Megan Wilson-De La Mare
University: University of the West of England, Bristol
What and where did you study? Describe your university experience. I studied at UWE in Bristol on the BA Photography course. Being at university was great because it gave me the time to solely focus on my practice and discover my specific interests. I remember when I first started I wanted to know everything, I was so scared of leaving without knowing how to use every piece of equipment and software. My approach has changed a lot since then and I’ve really enjoyed following my interests and finding my own way of working that I enjoy and thrive in. The course gave me access to so many different pieces of equipment, I’ve discovered my love for medium and large format, as well as completely new different techniques outside of photography. Based on an Arts campus this was something I particularly took advantage of, especially with Flirting with Monsters and making the artist book. I really enjoyed the freedom of discovering and perfecting new processes to use within my work.
How would you describe the work you make? What are the typical themes and ideas you like to explore? Looking back over my work and the projects I’ve worked on they all differ from each other in their genres and subjects but the main theme that links them is our human behaviours. With my work I often begin a project by questioning something within our ideals, traditions, values, and stigmas. In my personal projects creating imagery becomes quite a therapeutic process, especially with my approach to taking landscapes. Bringing myself out of the busyness of everyday life with just my camera helps me to focus my mindset solely on the work. I guess that explains my approach to work, to look at and question those behaviours embedded in our cultures that seem damaging to our well-being in society.
As you were shortlisted for last years South West Graduate Photography Prize, can you share one piece of advice to new graduates? I would probably say keep making new work, and push it out there, mainly don’t be fearful to make mistakes and pursue opportunities. The first year is such a valuable time when you’re a graduate, make the most of all the platforms, competitions, and opportunities that are out there.
Tell us about your shortlisted series. My series came from my final year project Flirting with Monsters. The project explores woman’s position in society through femininity and beauty ideals. By looking at the link between this and nature, I explored ideas around the sublime as well as current attention around the female gaze, and the idea that women cannot be both beautiful and interesting. I think mostly this project became an exploration of gender, the hierarchy between sexes, and the singular role of women in society. It’s very poignant at the moment as the landscape around gender (both female and male) is evolving. I’ve been fascinated as the commercial market is now adapting its approach towards body positivity in order to gain female interest. Women are consistently held at the centre of the consumer market, sold an ideal of the perfect way of being.
With the project I wanted to counteract this and show the diversity of being female, as well as subtly question the ideas of perfection and ideal beauty. I didn’t want to create a whole new narrative but comment on the current representation of women by slightly shifting my approach in portraying femininity. It’s a very difficult project for me to summarise in a sentence because there’s so many different elements and layers that factor in to the surrounding theme, but I hope it transpires in the work and people can take something from it. Mostly I created the project to open up a new conversation.
Who are the women in your images? Do you think it's important for us to know your relationship with your sitters? I think it’s really important, some of the women approached me to be involved in the work after I advertised it, others are women I know mutually, and a few are family and friends. One of my regrets with the work is that I haven’t included my subjects within the narrative, this isn’t how I originally visualised the work. I had wanted to create a much broader discussion with the women. I do feel that the work is unresolved and my plan with it now is to continue and incorporate a broader group of women outside of my circle in to the work. My hope is to open up the conversation to a much larger audience. I’m really looking forward to exploring the subject on a much deeper level and involve the women within the work.
How did you edit down this work into a series of portraits, objects, and landscapes? How did they each become important to your overall narrative? Shortlisting the final images was very hard, particularly selecting an order for the artist book. There are some images that I spent months reshooting and working on that I haven’t included. There are also portraits that were important to me and the narrative of the work that I cut out because they differed too much from the other portraits. It was very difficult making the decision of what’s important in the work and what’s not, it’s like writing a story and each image can drastically alter the narrative. The most important thing with it though was I wanted the women to be the main focus of the project.
The choice to incorporate objects and landscapes together with the portraits was clear to me. I wanted to use the landscapes as a backdrop to the whole series as a way to create a new language around femininity. Iceland was the perfect place for this as the terrain is so diverse and dynamic, I really respected the land and it’s physical power. It wasn’t until I got there that I discovered many folktales associated with the places I was visiting (particularly geothermal areas) of female spirits residing in the land, they’re tales told to children to help them understand the dangers of their home. Even so throughout my time there I had a real sense that there was this live force under the earth not to be underestimated. It felt very poignant to my ideas of femininity constantly evolving, and really inspired me when creating the landscapes. The still life’s came as a representation of the different themes and ideas surrounding the main topic of the work; consumerism, perfection, purity, sexuality, obsession.
I think this transpires mostly in the artist book than the series as a whole. Within the book I printed the landscapes lithographically on a thin textured paper using three neutral tones. They’re dotted throughout the book at different points between portraits, creating a translucent layer and texture to the portraits of the women.
What have you learnt from making Flirting with Monsters? Probably the biggest thing for me is to not be fearful in my approach to making new work, and to make work for myself. With this project I’ve really run with my ideas and created some of my most obscure work. It’s been a real enjoyment for me working on this series, and I think as long as you’re passionate about the work you’re producing and your subject, that’ll come through in the imagery.
Who visually influences your work? Mostly I get my visual references from things I stumble upon in my day to day while I’m out, or online, in films, on Instagram, social media. I’ll just see something that grabs my eye, it’s usually a very small aspect within the larger picture but that will give me an idea. Sometimes in the studio, sometimes with a person or sometimes outside as a landscape. It can be a very frustrating process because they can often be quite ambitious ideas that I then have to figure out how to create. I keep a notepad with me all the time that I scribble shoot ideas in to, I also have a folder full of screenshots and notes that I go back to.
I do find artists work that inspires me, it tends to not be solely a visual influence though. Generally when I’m interested in someone’s work it’s firstly because I find the imagery incredible, but then it’s mostly the concept behind the work and specifically their approach. I find ideas equally inspiring as imagery. For Flirting with Monsters I looked at artists like Anouk Kruithof and Jaap Scheeren who jointly created the project Black Hole, I also looked at Awoiska van der Molen’s photobook Sequester, and Ester Vonplon’s Gletscherfahrt. I found all of these projects moving, because of the powerful imagery but also because of their resolution of the work. With Sequester I was obsessed with the photo book and the use of different paper stocks to detail the texture of the subject, with Black Hole I was fascinated with how they had seemingly created a universal emblem to create a narrative throughout the whole project as well as curated in exhibition, and with Gletscherfahrt I found the use of music alongside the imagery so emotive. I like when a project can engage you separately from the imagery and bring you into the subject matter.
How do you think being shortlisted for this years South West Graduate Photography Prize will benefit your career? Did the exhibition go well? The exhibition went really well, we had a strong turnout. Being involved in an exhibition like the South West Graduate Prize was a great opportunity firstly for the project to be seen, but also for the exposure that brings to my work and practice as an artist outside of university. Especially for a photo event like PHOTOBLOCK. It also gave me the chance to speak to those interested in my work as well as engage with other professionals. It’s like a rolling ball if you make the most of each opportunity you’re invited to new one’s will arise and come from it. I also found it a great follow on from our degree show TONIC as I got to speak to those I hadn’t met at the show and hear their feedback on our work which is always encouraging.