I recently have participated in two email interviews for different websites. Both sets of questions have asked me to describe my work. Also, being at university, you are expected to talk about your work and why you decide to create the kind of the images you create and what your work is about. I have spent countless hours considering these questions.
I find that describing my work is the hardest part of my practice. It’s not that I can’t talk about it; it’s just that I find it is a combination of so many different reasons, feelings and forms of inspiration that it is hard to pinpoint the one specific reason why. So, I thought that it would be a great reason to analyze/consider/think and write down about what my work means to me, both personally and contextually. This post is not necessarily for anyone else to read, but I find it easier to write (or type) about my work than I do talking about it.
It would be best to start off by looking at how personal my work is. Being a fine art/conceptual photographer as well as shooting self-portraits means my work revolves around the use of and the way in which I view myself. It also gives me the chance to experiment with ideas & themes without having to necessarily show anyone the end result or having to explain myself to anyone. At the same time, I have shot some fashion & beauty based images, which I am going to continue to do, but for some reason I feel that they don’t have the same personal touch to them. I assume it’s probably because these images are a collaborative effort and I don’t have full control over every aspect of the images.
So, where did it all start? I suppose my passion for photography developed during my A levels. It was definitely down to my teacher being super inspiring and enthusiastic about every idea that anyone had. At that time, I had no clue about photography, especially the technical side. Doing photography as an A level really helped me to see, as clichéd as it sounds, the world in a different way. Prior to my A levels, I had being doing art (which I was also doing alongside photography at A level) and I had wanted to be an art teacher. Even though I had a great experience doing photography during my A levels and got a good grade in it, I hadn’t ever considered the possibility of doing photography as a career, or even anymore.
After A Levels, I did a foundation course in Art & Design at University. This was super awesome as, like in A levels, I had no restrictions on what I could, or couldn’t do. From this, I shot loads of (really bad) self-portraits and thought I was being super creative. I have recently just deleted all of these images off my Flickr account where they have been residing for the last 3 or so years. At this moment in time I was (too) heavily inspired by the work of photographers such as Rosie Hardy & Lucia Holm. Looking back on the work I produced around that time, I really cringe at how bad my Photoshop skills were and I feel that I didn’t really consider the images I had created; I just created them for the sake of it.
From the end of my foundation course, I had to decide where I wanted to go with my life and what degree I wanted to do. It was a choice between Art and Photography. Up to that point, especially in the last 6 months of my foundation course, I had been experimenting with photography. I kind of gave up on art. I realize now that it was because within art, I wasn’t doing anything new. I probably wasn’t doing anything new within photography either, but I felt that with photography it was easier to create a piece of work that had more of myself within in, regardless of what it was based on so I opted for a photography degree, even though I got accepted into both.
So, the first year of my photography degree was dreadful. It was so uninspiring. The reason was because of the argument I like to call Creativity vs. Education, (something that I am going to write a blog post about) as there is a very limited amount of interest you can take in creating images you are not interested in.
Anyway, after the slightly long biography/ramble about my educational history, it’s time to actually consider the burning question: Why do I take the images I take?
Well, the answer, as you’ve probably guessed, it pretty long. But before I can quite answer it, I have to critically analyze my work:
The first thing to do is to ask myself, what are the themes that I look at within my work? After a lot of reflection, the main ones are:
- Escape/Freedom both separately & the dichotomy of the two
- Journeys and the idea of ‘reaching a certain place
- Restriction/being trapped
So, now I have defined the themes that I look at, I can start to question myself why I look at them and where I’ve got them from.
To be honest, I think that I could probably blame all of themes solely on the artist Mercedes Helnwein. Since seeing her work around 7 or so years ago, her work has been a constant source of inspiration, so much that I wrote a 1000 word essay about how awesome her work was, just because I could.
In fact, most of the photographers and artist’s that I am drawn to really deal with a lot of similar themes that tend to lean towards the darker side of human emotions but they all express then in very different ways. Some people, such as Gregory Crewdson and Francis Bacon deal with them in a very direct manner and other such as Lucia Holm and Brooke Shaden deal with them in a more subtle way.
