Leanne Atkin

University: Arts University Bournemouth

Graduation: 2017

Genre: Construction

Websitewww.leanneatkin.com

Artist StatementSynthetic Structures explores photography’s inability to represent the truth, commenting upon a photograph as being only ever an illusion. The work, which consists of busy panoramic interiors, uses digital manipulation to reveal the artifice in the image, skewing dimension, perspective and space to embrace notions of contemporary Cubism. Aiming to challenge visual perception and asking for a new way to perceive and read images, we recognise that a photograph, and by extension reality, is only a construct.

 Image from the series  Synthetic Structures

Image from the series Synthetic Structures

What are some standout moments from your time at university? Some standout moments include the dissertation, the graduate show and graduation itself. The dissertation was a standout moment as it allowed me to engage with writing an academic text on a topic I was especially interested in, as well as developing specific skills and learning a lot. As I chose the longer option, it was very challenging and I did find it difficult at times so actually receiving a first for the project was the biggest achievement of my time at university and I felt very proud to have persevered with it. Since the dissertation, I am now considering more career possibilities due to the skills I developed. I think the standout moment from university was the grad show our class put on in July this year at the Truman Brewery, London. During third year, alongside projects etc. we had to fundraise for the show as well as working as a team to realise the exhibition. It felt surreal to see my work being seen by many viewers and also a big achievement as our hard work had paid off. The show led to other opportunities for me. Finally, graduation was a great day to celebrate the end of university! 

Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? Although I consider my work to fit in the ‘Contemporary’ category, I think, due to the techniques used to make the work, it fits best in the ‘Constructed’ genre, which also gives an idea to the themes explored. 

 Image from the series  Synthetic Structures

Image from the series Synthetic Structures

What themes do you find yourself exploring? The overriding theme explored in Synthetic Structures is the reality of a photograph– Is an image only a construct, a representation of reality? The examination between reality and representation in photography and the slippery relationship between digital, representation and fact is questioned as is photography’s relationship with truth; Synthetic Structures rejects the idea of a ‘decisive moment’ through the use of multiple imagery and digital manipulation. Visual perception is examined as I intentionally play (subtly) with the image and the viewer’s reading of it – an example being the erasure of an object which is then doubled in another part of the image or a fake shadow which, when thought about, couldn’t exist due to lighting. This led to research on Cubism and attempting to represent how we actually see the world through multiple perspectives and pictorial information. Warping and skewing of perspective, space and dimensions through digital manipulation is a key aspect in Synthetic Structures and the manipulation is purposely revealed so the audience can identify the artifice of the image and thus question what they are viewing and the veracity of the photograph. Other themes explored include the double in photography and the viewer’s physical relationship to the piece. 

 Image from the series  Synthetic Structures

Image from the series Synthetic Structures

What initially inspired you to make this work? I was inspired by a mix of visual stimuli and research. I had been working on a series of still lives which dealt with similar topics I explore in Synthetic Structures so already I had researched issues regarding constructed imagery, Cubism and digital manipulation as well as debates between representation and reality in photography. I was taking images to coincide with another project involving portraiture when I photographed a family friend in his home which I had never visited before. When I arrived at his home, I became aware of strange collections of objects in his overall very busy household, such as a pile of crutches and a stack of egg cartons which had no real purpose. I began to photograph these and developed an interest in collections and repetition. After further reading, I became aware that ‘the double’ in photography was a widely explored theoretical issue, so, in fitting with the house, I began to visually experiment with the imagery to enhance the overwhelming feeling of objects and the doubling that was occurring, relating to the themes of reality and construction that I was previously concerned with. After further digital experimentation, testing and refining, Synthetic Structures was created. 

How did you choose your locations for Synthetic Structures? The images shown in Synthetic Structures #1 and #2 are made up from two different locations though during the early stages I did explore locations such as the natural landscape. One is the household of a family friend, which initially inspired the work and the second is a shop local to me, Dorchester Curiosity Center. I was drawn to busy, chaotic spaces in order to emphasize the vast amount of objects in my imagery which benefited the repetition and doubling that occurs in the series, so much so that I didn’t need to use manipulation in some cases, playing more games with the viewer’s understanding of the image and the truthfulness involved. The spaces needed to be quirky and immersive to consume the viewer and produce large scale images. Photographic aspects were considered when choosing locations, such as whether the space was wide enough to fit my interest in using a panoramic ratio and the colours and textures had to be varied. Following my interest in Cubism and perspective, Dorchester Curio was ideal due to the passages throughout the displays as well as angles offered up from various furniture and objects.

