What is your artistic background?
I’m not entirely sure that I have one yet. I’ve just finished year 12 in Tasmania and now I’ve moved to Melbourne to study art. I’ve been taking pictures for about four years now.
Can you talk about the Stills series? Are these imagined shots from imaginary films, tiny narratives, isolated moments in time? The use of color is really dramatic, like a horror art film.
Stills is the first body of work that I’ve worked really hard on and displayed in a way which I was proud of. I made those images for my year 12 art class. I saw them as imaginary still from films, the sort you could pick from the 70’s sci-fi movies I grew up with, E.T., Close Encounters and the like. I like that you picked up on the fact that the pictures are isolated moments though, I was wary of avoiding a narrative throughout the series. I wanted to make sure the only thing that connected each image was its aesthetic.
Out of all of these strange images, the one that really gets me is the interior shot of a kitchen. The one with the bright natural sunlight falling on the stove and on the wall - with every burner burning red, with absolutely no sign of use or habitation. What’s the story behind this image?
That’s one of my favourite pictures, and probably the most successful in terms of creating what I had envisioned. I think before making this picture I’d watched Kubrick’s The Shining, and read a fascinating/absurd analysis of the film. The author of that article assumed that every object visible on screen was carefully placed by Kubrick to further facilitate the interpretation of his film. The idea that Kubrick would go to such effort for the sake of his art inspired me to try to work in the same way.
Anyway, I figured since I didn’t have the ability to build an environment from scratch, I’d have to work is the opposite fashion. Instead of adding, I would subtract elements I found unnecessary until every everything in the frame seemed ‘useful.’ You’ll notice how simplified the whole image is: no appliances litter the bench, none of the cupboards have handles and the layout is entirely symmetrical. I worked in this way for most of Stills, actually.
But as far as a story goes, I don’t think this picture really has one, or needs to have one. The fact that these pictures are isolated moments means that nothing before or after the occurrences of the picture has to be considered, and I like that. The pictures are inspired by film, but they don’t follow its narrative conventions.
Did the Stills influence your newer work? They have the same sort of drama, but much more subtle.
Yeah, they certainly did. While Stills was a lot of fun to make, and good practise too, in hindsight the result just feels too kitschy for me to take seriously. I’m still happy with a lot of the images from that series, but I feel as though I could do better. At the moment, I prefer the more understated aesthetic of my newer images, but they’re not quite at the same technical level yet.
Tell us about the shots of light - light and shadow along the wall. They’re beautifully ghostly and abstract! Especially with the shadowed bars of black.
Those are probably the only pictures in this set that actually utilise natural light. I love natural light, it has a dirty, filtered look that’s very hard to replicate. I think Todd Hido (check out his interiors) is probably the master of doing pictures like these, the use of light in his work is superb.
The color is amazing in the Cabin Fever pictures - can you tell us about the lighting decisions?
I made these pictures during the school holidays, and since there was no school there were no lights to borrow from school either. With Stills, I’d worked with strobes, but without access to those I had to improvise. Since Stills was displayed using rear-projected slides, I had abundance of projectors lying around, which I figured could be used as a cumbersome alternative to hot lights. The saturated light in the Cabin Fever pictures is provided by projectors projecting the slides that I used to display Stills. If you look closely, it’s possible to pick which blurred out light sources in Cabin Fever match up with the original images from Stills.
What’s the process behind the Permanent Error series?
I don’t remember much of it, but it mostly entailed opening TIFF and BMP files in Notepad and having my way with them. Because I have no knowledge of all that technical stuff, it was really just trial and error until I got a result I liked.
Can you talk about the concept behind this series?
I started being interested in these ‘broken’ sorts of digital images when my Adobe Bridge thumbnails became corrupt. After the initial panic that my hard-drive was broken, I noticed how interesting these thumbnails looked. They seemed to be the digital equivalent of derelict homes, misused until their functionality has nullified and they’re left as purely aesthetic objects. However, I think the final pictures lost their beauty due to the fact that I consciously destroyed them, that’s why I never continued doing this sort of thing.