Another thing that I have always been drawn to is narrative. Before I even studied art, I wanted to be an author. I loved to write stories. I still do. Actually, I have always it found it hard to write a complete story. I have a lot of examples from over the years of stories I have written that have no ending or closing chapter. In many ways, I feel that I am still doing that within photography, even though it is something that I have thought about at this very moment of typing it. It makes me smile to think I have, in an abstract way, became a photographical author. Anyway, narrative is not just a very important part of my work; it is a very important part of me.
I can pinpoint the themes of pensiveness and isolation to the way I live my life. I’m not a crazily social person. Sure, I have Facebook, which I use primarily for my photography and to contact artist’s for my blog (The Flying Fruit Bowl) and various other social media sites, but I use them all purely for my photography. I find social media really awkward. Who’s going to want to know about me? I don’t think I’m particularly exciting or interesting in anyway, at least not enough to tell people about my life, and myself which is pretty average. I like to talk about photography, and art, and all of the things that interest me or make me think. This is definitely where the pensiveness theme stems from. I spend a lot of time thinking. Most often at night, when I’m supposed to be sleeping, and most often about my future or something photography related. If I think so much, then why can’t the character’s I create be thinking to?
I actually feel (or think!) that people do not spend enough time thinking. We are so busy living our lives (or not living them because of immersive media) to really consider what we are doing.
Within the themes of my work, I find that they’re certain aspects that I mostly try to repeat so that it is consistent and restrained. These include:
- A painterly aspect
- A timeless aspect (or at least the aversion of creating a modern looking image).
These aspects are the kind of ‘rules’ that I try and stick to to restrain my image from looking too different. It is super easy for me to pinpoint where they come from. The painterly aspect comes from my love of art, which definitely affects the way I work and both the ambiguity and anonymity aspect come from my love of narrative and creating stories in which people can lose themselves. The timeless aspect of my work is a funny one, as I would say it is probably the most recent aspect that I have adopted and it is by far the hardest one to achieve. This stems from four major things. The first is the work of Mercedes Helnwein, the second is the work of Alex Prager, the third is the films of Alfred Hitchcock (& film noir) and last one is the opening of a vintage shop a short walk away from the university I study at. There is just something awesome about the past, especially when you come across objects that were used so frequently back then, but now are forgotten about. One my favorite possessions (and I’m not a particularly materialistic person) is a 1930’s typewriter I brought about a year ago. When the vintage shop opened up near my university, it was at a time when I deciding how I wanted my photography to look and where to go with it. I just so happened to go in and find a vast array of vintage suits. I brought one for my brother to wear and shot a few images with it in a local forest. One of the final images that came out of that photo shoot was entitled Twisted Fiction, and it was from this image that I decided what images I wanted to create. I actually consider this image to be the ‘start’ of my journey as a photographer. After creating this image, it really made me sure of exactly what I wanted to do and, mostly importantly, what I could do.
So, what kind of images do I take?
I shoot conceptual portraits and self-portraits that look at themes of pensiveness, isolation, escape and journeys. My images are very much rooted within a longing to express myself without using words (other than titles) and they are quite experimental. Sure, they may be similar or reminiscent of other photographer’s work but no one is approaching/creating my images with the same mindset or way that I am. I like to think that the images I take are like broken narratives: the viewer’s are looking at snippets of different character’s lives from which they can make up the character’s past and future. My images are bound by reality but lie elsewhere else, in some alternative world where the grass is a bit too green and the sky is never quite the right shade of blue. Places where people are free to roam around wide-open spaces but are imprisoned within their own mind.
What is my work about?
My work may seem a bit self centered, particularly my self-portraits, but in all honesty, it’s because my images are a exploration of my inner thoughts, ideas, fear, dream, hopes and desires. My work is both about all about me and not about me at the same time. My images are essentially my autobiography.
Why do I take the images I take?
Well, after writing nearly 2,000 words about it, I suppose the answer is this:
I take images that are considered to be fine art because:
I am a fine art photographer:
my images are based on concepts I create because:
my images are about everything I’ve seen and done and do and experience and fear and dream about.
I create the images that I create because they are a representation of who I am and who I’m not and who I want to be all at the same time.