University: Arts University Bournemouth
Artist Statement: Unconstrained by the limits of genre and fascinated by the processes of film photography, the work is always informed from a need to learn. The research is an essential step and the diverse range of final pieces and titles are always drawn from theoretical notions. The exploration of unconventional techniques are applied to produce peculiar and unique images.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? During my first year at uni, I studied a foundation and it opened up a completely new world of art to me. As it was a specialist Arts uni I was surrounded by like-minded people and I saw and learnt things I thought could never be achievable for me. With a foundation you get a chance to try out a huge array of mediums, styles and art forms, and even if you know what you want to do, it broadens your study and opens your eyes to collaborations and mixed media arts.
I can't think of any particular standout moments, however just the access to black & white and colour darkrooms, the use of cameras you could never hope of owning yourself and the incredible support of the techys and tutors was amazing. I was very lucky with my course and had the most caring and interested tutors. They all knew everyone personally, knew your work down to the last detail and always had time for everyone. It really felt like they cared about you and not just what grade you got. I would recommend my course to anyone.
Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into, and what themes do you find yourself exploring? For my own fun, personal work I absolutely love pinhole and Polaroid photography, always have. For me it is not about the final piece but about the process. I love making the cameras, I love being in the darkroom and I love the anticipation of waiting to see if anything has been exposed, and if so what is it? There is nothing like that feeling; digital just doesn't bring the excitement that analogue stuff does.
Within my project work I have found myself fall into more documentary work. My work is always based on me wanting to learn something new. I like to research a subject, find every detail, dig out archives and photographs from libraries, talk to people and then photograph accordingly. I personally don't like it when work is displayed without text, as I love reading about the work, finding out something new and knowing the reason why the artist shot/made it in that way.
What do you enjoy most about using pinhole and Polaroid cameras? With pinhole I love the rawness. I love that you literally never know what is going to come out even if you have done the same thing a million times and I love the creativity of it. You can make a pinhole out of anything- just look at Justin Quinnell's Cracker Cam! With Polaroid it's not like that, you don't make the camera. You don't even have to make the print or develop the film, it's so not creative and so not hands on, they are literally the opposite of each other. However every time I see one come out it is still amazing to me. The only way I can describe the feeling is that it's like an impossible miracle has happened right before my eyes and I know it is like that for many people. How can something that is 75 years old still completely amaze people on a daily basis? It's so incredible!
Who or what visually and theoretically inspires your work? The thing is, I love artists work, Richard Billingham, Taryn Simon, Martin Parr, Corinne Day, I could go on, but I am not necessarily inspired by their work. They inspire me in the sense that I think their work is beautiful and thought provoking, but I don't base my work on theirs or take elements. The part of photography I struggle the most with is presentation and so I draw influence from old and contemporary artists for things such as book layouts, fonts, framing and exhibition display styles. My work is probably a mixture of many, many artists that I have been inspired by over the years, but none I consciously go to for influences or ideas.
Can you tell us more about Kingston Lacy; what inspired you to respond to the house and garden in the way you did? Kingston Lacy was a second year project entitled Contemporary Concepts and Practice. I am not the most contemporary person so I decided to flip this and work in the most traditional manner, using the most traditional cameras and ending with a very traditional layout. I focused the project on a national trust property mixing traditional and contemporary management skills to run the estate. I spent 2 months walking the grounds speaking to workers, locals and visitors and gathering as much information I could in the form of old plans, lists, reports etc. from the entire history of the estate. I then spent a further 2 months photographing the people, grounds and specific details, all inspired by the research, using a Toyo 5 x 4 Location Camera, Hasselblad and 5 x 4 Pinhole camera. I also set up a few 3-month duration beer can pinhole cameras.
I presented the project in the form of a book. A very traditional, Walker Evans inspired book with the images in two sets, and the titles of the photographs at the end of each.
Kingston Lacy Estate is an artistic style documentary piece recording a working estate from forestland and villages to the main house, park and gardens. The piece is shown in geographical order in the form of a book accompanied by an informative essay, which reflects the management of the estate in day-to-day life. The project focuses particularly on the new methods used to help run the estate, however mainly focusing on traditional methods, which are a key part of the entire management at Kingston Lacy in order to conserve the area as traditionally as possible. The processes used are relevant to the project, focusing on film and capturing specific subjects with suitable cameras. Pinhole photographs help reflect the historical aspect of the estate with the notion of time and a Hasselblad camera helps capture detail and snaps moving subjects to allow the viewer to study and explore the images.
Why did you choose to make this work in black and white? I really struggled in making a decision about whether to shoot it in black and white or colour. I had only shot on 5 x 4 and Hasselblad once before this project and so I felt I wasn't confident with that in the first place. As I was very confident with black and white in the sense of developing and printing I chose to use that to reduce the hurdles I had to go through. I also chose it as it is of course, the most traditional means of shooting documentary and I also feel it brings a quiet calmness and stillness to each image, allowing you to view and look into as much as the viewer would like, concentrating and learning from each image.
Are you making any new work at the moment? I have actually just finished a project (I say finished, I am never finished with a project, I constantly think about new things!), within my artist residency. I am an art teacher and boarding tutor at The Purcell School and within that get time to make my own work. I chose to focus my work on the school, actually drawing inspiration from Kingston Lacy made two years previously, studying the school and researching the history.
