University: Royal College of Art, MA Photography
Can you give us an overview of the work you’re creating? Have you got a working title? Currently, I am conducting doctoral practice-based research at the University for the Creative Arts. From my graduate series to my recent work, the use of the American landscape to explore misconceptions about mental illness is still present. However, my work’s concentration has shifted to behavioural patterns, which are developed as a means to cope with intense trauma. My key reference in American history has moved from the transcendental idealism from the F60 group to the Civil War, which was the national trauma that led to the need to create national parks. By analysing Alexander Gardner’s images, documenting a historic battlefield, amongst other methods, I am working on how to emphasise the role of empathy in emotional survival. The intention behind my project is to show how interpersonal connections have the capacity to heal dehumanising trauma.
What are some common themes or subjects that run through your work? My practice has always strongly referred to the body as the filter through which reality is interpreted and experienced. Earlier works questioned identity within domestic portraiture and the home, then moved onto how people understand and interact with the physicality of the body. Around 2012, in contrast to my studio work, I began a side project about landscapes in the American South. In southeast Georgia, where I grew up, there is an amazing range of flat land. Examples include beaches, swamps, and overgrown forests. This is when I started juxtaposing a nude body in proximity to the marshes. The external nature refers to the internal reality. Eventually, my work evolved so that I no longer required the visual presence of the body in order to discuss effects of trauma.
How are you hoping for the Graduate Photographers Award to benefit your future and career as a photographer? Magnum always presents the world with images that are poignant and preserve the impact of a range of experiences and events. I’m not stating that I am of this caliber, but receiving an acknowledgement from them is in itself an accomplishment. When I heard about the award, I remember thinking that they will probably select photographers who stick close to clear parameters about photojournalism. I’m happy that this has not been the case. They have been open about different approaches towards photojournalism and social documentation. I think that this award brings a validation about the documentary aspect of my work, which was not as previously prevalent. In regards to my future and career, this opportunity could not have come at a better time. It can help to bring my work to a wider audience, and provide knowledgeable feedback from sources that otherwise would not have been possible.
Who or what influences and motivates you the most when making new work? I have a strong intuitive force behind my practical work, and my selection of subject matter. Typically, my projects start with a part of something that I find visually intriguing, and psychoanalytic reading material. Over time, the work develops by running between these two points. Some of the key individuals that inspired me to continue with photography, and who I still have great respect for, include black and white photographers, feminist artists, and body performance. Photographers include Lee Friedlander, Robert Frank, Walker Evans and Pieter Hugo. Examples of multi-disciplinary artists consist of Helen Chadwick, Janine Antoni, and Ron Athey. The potency of, and the emphasis in, their works are what I strive for in my practice. I make work because, I feel that, there are aspects of being human, which can be more concisely examined through visuals, instead of language.
We understand that the mentorship lasts for one year; can you tell us what you’ve learnt so far and what your next steps are? Who is your mentor? Currently, I am working on a collection of images about the absence and presence of the body in the land. I have been utilising an array of practical techniques, and approaches towards image-making. When I am next in the States, these experiments are what I will present to my mentor. I have been lucky to be able to have in-person sessions with Alec Soth. I’m excited about hearing what he has to say.
What are you hoping to achieve from your mentorship with Magnum? During my mentorship, I’m hoping to learn more about the industry, how my work can operate within it, and how to present it to a wider variety of viewers. My current project is the first time I’ve documented a space that refers to a profoundly violent event from a nation’s history. I knew that I wanted a mentor who has an extensive knowledge of, and experience in American culture and photojournalism. Since the Civil War was the first key event to be documented by photographers in the States, there was still a naivety about the potential of the medium, because of how new it was in the 1860's. I think it’s imperative that my work asserts a critical stance about authenticity in suffering through representations of trauma. This is my primary goal during the mentorship.