriguing and has a lasting effect on me. Moving forward I’ve become more interested in how little I can change to make the photo strange and vice versa in how much I can change by still using familiar imagery. 

Ellen Stewart PG 06.jpg

What does the everyday and the epic mean to you? The statement comes from the publication that accompanied the South Bank Centre’s exhibition The Epic and the Everyday in 1994. The catalogue presents one of Andreas Gursky’s photograph View over Cairo comparing the epic scene of the vastness of the metropolis with clothing lines of the everyday realities of the people that live there. This juxtaposition of how we perceive the epic photo with the underlying markers of banality began to shape how I started to see the everyday and epic in photographic terms. From creating my own series my relationship with ‘The Everyday and the Epic’ started to change and it began to mean if we can see every day as epic and how far or little do you have to change the everyday to make it epic. It’s still a statement which interests me and I’m constantly changing what it means to me and how to explore it.

Ellen Stewart PG 07.jpg

In your submission you mentioned that you'd like to make new images to expand this series. Have you got any particular scenarios in mind that you're hoping to shoot? Yes, I feel very lucky in the place that I am with my series as I’m only just beginning to piece it together and have a lot more to experiment and work with. I’ve begun to start spending days in my childhood house noting down the general day to day workings of the mundane routine of the people and objects within it. I have some specific scenarios in mind in the experimental stages to start working more in the night and how this can have differing effects to the day scenarios presented. I’ve also begun thinking more about the tiniest change, that I began to mention earlier, that I can do to scenario compared with the largest which is also another initial stage I’m going to begin with. 

Ellen Stewart PG 03 (1).jpg
Ellen Stewart PG 08.jpg

You also mentioned that you'd like to study for an MA in the future, how and why have you come to this decision? Have you got a university in mind that you'd like to study at? My plan on studying an MA in the next few years came from some of the lectures we had from MA students at my University exploring how their work has changed and grown since studying at post-graduate level. Although reading Lucy Soutter’s article in Source magazine a few years ago comparing the advantages and disadvantages of studying an MA in Photography, ultimately concluding you don’t need an MA to become a successful Fine Art Photographer. I feel as an individual I’ve really loved the network of mentoring I’ve received as a BA student trying to define my practice. Comparing to having mentorship in a few years when I’ve come to terms and distinguished my practice more, really excites me to see how it can be pushed even further. I’ve gone to the RCA shows for many years and the level of photography is so inspiring as well as Westminster and Brighton.

All images from the series  In My Fence Wall

All images from the series In My Fence Wall

As Photograd works as a supporter, advice giver, feedback provider, and whatever else you might require over the next year or so, where do you see your work taking you? What is your ultimate outcome? My first idea is to create a photobook of the series which really excites me as I haven’t created a project which I thought was suitable for the book form yet. The photobook being a new aspect of my work has been the only way so far I can see some kind of resolution for In My Fence Wall. I suppose my ultimate outcome is to keep trying to visually work out and explore the relationship with the everyday and the epic to a stage where I can feel somewhat finished with the questions I’m exploring. 

Photograd interviews Alex Jones

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. 

Image from the series  바람/Wind

Image from the series 바람/Wind

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.

Image from the series  바람/Wind

Image from the series 바람/Wind

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.

Image from the series  바람/Wind

Image from the series 바람/Wind

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.           

 
Image from the series  바람/Wind

Image from the series 바람/Wind

 

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.

Image from the series  바람/Wind

Image from the series 바람/Wind

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.

 
Image from the series  바람/Wind

Image from the series 바람/Wind

 

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.

Alex Ingram interviews Luke Archer

To accompany the new edition of PGZ, we approached industry experts to select from submissions received a photography graduate they would like to interview for Photograd. Here we have Alex Ingram interviewing Arts University Bournemouth graduate Luke Archer.


Tell me a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you get into photography? I’m originally from North West London, end of the Jubilee Line, Zone 5, deep suburbs! After a few years in Bristol I’ve crossed the river and now call South London home. Photography has always been a part of my life in some form or another, my granddad worked for Kodak all his life and predictably gave me my first film and digital cameras, both Kodak obviously! My other grandad died before I was born but he was a working photographer -  I like to think it’s in the blood!

Image from the series  The Rock

Image from the series The Rock

I didn’t become that engaged with photography until studying A level art, at that stage I was using photography as a starting point, painting over photos, collaging, all sorts. At that time, I went to see a big Diane Arbus retrospective at the V&A, it was a pivotal moment because I realised that photography can be so powerful on its own you don’t need to mess around with it. From that point on its been a love hate relationship where I have studied photography, given up on it and then gone back to it. I finished an MA last year and I’m currently trying to pursue assisting while running Loupe magazine.

What is your relationship with Gibraltar? I have family who have lived there for about 10 years so it’s a country I have always been aware of but in reality I had not spent that much time exploring it. I would visit my family in summer holidays and despite flying in and out of Gibraltar most of the time was spent across the border in Spain. The project has enabled me to establish a much better understanding of Gibraltar.

