University: Falmouth University
Vegas projects this façade of success and glamour. It’s something that we all buy into. We train our vision to see what the casino hotel owners want us to see, and are blind to what they don’t.
For me, photography, when used in a certain way, has a great knack of getting under the cracks of the image we project. It exposes the gap between what we would like people to see and the image that we actually project.
This gap, that Diane Arbus called ‘the gap between intention and effect,’ between our fantasy for ourselves and the actual reality of ourselves that I find very revealing. This concept of the projection of image can be applied to any town, any business or any social media account.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? I found crits very enlightening, not only finding out about other students work, but having your own work put in check sometimes is a great moment for development, and a chance to push through and progress.
Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? I’d say pseudo-documentary; it’s of the world, but also fictitious to some extent.
What themes do you find yourself exploring? It varies from project to project but right now I'm interested in the human condition; why do we do what we do? Im working on a project at the minute about greed and the pursuit of happiness. Exploring what part of us has this constant need for more, whether that be material goods, power, sex, whatever. I'm interested in the semiotics of culture and cultural phenomena. For instance; here in the desert, grass has become a status symbol. It is blatantly obvious that in the poorer districts of the city there is little grass and fewer trees. Developers use grass, trees and greenery to entice potential buyers to the aspirational districts of the city such as Summerlin and Henderson. Each Summerlin sign is adorned with a crown of luscious well kept plant life and palm tree, which always sits juxtaposed to the natural desert backdrop.
You suggest that "photography is a tool to deconstruct the reasoning behind our decisions"; do developers succeed at winning buyers by plaguing districts with fresh green grass and palm trees? Why do you think people buy into this façade? We'd rather believe the easy lie than the difficult truth. And that runs right through our collective conciseness, from holidaying to the detriment of the locals, all the way up through the political system. We are all human, I think it's our nature to accept something without little question if it is seemingly beneficial to us. I find semiotics so useful because it provides a frame work for us to start delving a little deeper into these choices. The developers are successful of course, because we’d all rather live somewhere nice, but perhaps the deeper cultural and environmental impacts need looking at. Although like a lot of things of scale, a few people are making a lot of money and gaining a lot of power. Whether through political subversion or not, the deeper frame work should always be questioned.
The text that accompanies your images is really interesting. What do you think the images then bring to the viewer? I am interested in the narrative in photography. I think the interplay of a series is a lot more important than an individual, sensationalist image. So much sculpting of a project comes in the edit and sequencing, so I won't know the final voice of it until then. I start a project always thinking it will look like one thing, but follow a different path entirely if it develops that way. I think the photobook is so successful at the minute because of its ability to encapsulate a whole world and transport the viewer into it.
What other cultural phenomena have you come across? Are there other status symbols, or even any that are specific to Vegas, that you can tell us about? I think the interesting thing about status symbols is that they are universally applicable, the symbols themselves may differ from culture to culture, but the paradigm remains the same, and the notion is that they are bigger than what we initially perceive. Which is what the project is about, always wanting what we don't have, the carrot and stick situation.
Specific to Vegas; To have a lawn here runs deeper than just a status symbol. This subversion of nature is a further medal around the neck of mans psychological triumph in conquering nature. In a dry desert, the most precious, in demand thing is water. If you can afford a lawn, you can afford water. If you can afford to flippantly waste your most vital life-giving resource, ultimately you have power. You essentially have the power to take away life from your fellow citizen, and distribute it to the petri dish of wild life you are the arbiter of in your front lawn. This is why semiotics is particularly interesting to me, as you said before - using photography as a tool to deconstruct the reasoning behind our decisions.
You mentioned that you really enjoyed critique sessions at university. How do you now critique images and ideas you are working on without the support network of fellow students? Have you got any tips for new graduates? I think it is pretty important to get feedback and input from peers. Working on projects like this can be pretty solitary, so any critique or input I get is always cherished. Advice wise I'd just aim to keep a group of like minded people with similar interests and knowledge to input when it's needed. And if thats not possible, be your harshest critic, as it's you who is ultimately setting the standard of your work. Having said that, even if the feedback is coming from someone esteemed, at the end of the day it is your work, so if you think you're on the right track, stick to your guns.
Editing your images down and creating a narrative is very important to your way of working. Why is this, and how do you go about finalising each body of work you make? That's probably the most important and intensive part of the process because it's where everything comes together. So much of it's shape and feel comes from the edit. It’s just going over it obsessively until you've put together the best piece of art you are capable of.
What was your reasoning for including some portraits within this body of work? What do you think they bring to the final edit? I try and involve anything I think will enrich the project. I'd like to be a well rounded artist, so it seems counter intuitive to start excluding certain types of imagery. Also, I think for some people large format can feel archaic and I think applying that traditional process in a modern context can be interesting.
Do you think you’d ever like to create similar work in a different part of the world? I initially set out to work in the US because of the strong history of work in a similar vein. Robert Frank, Stephen Shore, and Alex Soth to name a few saw the road trip as having a strong history as a way to create work, which started after reading ‘On The Road’ by Jack Kerouack appealed to me. I also think being a stranger in a country is a great critical position to be in. Everything is new to your eye and I find feeling like an outsider looking in is a good meditative state of mind for strong work. As things become more familiar, it becomes increasingly difficult to look at things with a critical eye. Having said that, working in a strange country as 'an outsider' lead me to think about my own, I am currently questioning what is American about America, so it seems natural to question what's British about Britain at some point.