University: Huddersfield University
Abbott's project Do you still love me darling? is a project referencing memory, time, relationships and the re-appropriation of imagery. Using ‘found’ letters containing years of dialogue between a young couple living in the time of the Cold war, the narrative explores elements of romantic love, possession and insecurity. Places in which the couple visited become visual metaphors for the turbulent and emotional feelings experienced during their relationship. Feelings of loss, intense love, desire and despair are demonstrated, paired with archival documents gathered from a series of locations. Whether a flower from the ladies garden, or decaying images found at an RAF site in Germany, the project aims to discuss themes of memory, loss and the inevitability of present turning into past.
Where did you attend university and what year did you graduate? I attended Huddersfield University studying BA (Hons) Photography and graduated in July 2015.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? I would definitely say the most prominent times at university were my internship year and my final graduate show. I interned in Shoreditch for fashion boutique Start and the corresponding company Mr. Start.
Working alongside owner and former The Fall member Brix Smith Start – I was inundated with amazing opportunities from the get go, from London Fashion week to consistently liaising with creatives, producing both my own work and that for the company. As well as this, my graduate show was a definite stand out moment, there’s nothing quite like the experience that final year provides. For my project I travelled to Germany and Paris, and managed to get access to an old RAF site, which is something I can’t quite describe. The most overwhelming part is producing work that people seriously engage with, there’s not really words that can prepare you for how overwhelming it is when people participate with your work.
Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? Although my day job is predominately fashion based, I would consider my personal photographic work to be a mixture of documentary, storytelling and memory.
What themes do you find yourself exploring? All of my artistic interests seem to follow a similar theme. I like to work with universal emotion and constructed narratives, and take great influence from artists such as Christian Boltanski and Sophie Calle. The idea of materialism mixed with photography really interests me, most recently I’ve explored the use of appropriated imagery and constructing narratives from already existing materials.
Can you explain your series title? Have you got any tips for naming a body of work? The series Do You Still Love Me Darling? basically is what it says on the tin. I chose this particular title as it was something I saw cropping up in the work consistently. In many of the letters, Ron, who was completely besotted with his beau April, was constantly asking how she felt about him and if indeed she still loved him. When I set out exploring the works, I realised that the paranoia about returned affection was something often experienced in relationships in general – and in Ron and April’s case often the love was particularly one sided. I wanted the title to stay fairly ambiguous, hence it being a question, almost like it’s asking the viewer for their opinion. With any body of work, I think the title has to be fit for purpose, it has to evoke some ideas about the work at hand, but also entice enough interest that the viewer is still intrigued as what to expect.
How did you put this body of work together in its final stages? Was it difficult to decide on a final edit of images? Once the work reached the final stages it became pretty tough to decide which images made the final cut for the book. I had the letters for a period of time before I decided where I actually wanted to go with the project. Still, even when booking my tickets to visit the RAF site, I still wasn’t clear on what I actually wanted to photograph. When I reached the site in Oldenburg, I photographed everything and anything, hoping that when I returned I could make cohesive sense of how the letters and images collated. It was only then, when laying all the images and letters out together I started to make connections. I realised that the images provided visual metaphors in a way, for what the letters were saying. From then on I tried to pair images with corresponding letters. Letters of loneliness were paired with empty RAF buildings, decaying bathrooms and unkempt dressing rooms. One letter in particular, where the couple’s engagement was postponed, I provided an image of the RAF site back when it was bombed in the war, almost to insinuate the internal feelings that Ron could have been feeling.
Are any of the images in Do you still love me darling? your own or are they all found? The project imagery was sourced from 3 locations. My own imagery, scans of the letters and appropriated imagery found whilst travelling. The initial material was the letters alone, once I found addresses and locations, I then went to photograph these and collected relevant imagery along the way. The majority, if not all of my images are of the RAF Site that Ron was based at, which is in Oldenburg, Germany.
Have you had the opportunity to exhibit this work? If not, would you like to? Since graduating I have taken the project and presented it at Hothouse Liverpool as part of the LOOK 15 International Photography Festival, as well as sold the book at Bradford’s Photobook Fair in October 2015. I haven’t yet exhibited the work but it’s something I would love to do and I’m definitely aiming to get the project out there this year.
You have two different websites showcasing different work, one editorial and fashion based, and the other more personal work. Why is that? Having two websites is something many creatives can probably relate to. I think it’s important to not mix styles, as mentioned before I predominately work in fashion, and this is where my expertise lie and is consistent work. My project work is extremely personal, and I felt it needed its own identity and therefore its own website, so I decided to split the two up as to not cause confusion. This is also why my fashion work is under my initials SNA Photography and not my full name.
What motivated you to produce a book of this series? Did you have this in mind from the beginning? The project itself was part of my final major project at university which was the main motivation. I wanted to produce something that reflected the work that really interested me. After collating the letters I knew that the work had to follow a certain narrative that would work best in book format. In the original dummy of the book I actually recreated some of the letters and had envelopes throughout so that the viewer could interact, and open the envelopes much like Ron and April did. There were also plans of producing special editions of the book which contained unique individual letters not included in the series, sealed specifically for the owner. It was nice to think about adding personal touches that made the experience feel personal and replicate the idea of opening your own letter.
Can you show us some of your more fashion based work? What do you enjoy about making these types of images? Of course, my fashion work can be found on my Instagram and website - In my opinion the fashion industry and trends are notably unpredictable, as is photography in a way. I think my particular love of fashion work is much of what I love about project work. It's so easy to take a creative diversion, but there is no wrong or right, only experiments. You learn from the mistakes you make, but sometimes the mistakes you make can become your best work. To me its nice to work in an industry that isn't set on whats RIGHT but what works creatively, and what's relevant at that time.
What’s next for you when it comes to making more personal work? I have a project sat to one side that I would love to work on and I'm hoping to really push it this year. The new project has similar humanistic themes to my other works, in particular it focuses on death, what comes before, what comes after - but much like Do You Still Love Me Darling? it follows a theme that doesn't give the answer. It asks questions, its ambiguous. There's possible scopes of this becoming my Masters Project, as I would love to have the opportunity to produce another body of work under my former lecturers Liam Devlin and Richard Mulhearn who always advised me in terms of project support. Additionally, I'd love to speak to publishers about the Do You Still Love Me Darling? book, as seeing it printed and having the opportunity to give talks about the work itself is invaluable and really would be the ideal situation for me.