Image from the series  The Rock

Image from the series The Rock

Talk us through your new project. What is it about Gibraltar that interested you and made you want to produce your work there? I had always thought Gibraltar would make a good subject for a project. I think any location that a wider audience knows little about is going to peak a photographer’s interest. I wasn’t aware of any other photographer’s projects based on Gibraltar so it gave me the chance to get stuck in and not be swayed by any existing imagery.  I knew with Brexit looming that Gibraltar would be a place of interest but also that the media coverage might be one dimensional. I felt it would be a good time to shoot a project that went beyond some of the more alarmist headlines.

Gibraltar has a very high number of Spanish workers who migrate into the country every day for work. How do you think Gibraltar will be effected when the UK eventually leaves the EU? Yes as far as I know it’s around 10,000 Spanish workers who cross the border, not to mention Gibraltarians living in Spain and other nationalities who have decided to live on the Spanish side, normally due to cost. It’s very hard to tell because of the general uncertainty that surrounds all of Brexit. There are some scary worst case scenarios. In regards to the workers it could impact on their jobs but this seems unlikely, it’s in everyone’s interest to keep the border open and flowing as normal, anything that hampers this will likely see protests on both sides. One worry for people living in Gibraltar is lack of food. After Brexit  food that would normally cross the border is will now be going out of the EU and it will be subject to a different level of inspection. Apparently, the Spanish border town does not have the facilities to do this and the food would have to go to another nearby port town and perhaps be shipped across to Gib. The very worst case scenario is Gibraltar could run out of food. I’m hoping that doesn’t happen and I think most people expect a rocky first month or so but that some form of normality will return. 

Image from the series  The Rock

Image from the series The Rock

You described Gibraltar as being "more British than the Brits". Can you elaborate on this? What similarities or differences do you see between life in Gibraltar and life in the UK? It’s not a phrase that I have come up with, it’s something that is often said about Gibraltar and I’m not sure I agree with it now. I think because it’s a major tourist destination, sometimes the Britishness is played up for that crowd, thousands of people get off a cruise ship and want to see the red telephone boxes, eat some fish and chips etc.  Whereas day to day life is more Gibraltarian and by that, I mean infused with its own unique culture and identity, which has more of a Spanish influence than most people realise. For example, a lot of casual conversations on the street will be in the local dialect of Yanito which is predominantly Spanish with phrases and words from other languages thrown in. 

There are of course similarities, in the digital age with TV and internet its easier for UK music and fashion to reach Gibraltar, whereas perhaps in the past there might have been a time delay or a disparity. 

Just like the UK It’s also a country of dog lovers and despite the lack of space there are lot of dogs! 

Did you go to Gibraltar with a preconceived idea of what life will be like there? Did that perception change? It’s hard for me to look back because I’ve spent so much time there over the last couple of years. I suppose at first I was guilty of thinking it would be very British and thus easy to get my head around. I underestimated the Spanish influence: it’s worth noting that often Gibraltarian families have one side Spanish and one side British so of course that is going to come together to make something new. That cultural fusion can make understanding the country and its culture very tricky.

Image from the series  The Rock

Image from the series The Rock

Now I see Gibraltar as a distinct country, it’s just like Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland they are all British but each with their own identity and culture.

Were there any stand out moments during your visit? I got back from a visit earlier this year, and during the trip I spent a day with the police force and went out in really rough weather on one of their fast patrol boats. It was crazy the boat was literally leaping out of the water and then slamming back down. I can’t imagine having to chase and stop another boat using one those, I could barely stay in my seat! I don’t think the images will be any good but it was an experience!

What is your favourite image from the series? That’s a tricky one – I’m not always that confident in my individual images I feel the strength comes from how the images come together as a series.  however, I really like the image of the Iman at the Moroccan mosque.

I always find mosques very calm places and it was a low stress sitting, I had plenty of time and he was a great sitter. I’m pleased that I was able show him in context. Portraits are always the hardest but most rewarding aspect for me!

Image from the series  The Rock

Image from the series The Rock

Do you plan on returning to Gibraltar after the UK leaves to continue working on the project? Yes definitely, I have portrait sittings I still need to complete and a few locations I’m in the process of securing access to. I’m very lucky that I can stay with family so going out is not too much of a challenge financially. A lot does depend on Brexit, now it’s great excuse to get the project out there and bring attention to Gibraltar. If Brexit is disastrous then I might be out there photographing the impact. However, I hope that whatever happens  is minor, as a country its survived sieges so I’m sure it will cope with whatever Brexit throws at it!  In the long run, I hope the project will be framed more around Gibraltar’s unique landscape and identity and Brexit will be more of a footnote.

What's next for you? Are you currently working on any other projects? I have a long list of projects I would love to shoot but it’s going to take several lifetimes to get through them all! I have previously been bad at finishing projects so I would be nice to see this one in print before moving on. I do have one project idea that is more focused around technology I just need to research it to make sure no one else has shot it already!