The photographic process is always much more of a mystery to me than painting or drawing - how many photos do you take that don’t make the final cut - what about an image strikes you, and when do you decide to snap? What do you look for in a final grouping of images?
Over the last year or so, I’ve moved away from the ‘snap’ and become more interested in constructing my own pictures. There’s only so much to photograph in a town like the one I lived near, and I’m sure I’ve photographed every slightly notable thing it had to offer. I’m a big believer in the beauty of the banal, but it became stifling. In order to sustain my interest in photography, I had to manipulate and invent my own environments to make pictures that I could still find fulfilling.
As for how many photos make the final cut, I changed my workflow a bit when I began Stills. I now make a study (e.g. this in preparation for this, or this in preparation for this) of what I think I want, then I figure out how I can make it better or more engaging. I’ve noticed this generally involves making the image seem ‘bigger’ and more simplistic.
When I’m working towards a series, I’m very cautious that each picture also functions as an individual work, that it can stand alone without other images as a crutch. Photography is unique in the way that the default presentation for any given work is as a part of a series. I’m not entirely sure how i feel about this, but I think that it makes it easier to get away with substandard work. Of course, that default is changing too, with photographers like Jeff Wall who create pictures that stand alone, and are specifically designed to do so. These sorts of pictures can be read in the same way you’d usually reserve for a painting, and that’s my preferred way to look at things.
When are you entirely pleased with a photo?
I don’t know if I’ve ever made a picture I’ve been entirely pleased with. Anyway, I do notice that some pictures ‘click’, while some just don’t. It’s disheartening, because the ones that don’t work are usually the ones that I spend the most time setting up. Keeping it a simple might be a good thing. I’d say I’m happy with about 50% of my pictures, which is a pretty good average.
How did the Absence series develop?
As ripe for interpretation as they may seem, the pictures in Absence were a purely formal exercise. I got the idea years ago while I was making collages from magazines. After I’d cut out the picture I wanted, it was fascinating to see how the page with a hole interacted with the page behind it. I decided to replicate that effect digitally with my own pictures.
What about Dislocation?
Dislocation was great fun. From what I’ve noticed, a lot of people who live in the suburbs seem to take their environment/locale for granted, which is perfectly reasonable really. Anyway, I wanted to play with that idea, to manipulate that taken-for-granted, already-ingrained-in-memory environment and to see if anybody would actually notice any changes upon first glance, or at least without an extended period of viewing. It turns out most, maybe 3/4 people, don’t notice anything odd at all.
What are your thoughts on the suburban landscape? What’s your favorite kind of landscape to shoot?
I find suburbia more inspiring than anywhere else. Having lived in the country I think my interest stems from a sense of novelty. Photographing the suburbs seems more voyeuristic doing the same in the city (and obviously the country) because people expect more privacy. In the suburbs people they also tend to personalise their surroundings more, which adds a unique quality to them that you rarely see in the city. Glenn Sloggett is a Australian photographer who I think does an excellent job of documenting the type of suburban environments that I enjoy exploring.
What are you inspired by recently?
I’m can’t remember how I found Shawn Bradford, but the stuff he’s been doing lately is excellent. I’m not really sure what you’d call it, I see it as a odd sort of performance photography. He’s very prolific, there’s constantly new and inspiring work on his blog.
If I had any money to spare I’d probably spend it on one of Brad Troemel’s ‘sculptures.’ I find his shrinkwrapped collections of objects morbidly fascinating.
As far as ‘big name’ artists go, I’ve always loved Bill Henson and Jeff Wall. They make the sort of pictures that I’d love to make one day. Coincidentally, they both have works in the NGV at the moment, so I’ve been poring over them whenever I get the chance. I think it’s special to come across photographers who make work that could never be done justice in reproduction.
What are you working on now?
Nothing! Over the last few days I’ve been moving into my new apartment in Melbourne and I’ll be starting uni in a few weeks. It’s an odd sort of period for making pictures. I’m not sure how I’ll cope without my backyard to run around in, but I guess I’ll just have to see.