Tom Owens

University: University Campus Suffolk

Graduation: 2014

GenreContemporary

Website: www.tjowens.com 

Artist Statement: Edgelands – solo exhibition Museum of East Anglian Life 16th July 2015 – 31st March 2016.

Edgelands are everywhere. Edgelands can be internal to a town but in the main, Edgelands form the buffer zone between urban and rural environments. Our perception of beauty in the countryside can be challenged by exploring the hinterland that exists between urban and rural environments - challenging the notion of official beauty whilst highlighting a social dilemma expressed through photographic images.

This series is made on large and medium format film and has attracted sponsorship from Kodak Alaris to make more work. Owens is currently collaborating with Kate Jackson, an Artist/Musician who paints what she photographs in the landscape. The series is extending to include 'agridustrial buildings' that sit in our landscape and reflect East Anglian industries.

Owens exhibits at The Freudian Sheep. He is on the organising team for the RPS International Photobook Exhibition 2016.

From the series Edgelands

From the series Edgelands

What are some standout moments from your time at university? Well I suppose that there are several. I was totally surprised to get Student of the Year in the second year but add to that opening in the Ipswich Art School Gallery, and our two degree shows in Ipswich and London. I don't think there can ever be a better degree show on campus than the one Lux Locus had.

Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? I am quite eclectic. It depends on whatever topic I am working on. I would suggest that the generic tag of Contemporary fits my approach as I tend to work on themes about something. Most people would think I shoot Landscapes but I also have an interest in Wildlife photography and Architectural. 

From the series Edgelands

From the series Edgelands

What themes do you find yourself exploring in your work? These are many and varied. Often as not, I find an initial magnet that draws me to making a series of work and then I discover layers of other interests when I start analysing what it is I am doing. This can be a very creative process.

Can you tell us about any commercial work you have undertaken? I made an archival record of frocks on display in Christchurch Mansion for Colchester and Ipswich Museum service and on one assignment I worked with kitchen and bathroom fitters photographing the transition from old jaded kitchens and bathroom to modern, but the main commercial work I have undertaken has been business event photography. That is very tiring work and often in poor lighting conditions. I use my Wildlife skills when photographing people at these events. This makes the work more interesting as I often have to work to a brief to capture people enjoying themselves. That is where the patience of wildlife photography comes in. I watch, I look, I see, I identify behaviours and patterns then I shoot.

 
From the series Edgelands

From the series Edgelands

 

We know you were a part of the collectives ‘equals’ and ‘Lux Locus’, can you tell us about your experiences? I had long wanted to exhibit work in Ipswich Art School Gallery. I used to study Silversmithing there at night school in the late 1980s. Once it was converted to a Gallery, then I wanted to be able to show in it, although I mourned the loss of the school and the trace of the artists who had gone before me. Ipswich Art School was a hugely creative place where many acclaimed artists learned their trades. Sheer determination on my part by walking in repeatedly and asking about showing work there and chanced upon a coincidence of a planned Historic & Contemporary Photography show. I negotiated with the curator who managed to get one gallery released to us. I had approached the Museum service on the basis of a collective and that is how we formed 'equals'. We came up with the name as there were fourteen people in the initial meeting and I ran a brain storming session about 14 and maths came into the answer 7x2,14x1, etc but what it gave us was that word 'equals' and that stated that we were all equal as students. We showed there for 3½ months and also in Slack Space for a separate show over 2 weeks during the same period.

This was very good preparation for our third year exploits and the experience was invaluable for the practice degree show at Christmas and the Spectaculo show over the Easter period just before we graduated. We also ran a two week event as Artists-in-Residence at the Town Hall in Ipswich. We called this 'ephemera' and it was studio based work where we raised money for the degree show funds. Never mind the photography aspect, this was all about teamwork and delivering quality on time.

With Lux Locus, I came up with the Latin name as a play on Lightroom, a product most of us use. Lux Locus translates literally to light place but based on visiting the Salgado exhibition we decided to make the space as dark as possible and make use of the contradiction. We spent 7 months planning the layout of our shows in Ipswich and London and I believe that the quality of those shows was based on all the external exhibitions and shows that we had practised in.

From the series Edgelands

From the series Edgelands

Who or what visually and theoretically inspires your work? I am an eclectic photographer. My inspiration comes from just about anywhere and anyone. My Edgelands project was initially inspired by Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and how man-made those designations are but the real value was in the writings of two poets - Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts. Keith Arnatt was also an inspiration as was McCullin, Tom Hunter, Alec Soth and many more. Other artists also inspire me at all levels.

