tom illsley

University: Nottingham Trent University 

Graduation: 2015

GenreFine Art

Website: www.tomillsley.com

Artist Statement: Meridian is an exploration of central geographical locations within Great Britain, implying free liberal methods of inquiry such as the dérive; a term often used within psychogeography to represent an individuals unplanned journey around an environment in which they are subconsciously directed by the aesthetics of the land. Taking flat linear objects in the form of maps and geographical coordinates, these locations seen as ‘centre points’ have been explored intensively. 

The areas of investigation are a farmer’s field in Fenny Drayton, Leicestershire, a patch of Welsh grassland at the bottom of the Elan Valley and a Scottish shooting estate on the edge of the Cairngorms. The photographs seek to highlight the landscape around these factual coordinates and also look to explore whether these locations hold a deeper meaning rather than just the subject of centrography, the mathematical equation used to find the centre point of a chosen area of land.

 
From the series Meridian

From the series Meridian

 
 
From the series Meridian

From the series Meridian

 

What are some standout moments from your time at university? Standout moments were the facilities available to me, hand printing my degree show work in the colour darkroom was such a great experience. Also being awarded the Genesis Bursary award was pretty special. 

Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? This is a difficult one; I feel as though the work I make would be targeted at a Fine Art audience, but in a Documentary Landscape style.

What themes do you find yourself exploring? I find myself exploring geographical themes within photography, and how the two can work in unison. Not only do I use my personal experiences in these landscapes but also I try and work in a somewhat clinical and objective sense through recording geographical coordinates and information to present alongside my work.

Images from the series Meridian

Images from the series Meridian

What encouraged you to make square images? Is it down to your choice of equipment? I use a 6x6 medium format camera so it is partly down to equipment but I also feel that it compliments my Meridian work particularly well. Using square images means that I don’t have one side outweighing the other and as maps played such an important part in my exhibition it related to the kilometre squares you’d find on most maps. Using square images is also relatable to how the digital age has progressed, so even though my photographs were created using an analogue camera on photographic film, they’re still very relevant in the digital age.

What visual and theoretical influences did you have whilst making Meridian? Visual artists such as Olaf Otto Becker, Stephen Shore and Alec Soth inspire me massively with how they create incredible images of relatively banal subject matter. George Miles’ pictorial representation of one area in Views of Matlock Bath and walking artists such as Hamish Fulton and Richard Long.

Can you talk us through the process you use to find a location? A technique called Centrography finds out the centre of a chosen area, this can be used in housing estates, cities, or in my current body of work countries. A simple way of explaining would be to take England as a flat cardboard cutout and the centre would be where it balances on a needle. 

Images from the series Meridian

Images from the series Meridian

Can you show us some of the coordinates and information that you present alongside this work when it’s exhibited? Do you think this information is important to the viewer?

This is how the information is presented alongside the work:

56°83’56.79”N -4°23’23.65”W 202° 427.4m

56°81’99.35”N -4°10’36.12”W 314° 367.1m

56°81’02.25”N -4°09’32.39”W 54° 356.4m

I feel it is very important; the viewers will hopefully begin to create their own story from the images and the coordinates provide context for these. For example the viewer can look at how the altitude differs between the images and challenges the stereotypes we have of the landscape. 

The technique you use in your work leads you to the centre point and implies this is where you should make some photographs. What happens if you don’t like the area; do you continue to be directed by the aesthetics of the land? I’ll still make work there, whether I like the area or not for whatever reason. I don’t think there’s such a thing as an uninspiring landscape. Even if what I want to photograph is a few miles away or inaccessible due to a river or a fence, I’ll find a way around it. 

Images from the series Meridian

Images from the series Meridian

How many times do you visit each of your locations? I visit each location once, it’ll be over a few days but it’s the initial encounters in these environments that makes my work so special. 

Above images: Meridian exhibition

Above images: Meridian exhibition

Why did you choose to exhibit this body of work the way you did? The reason to hang my work like this is partly because of the space I was exhibiting in. It was a walkthrough space, so would regularly have people passing through who’s intentions weren’t to visit my exhibition. Having my images at different heights not only captured the viewers peripheral vision and made them stop and look at the work but it also showed a sense of the journey I went on to create the images. 

It’s really interesting to compare Wales and Scotland for example; The images in Scotland we’re all taken at a very similar height, so on the wall they are almost in a straight line. Whereas in the images from Wales you can see that they incline to a trig point and then all of a sudden drop to images of water and streams. This adds another element of comparison to these places that have so much in common yet are so far from one another.

What are your creative goals for the future? I think next I’d like to assist an established photographer, but I’m just going to keep on creating work and see if I start something that really grabs me. 

Have you got a favourite body of work by another photographer? Recently I’ve really been admiring Marc Wilson’s The Last Stand. There are some stunning landscapes in it.