Declan Connolly

University: Newport University

Graduation: 2015

Genre: Landscape, Sculpture

Websitewww.declanconnolly.co.uk

Artist StatementViews of a Mountain questions the validity of memory and nostalgia, the Snowdon of my youth. In winter the mountain is cloaked in white and often hidden in cloud, this is when I climbed its face most often; therefore my memories of this mountain are eternally shrouded in white. A snow covered, towering force lurching out of the landscape of my childhood.

Each mountain is a small piece of the oldest mineral existing on and making up Snowdon's structure. The four hundred and fifty million year-old quartz is collected from the mountain's peak and hand carved without physical reference from memory to resemble Snowdon's image. The sculpture that now becomes an icon of the fantasy is then photographed where it was originally collected on the summit and left in situ, adding their height to the original peak and once again forming part of Snowdon itself.

From the series Views of a Mountain

From the series Views of a Mountain

Where did you attend university and what year did you graduate? I graduated from Newport University, South Wales in 2015. While studying, Newport became the University of South Wales… as sore as I was about the changes at the time; the course only benefitted from a contemporary shake-up and is producing some amazingly talented and ambitious photographers. 

What are some standout moments from your time at university? University was an interesting time, at the beginning I went through so many styles attempting to emulate other photographers, I had just finished college and thought digital photography wasn’t ‘real’ - I honestly believed that I needed a 35mm rangefinder for my work to mean anything! I was very much disillusioned. My first real stand out moment was towards the end of my second year, I saw Daido Moriyama at Tate and bought the only book I could afford, Tales of Tono, a series of images and texts made on the journey towards the village while wandering streets and looking out of train windows. I fell in love with the poetry of photography rather than the tool; it was only after recognising this that I started to feel any authorship over my work, to feel like I was making something rather than stealing it. 

From the series Views of a Mountain

From the series Views of a Mountain

What themes do you find yourself exploring? I can’t seem to escape this idea of the nomad; perhaps that is why Tales of Tono hit me so hard. I am interested in that itch between searching and finding, the places passed by between destinations. It is fleeting things that I feel the need to catch somehow – that bittersweet feeling of glimpsing something absolutely magic just too late. I suppose I am interested in a nostalgia of some kind, that everything is something remembered, that the choice to photograph something is to be staring at the afterglow. 

Views of a Mountain is split into two parts. Can you tell us about them? There are eight ‘views’ of the mountain and a series of images edited into a book, which provides documentation of the journey. As much as the two parts are equally important for the presentation of Views of a Mountain, I am never sure which creates the myth and which dispels it. Both elements oppose each other but together form more of a narrative. The images of the fantasy Snowdon are the icons of my memories and give reason for the journey but the field journal provides evidence that my mountain exists somewhere. 

From the series Views of a Mountain

From the series Views of a Mountain

Can you talk us through the way you make your images? It is a wildly inefficient process but I can’t seem to do much any other way. I make a lot of my work feeling like I am grasping for something just brushing my fingertips, kind of desperate. I will walk past something and there will be a pause, something makes me stop in some degree of recognition, which I try to translate into an idea. I attempt to build something out of the moment usually beginning in language; I make it into a lyric in my head and add words and pauses to it as a song to feel for the right mood. I start writing and drawing these on paper once I have a full lyric and work out some form of apparatus to make the images exist. I find taking pictures that matter to me quite difficult if I do not have a mood ready, if I am very lucky this all happens while the camera is in my hands and a song starts playing in my head, (I will write this down afterwards). It is actually a terrible method for making anything! A lot of my projects are still in lyric-form. I think of the photograph as potential evidence that these initial moments still exist, which they often don’t, so there is a sadness attached to both the failure and achievement of the images. 

In terms of technology, I used a Yashica Dental Eye III for the eight views. For the journal I used a Pentacon-Six TL (90mm), a Zenza Bronica SQ-AI (90mm) and my phone. Every project I make uses a real mix of cameras and techniques – I am always interested in what people are using.