Tell us about your experience of putting together a solo show. Very hard work and all consuming and costly. I tried twice for Arts Council Funding as part of a consortium bid and in the end decided to go it alone. All in all it took 18 months to get from initial gallery sourcing to opening the show. Luckily for me I wrote to Suffolk County Council after I got turned down by Colchester & Ipswich Museum service for a solo show. They responded with a list of possible venues and the Museum of East Anglian Life contacted me by virtue of being copied in to their response. All the gallery visits and exhibition experience as a student came to the fore and my professional qualifications as an agile project manager ensured that the show opened on time. There were so many responses to the PV invite that we had to run two separate nights. The first night had visitors attending whom I knew; the second was for trustees and the High Sheriff. I am doing a closing view for the High Sheriff on 31st March as it coincides with the last day of the show and her awards night.

Would you say your series Edgelands is finished? If not, what are your next steps in completing this body of work? It is far from finished. I am gradually moving West and North through the county finding more places but the project is evolving. I plan to collaborate with Kate Jackson a local musician (and nationally acclaimed with the Long Blondes and now with Kate Jackson and the Wrong Moves) and artist as I am now capturing 'Agri-dustrial' buildings in the landscape. They tend to be on the outskirts of our towns. Kate paints these places from photographs and we met by chance as I was promoting my show and she was Artist-in-Residence at Smiths Row. We had both used Edgelands by Farley & Roberts as inspiration for our work. She is busy releasing her latest album over the next few months but we will work together at some time as our paths cross often.

Why did you decide to use both medium and large format for the same body of work? Could you tell us about the outcomes this choice has given the images? I have long held the view that the tool one uses to make images imposes a certain look and feel to the final product. The image is made or partially formulated by the choice of tool that I take out for the day. A camera after all is just a tool to create what is in my mind's eye. The time taken, and the cost also, of making a large format image plus the mechanics of composition and the technical knowledge required all conspire to make very measured looking images. The control over the image I make is all done in camera. I decided to work at a height of 8 feet off the ground with the large format camera and at my 9 year old eye height for medium format. This initially came about by accident. I loaded the car with both formats at the start of the series, as I was not sure what tool to use. I started with large format and it was after being stood on a stepladder for an interminable amount of time waiting for the sun to illuminate my subject that I noticed what was at my feet as I stepped down. I had arrived in the dark as is often the case and had not seen the near ground. That was the moment I decided to shoot both formats. The medium format gives a sense of more immediacy and by and large they are more cheerful images than my large format ones. I was about 9 when I really started to notices all of my junior Edgelands.

What’s your biggest achievement since graduating? That has to be the solo exhibition but prior to that I entered the inaugural RPS Photobook exhibition with a book of my Edgelands images and got shortlisted. I never thought that would happen out of international entries.

Can you talk us through your role at this year's RPS International Photobook Exhibition? As a result of being shortlisted I got co-opted onto the committee of the Contemporary special interest group. My role is organising the companion print exhibition that will be on display at the same time. The Photobook exhibition is open to anyone worldwide but the prints and associated exhibition is open to RPS members only. One of the committee had visited our Lux Locus show and considered it the best he had ever seen at Free Range and added to my solo show, he said it was the reason they had got me on the committee. The winner of the first prize this year will get £1000.

Have you got a favourite photobook? Jem Southam - The River Winter.

Are you working on anything at the moment that you’d like to tell us about? I am working with Eddie Ephraums, one of the black & White Photography magazine editors, to make a limited edition catalogue to close my show with. This will be an edition of 35 to reflect the 35 images in the show and it will be hand sewn and creased, plus the covers will be all handmade and debossed. It is quite exciting. I'm also working on a long term collaborative body of work on the Docklands of the Orwell. We will be showing during the same time as Photoeast at Thornham as we could not get space in their shows despite trying since last summer.

I'm also helping out at UCS by getting a drum scanning service operational. That has taken a great deal of experimentation but the students ought to get some results from it this year.

What would your dream project be? I have absolutely no idea. I just love making series or bodies of work. I suppose if I could collaborate and show with some of the greats such as Alec Soth, Bill Jackson, Alastair Bartlett etc then that would be rewarding. Incidentally I take it as a good omen that Soth and I both had our first UK solo shows in the same year. One day I might actually become a real photographer!