Purcell is a photo-documentary series covering the entire history of The Purcell School. The work takes the audience through all five locations that the school has been situated throughout its 53 year existence and focuses specifically on found pieces of writing, newspaper clippings and articles to help build an entire record of how the school became the great musical inspiration it is today. Accompanied by essay extracts, the photographs have more significance and come to life with the thoughts of music and teaching filling each building.
As I live on site I feel I am totally immersed in the schools daily life, giving me an interesting insight into the specialties of the school. I recently exhibited this work for the first time at The Old School House in Boscombe as part of the Bournemouth Emerging Arts Fringe and then professionally at The Mile End Arts Pavilion for the Uncertain States Annual.
I am now dabbling in more experimental work such as cyanotypes and chemical printing while I am lucky enough to have access to a small darkroom and am focusing more on submitting project proposals and opportunities for artists. I am very lucky to have the job I currently do, which finished in July and urges artists to go for any opportunity they can, even if they think they can't. I always said I did not want to teach over everything, and I actually really love it!
You mention that your "titles are always drawn from theoretical notions", can you give us an example and explain the ways in which you go about naming your images and series? An example of theoretical notions is my project The Seeing Brain. I initially wanted to get the audience to think unconsciously about the image, then, after they have read about the project, think again. This began by reading a scientific book called The Seeing Brain, The Thinking Eye. I started to research in depth how we use our brains to complete uncompleted images, or imagine things we cannot see.
The Seeing Brain is a photographic representation of visual cognition and the human’s weakness for curiosity. As an audience, we visually understand an image in stages. Once the viewer records the subject as the back of an angel, our brain begins to interpret, fill in the blanks and create an image of what we cannot see. Drawing from past memories and experiences we can use visual manipulation to form a three-dimensional, rotatable object within our imagination.
You also mention that you don't have a specific collection of artists or photographers whose work you rely on for inspiration, do you maybe have some favourite books or writers instead? I absolutely love Agatha Christie, She's literally one of the only authors I read for pleasure. I wouldn't say she has any bearing on my work, but it just enforces the fact that I should have been born about 100 years ago and my love of film and analogue photography.
Do you think you would consider a collaboration in the future? Who would you like to collaborate with if so? Of course! I love collaborating with others, whether it be photography or any other art form. I feel there is a special, contemporary edge to anything that has been made by collaborators and something more exciting comes out of it. I occasionally collaborate with my friend and fellow photographer Christina Evans on proposals, submissions and exhibitions. It's so lovely to have a different point of view and both can amalgamate ideas to create something really interesting.
You're very enthusiastic and dedicated to using film in your work, but do you ever use digital? A lot of photographers turn to their phone for everyday snaps and post to Instagram, is this something you're interested in? My phone is horrific and I never take photographs on it. I am not very technical at all but sometimes get a little urge that I wished I had a phone on me just to snap the subject in front of me. I always use digital within my commissioned work unless asked otherwise, as it is more reliable, quicker and cheaper, it is what the customer wants. I also work in a florist in the holidays and we use Instagram to look at and share images of flowers and bouquets, I think it is a great idea and we use it a lot, it looks beautiful, however I feel my personal work doesn't suit that platform in size or medium and I like to show my work officially in printed form. I would only ever want the audience to see my work in it's best light, showing all the work from the selection of paper to the framing system. I do however think it is great for 'ongoing' or 'process' images to get people interested in what you are about to bring out and see how you do it.
Did you unveil a sense of accomplishment when you completed Kingston Lacy Estate? You'd only used a 5x4 camera once before but proceeded to complete a whole 2nd year university project using one. Yes. When I received the finished publication in my hand I think it was more relief but I definitely felt a sense of accomplishment. The only way we could develop 5 x 4 film at uni was in a completely black room using a deep tank system. The development of each batch of images (I took about 120 single images) meant I was in the pitch black in a locked cupboard for around 50 minutes at a time. This gives you a lot of thinking time and it was definitely worth all those hours. When I showed the people that had helped me within the estate it was such a lovely feeling that they were so interested and enthusiastic about my work. Walking around in the pouring rain and carting loads of photographic gear around is great but nothing compared to the finished piece.
Have you made any work using a 5x4 camera again but using colour film instead, or do you think you will in the future? I shot on 5 x 4 for my final year project The Seeing Brain, however this was in black and white also. I did this on purpose to prevent the audience from getting distracted by colour and keep them focused on form. I have not shot on colour but I would absolutely love to. Sadly I do not own a 5 x 4 camera and both this and colour film is incredibly expensive. One day when/if I can afford it I would love to shoot on it again and use colour. Shooting on 5 x 4 is such a joy, the setting up, the unbelievably crisp view on the ground glass screen and the sound it makes. Give me that image over a digital one any day.
What do you enjoy the most about teaching? The sixth form are the group I love working with the most. I really enjoy looking through their sketchbooks and looking at things that I could never do. Talking through their ideas with them and suggesting things that I have encountered and done in my past. It is so nice that they really take in what you say and trust your judgment. It makes you feel like you have been put there for a reason and that you must be good at something! Thinking of a new idea and just setting up a studio or going outside to execute it is so exciting and it's really fun to try out ideas and work with them rather than teach at them.