From the series Views of a Mountain

From the series Views of a Mountain

You’ve placed your work under the genre of ‘Sculpture’. Can you explain your reasoning? Perhaps I feel too emotional towards the subject. Photography, literature, romanticism of any kind aims to either criticise or celebrate and I am much less interested in criticism than I am in things that excite me. I tend to elevate my subjects to become icons of a feeling, in doing so I become very much attached to that moment as a physical thing. In the same way that ‘Landscape’ is traditionally defined by being an image of a place, I think a photograph of something I have sculpted is representative of the nature and form of the sculpture. By placing my work in ‘Sculpture’ I am claiming authorship of the image and subject, both the image and my quartz carvings are structured in terms of memory, the thing photographed and its representation weigh an equal amount because I feel like they are made up from the same thing. By no means am I trying to define the actual rock as my creation, only its current shape.

Your images are very personal and represent your own memories. How do you feel looking back at them? I mentioned a kind of sadness in managing to successfully portray something unreal, in the act of capturing a moment you are acutely aware of the need to preserve; that this ‘thing’ you feel the need to keep is already extinguished. For myself, it is akin to pinning a rare beetle in order to understand something about it. It isn’t a kind of sadness that is upsetting but simply knowing the constructed nature of the work and still having an emotional response is to understand that I have in turn successfully tricked myself. I keep the original prints in a box at home with a single piece of quartz. The prints are on a non-archival paper and fade very slightly the more they are exposed to light; the idea is that each viewing reinforces the constructed nature of the image. Once the original prints fade completely, I will take the last piece of quartz to Snowdon.

From the series Views of a Mountain

From the series Views of a Mountain

Why do you choose to leave your sculptures on Snowdon when you’ve photographed them? Do you think the story would change if you took them away? I am not sure if the story would change for anybody else but I wanted to do something that would contrast the very physical and almost permanent act of collecting and carving something that is only just softer than diamond. Putting the rocks back felt more like there was an end to something, somebody else might have picked them up or they might be at the bottom of a lake. It is very unlikely that I will see them again. By giving away the original material, the images become much more precious. As much as I knew I wanted to give them back to the mountain I did enjoy that for a brief moment the pile of sculptures I spent days and nights carving added their height to Snowdon’s summit and became the absolute pinnacle of my mountain. I’m not so sure I would value the images as much if I had my muses rattling in my coat pocket.

Is this body of work complete? If so, have you exhibited it anywhere? The images are complete and the sculptures are gone – what remains are my fading prints and single piece of quartz. These feel somehow separate from the work and more for myself than for any exhibition, however, the quartz has been presented next to two prints on a very small scale in Cardiff. Exhibiting the work makes it different, I can distance myself, which leaves more room to expand the idea without changing the work. I made the frames myself out of mixed rock and concrete and hand carved them to fit backing boards, glass, etc. – I very much enjoy the craft element of exhibiting. 

In terms of whether or not the work is finished, I suppose I will find out if I feel any differently when I return that last piece to Snowdon. Maybe making that final journey will feel like something that has ended but this remains a difficult concept when dealing with and representing memory - one likes to imagine memories as an ever-present thing. Whether memories change or become unrepresentative of the actual event matters less than their simply not existing.

From the series Views of a Mountain

From the series Views of a Mountain

Are there any photographers who you always turn to for inspiration? Hundreds! I look at the work of James Nasmyth/James Carpenter fairly often along with Rinko Kawauchi. Currently I am looking at Yukari Chikura, Dafna Talmor, Thomas Ruff, Alan Knox, Xiaoyi Chen, Gerry Johansson and Wu Chi-Tsung.

What are your future creative plans? Short-term, I am working on three projects in Hong Kong, one of which involves sculpture again but more of a digital kind. I am interested in building work in specific locations so I am looking into multiple residencies. The dream is to work as a picture editor for a photographic journal that provides a platform for emerging photographic artists. To see something new every day and be able to do something worthwhile with that information is similar approach to how I want to be able to make work as an artist.