University: University of Westminster
Genre: Confessional Art
Artist Statement: Confessionals is a series of analogue photographs rooted in my autobiographical memory. The studio and the darkroom facilitate a form of auto-therapy where the accessed childhood memories, first voiced as a textual confession, are used to construct an image as a method of enriching my understanding of the self.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? In second year we had an optional module called Photography in Context where I co-curated an exhibition with three other classmates. It was a great learning experience as it was the first show we had put on completely from scratch. We had to deal with the challenges of being the curator as well as the artist. Whitechapel Gallery included our exhibition in their First Thursday Walking Tour and it felt great when we saw so many unfamiliar faces in the exhibition.
Showing Confessionals in my degree show was definitely another standout moment. Free Range is an amazing platform for any art student. People from the industry and other complete strangers who I would otherwise not meet approached me. Showing the work at the right time and the right place can generate so many opportunities and I have been very lucky.
Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? Increasingly my work consists of still life images within a fine-art context. I consider this project however to fall within Confessional Art- a phrase that I have just come across and serendipitously is also the title.
What themes do you find yourself exploring? I tend to place myself centrally in the work- at times literally but usually figuratively. As a first-generation British citizen and a gay man my work does revolve around personal and cultural identity, often explored through autobiographical memory.
Tell us exactly how you went about making this work. I always carry a notebook and a pen with me no matter where I go. I started to think about the time when as a family we lived in Istanbul for three years. Specific memories resonated with my current thoughts and behaviours, so I made a collection of these recollections.
I made sketches of possible compositions, which have changed so much throughout the project. Initially I used my living room as a studio but migrated to the university studios, as I needed more control over the light. I decided to use 35mm as this gave the most flexibility in my workflow. I printed the photographs in the darkroom with a split-grade method to control a wider range of tones. I wanted to spend more time with each of these photographic objects- personal memories that are made tangible to allow a form of auto-therapy.
Who or what influenced you when making this series? Whilst researching for my dissertation I came across Annette Kuhn’s Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination. She explores her childhood memories by looking at the photographs in her family album. She begins to unearth her family secrets through a framework she calls memory work- ‘a method and a practice of unearthing and making public untold stories’. She states that the practitioner of memory work does not only choose what memories to preserve but ‘how we then make use of the stories they generate to give a deeper meaning […] to our lives today’.
Another influence was Sophie Calle. I have a fascination with her work- the way she is so open about her personal life and how it feels voyeuristic looking at it. Her True Stories book really resonated with me and allowed me to consider pairing images with text.
What visually inspired you to create such minimalist images, with a bold use of black and white? I really enjoy modernist photography, the bold use of form and strong focus on composition. Seeing The Radical Eye exhibition in Tate Modern inspired me to simplify my images and gave me the confidence that something minimal can have a strong impact on the viewer. Emotions are believed to play a role in recollection of memories and I wanted to challenge myself to create specific emotions without the use of colour.
How did you decide on which objects to use to represent each of your chosen memories? In the early stages of the project each object was chosen in an illustrative manner. For instance there was an image of a lemon from the time I stole a lemon from the market place to use its juice to style the hair of a doll I had. I believed my parents wouldn’t let me use a lemon from our kitchen, as it was a toy that I wasn’t supposed to play with according to my gender.
The photographs then weren’t intriguing enough as it was consumed instantly the viewer read the text. I tried to distance the visual element from the textual confession. This way each image could mean something altogether different to the viewer but then they can choose to understand how it relates to me.
Have you got any tips for titling a series of work? I feel that giving a title is not something that should be rushed. I usually brainstorm and write down every single idea, including those that I think are 'bad’. Then I give it some time before I look at them again with a different perspective- sometimes it's takes a little extra time for it to make sense.
I gave individual titles within the series to contextualise the photographs- each has a short text, a confession, but displaying image and text in the gallery wall is another skill that I am yet to grasp. The title is there to name the story but not to narrate.
I would suggest asking if each image needs a title or if the title of the series is sufficient.
Tell us about the Confessional Art genre you've placed your work under. Confessional art is a form of contemporary art that emerged in the late 20th century, especially in Great Britain. It focuses on an intentional revelation of the Self and encourages an intimate analysis of the artist’s confidential and at times controversial experiences and emotions.
What does the future hold for you and your work? I have a couple of group shows coming up where I will be showing some pieces from Confessionals and I intend to continue the project organically without forcing it. I am applying to competitions and group shows- a humbling activity that teaches you to deal with rejection but it is all part of the experience.
This autumn I am commencing MA Photography at the Royal College of Art, an institution that has been my dream for the last two years. I know it will be very challenging and I am very much looking forward to it!