 Image from the series  Synthetic Structures

Image from the series Synthetic Structures

How did you distort your images in post-production? Was it a controlled process? The process of producing the images involved shooting the images from a set point, moving only the tripod head around fractionally each shot. Afterwards, I created a panoramic document in Photoshop, overlaid the images slightly over one another on the join, altering the opacity to try to match certain objects up and see where the angles had changed due to the technique in taking the imagery. Once happy with the placing, I used the mask tool to select parts I intended to erase in order to reveal the image beneath and the doubling which occurred, making active choices in the works production. The technique of using the selection tool was controlled as I wanted it to appear relatively seamless, adding to the illusion of a ‘straight’ image, but when looking closely, was still revealed to the audience, breaking the illusion and resonating with Brecht’s Alienation effect. Conversely, choosing and playing with what parts to expose was fairly experimental and I often undid previous actions to see what worked best for the image. I did experiment working in an unconfined way with Photoshop throughout the project but it didn’t convey the themes I was exploring and aesthetically wasn’t as successful.

 Image from the series  Synthetic Structures

Image from the series Synthetic Structures

What would you like us to learn from your work? The core aim of Synthetic Structures is to slow down the process of looking at imagery, seeking to play with visual perception and surprising the viewer. Through the visual games created by digital manipulation and questionable perspectives, I hope the audience begins to realise that the photograph they are viewing and additionally all photography, is an illusion, a representation of reality only. I intentionally leave the manipulation visible on closer inspection for the viewer to look more carefully and actually think about what they are viewing, for example when looking at doubled objects across the image, when angles from objects are opposed to each other and the slips where the manipulation is not seamless; I want to challenge the viewer’s visual perception and understanding of imagery in my work. Synthetic Structures aims to create questions for the viewer regarding reality, truth and representation and ultimately I hope the audience begins to question this in relation to photography and imagery used in other aspects of life and perhaps see that the photographic image is a construction, an illusion of reality, not reality itself. 

Did you have any theoretical influences when making Synthetic Structures? One key influence was the art movement Cubism, particularly evident in Picasso and Cezanne’s work regarding perspective and how we view the world and visually transfer this in to art. This inspired the play with perspective, dimensions and space and combining multiple perspectives in an attempt to represent how we actually see. Researching debates regarding representation, reality and visual perception, in particular writing by David Green, Rolf Lauter and Photography is Magic edited by Charlotte Cotton influenced the use of digital manipulation used in the work. Further theoretical influences include writing by Victor Stoichita regarding the problematic of the image as existing only as a double of reality, influencing the act of the doubling and the themes evident in the work. I considered constructed imagery, apparent in the work of Jeff Wall and the many slippages that exist between reality and representation. Other theoretical influences include Brecht’s theory of the Alienation effect, where the making of the work is intentionally exposed to the viewer, Foucault’s notion of the Heterotopia as being ‘a space of the real and the unreal’, Anthony Vidler’s research on the Uncanny and Baudrillard’s notion of the Hyper Real.  

 Image from the series  Synthetic Structures

Image from the series Synthetic Structures

Is this series finished? Are you working on anything new? I think the series is finished with regards to the technique but I would like to continue it in to different locations, perhaps experimenting with outdoor spaces, industrial settings and potentially at night with lighting set ups. Currently I am generating ideas for a new still life series, similar to work series I made in 2016 called Synthetic Compositions. The new work will explore similar themes and have similar theoretical influences to Synthetic Structures, however I think it will be visually very different.  The work is very much in the developing/experimental stages where I am working through visual ideas, problems, lighting etc and playing with compositions and general styles. I hope to have some new work created in the New Year!

It seems your images very much rely on us seeing them on a large scale to take in the detail. How did you display them at your degree show? My images definitely rely on being seen on a large scale and is something I experimented with a lot during the project. The reason behind the large scale is so the viewer can take in the detail and scrutinise the slippages that exist between the artificial and the real spaces of the imagery. Scale plays a huge role in achieving the aims of the work; I want the viewer to feel immersed, consumed in the constructed space and therefore having to look closely, slowing down the viewing process. I displayed only one image at the graduate show due to the costs of materials. To present the image, I had the print mounted and turned in to a 2 meter long diasec panel with a split batten hanging system. I chose this particular method as the method itself plays with the physical dimensions between a flat print and a 3d structure, echoing themes explored in the work. I also think it makes the work accessible to the viewer so they can get up close with the image. I considered other presentation methods involving the physical space and perspective so the audience can begin to interact with the work.

 Image from the series  Synthetic Structures

Image from the series Synthetic Structures

What opportunities arose for you after university? After university and due to the graduation show in London, I had my work published in the Artist Directory section of the August/September issue of Aesthetica Magazine which I consider to be a big achievement as well as gaining further exposure of my work. This led to other opportunities, such as working with Baxters Art International in being one of the first artists to trial out their app for selling artwork and giving feedback on it. I was also invited to exhibit in an art fair in New York, but due to personal circumstances I couldn’t take part at that particular time but I hope to do so in the future. I was contacted by an online art magazine to have my work featured and an interview conducted and I hope to achieve this in the next few months. Finally, my work was selected to be a part of an exhibition called Suddenly Last Summer showcasing selected work by recent alumni of AUB which finished at the beginning of November. I am continually looking for opportunities to show and exhibit my work.