University: Leeds College of Art
Genre: Conceptual Art
Artist Statement: I am a photographic artist whose work explores how the ordinary can be transformed into moments of extraordinary through sublime forces that engage the viewer through aesthetics and experience. This project Lumen, made on my Master’s degree at Leeds College of Art is set along the river Humber in my home city of Hull in England and it investigates how light and photography have the power to transform ordinary and familiar subject matter and materials into moments of sublime experience by challenging our perceptions. Light has the power to transform and transfix; photography is a medium that captures light; plastic is a material that holds light, and light itself is our connection to the beginnings of existence.
Where did you attend university and what year did you graduate? I graduated Leeds College of Art with a Masters Degree in 2015. Before that I completed a BA undergraduate degree in Lens Based Photo Media at Hull School of art and design.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? The moments that stand out for me the most whilst doing the Masters degree were those where I was able to chase my own creative space, and the autonomy that came with that. I hadn't felt that kind of independence before and it was so scary, and it took a few hurdles to overcome how daunting it all was. That allowed me to explore the possibilities of photography, what photography could be. I love traditional prints in frames, but a few of the amazing experiences I had were primary research trips to see what is happening in photography now, and what can be made out of a photographic image.
Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? I think my work falls under several categories, but I would say Lumen is conceptual. Some of my other works could be classed as documentary or fine art. I am also in the process of making a video piece which is still in development stages and has had a rough screening, and I would class this as conceptual work. I am about making work that allows the viewer to experience it at whatever level they feel, and I think this relies on marrying concept with aesthetics to achieve this.
What themes do you find yourself exploring? The idea came from work I had built up based around themes of light and borders and boundaries we live in, and a lot of that developmental work was very abstract and very expressionist. I became very interested in the feeling we get from looking at light and that led me to themes of the sublime and existentialism. I wanted to try and translate a feeling I had whilst watching a sunset in Jordan over the sea of Galilee a few years ago, and the ethereal and ephemeral transcendent experience that was. I began to work on the idea that it was possible to translate that experience into a photographic artwork. The final piece of work is intended to be shown printed onto clear acrylic and illuminated so that each piece is lit and the light in the scene is transported through the image, via the illumination to reach the viewer for them to experience the image in their own way.
Who or what inspired you to make this series? Lumen was born out of a project called Liminal Lux, that as I look back I can see is all developmental work made at a time when I was unemployed, depressed and stayed in a lot. I would make work looking out of the windows of my house and became fascinated with how the light changed whatever it touched completely. This developed into me wanting to experiment with surfaces to project light onto to photograph and I found the piece that features in the Lumen series quite accidentally one day at a local suppliers, and I knew instantly I had to take it out and photograph it in the light. From there it became very organic and I let my instinct take over, and so I worked toand photograph it in different lights and locations along the river.
How did the idea for Lumen arise? Inspiration came from everywhere, at first it was the way the light danced around my house at sunrise and sunset and became my own personal light show, it used to transfix me. Artist inspiration came from the obvious Uta Barth, Yayoi Kusama and James Turell. Yuji Hamad's smoke filled streets and Suzanne Mooney's plastic photograph windows were two major lightbulb moments for me arriving at Lumen. Artist influences came from all disciplines, all genres, Jackson Pollock continues to inspire me as does Turner. There are too many to mention, famous and obscure. One thing that I found massively inspirational was reading. I read everything I could get my hands on from Burke and Kant's theories of the sublime, to the Poetics of Space, to In Praise of Shadows. Reading philosophy and art books more than anything helped me understand what I was already thinking more clearly. I started to research into the science behind light and optics to give depth to my theory and I became obsessive about learning more about how light works and how it affects us and the planet. Lastly, talking to other people, artists, tutors, fellow students, my mum! - thrashing an idea about is the best form of progression.
Why did you decide to focus your images around the river Humber? The Humber river seemed like a natural place to photograph the piece for Lumen, as up until then I had been photographing out of the boundaries of my house, the windows. Now seemed like a natural time to broaden that to the boundary of the city I live in, Hull, and look at the river, which is very beautiful but can also be part of why the city can feel cut off at times. The Humber is also a strong link to the city's industrial past, and now its future, and on an aesthetic level I liked it's reflective vast surface which seems to look different and change as the light changes, and that changes the whole surrounding landscape - something I felt was very much in tune with the theme of the project.
What's one key thing you learnt whilst studying for an MA? The MA was really hard work, and Lumen became an obsession for me. The thing I learnt whilst doing the MA, which is a key lesson when studying anything creative I think, is to trust your instincts. If something isn't working, don't labour it too much. Try another way or two if you want, but as an artist you know when something is right. I knew the whole time I was building up to Lumen that I wasn't quite there yet with the work, and as soon as I found that piece instinct took over and the images were in my head. It was just a process of making them. I had to go through the uncertain times to research and look and think about it all, so that when it came, I knew it was right. Sometimes going to my tutor and saying I had made work about a big bit of plastic in the sunlight seemed really ridiculous but he was really supportive and encouraging, even through all my mini crises!
Your work has been featured on a number of online platforms and exhibitions. Can you tell us how you share your work? The MA taught me to push my work and get it seen. Left to my own devices I am introverted and shy about showing work, but my tutors and the MA experience really helped me to overcome that and look for every available opportunity to show work. I subscribe to local council arts development newsletters which often have opportunities, Curator Space is really good, Art Monthly, LensCulture, Redeye is a great network to be involved with up North and inspired me to set up Illuminate, an organisation for Photographers in Hull and East Yorkshire. So far my work has been seen in America and Europe and I hope to make more to show newer pieces too and I really hope to develop my theories further at a higher level such as PhD so I am keeping an eye out for those opportunities too.
Have you got any future plans you'd like to share with us? I've been entering my work to a few different competitions so I'm currently eagerly awaiting responses from those.
Lumen will be featured in a group show called Flow at Kingston Art Group in Hull (City of Culture 2017) and previews Friday 11th August and is on until 3rd September!