CHRISTINE MCFETRIDGE & MIKE READ

 

With this “In Conversation” between photographers, Christine McFetridge and Mike Read, we welcome you to our collaborative series with PHOTODUST, a Melbourne-based art and photography organisation focused on the publication of photographic and lens-based art by artists born or based in the Asia-Pacific region.

Launched in 2015, with curators Andrew McLaughlin, Bella Li, Christine McFetridge, Chris Parkinson, Dan Sibley, Lisa Bow, Mauricio Rivera and Sudeep Lingamneni, we’re excited to share space with PHOTODUST.

Fresh, lucid, with a sensitivity for the elliptical poetry that is photography, we believe that PHOTODUST should be on your watch list – we hope you enjoy.


 

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Christine McFetridge, from The Winter Garden, 2015

CHRISTINE MCFETRIDGE: I’m finding it quite strange anticipating this conversation, mostly because we’re taking something quite private into a public space. I’m feeling a bit self-conscious! I’d like to begin by talking about process – because it’s something we’ve only really just begun to discuss and pick apart (which I think is probably a result of our shared residency in Wyndham Vale). Could you talk about a photograph of yours that is significant to you? One that perhaps represents something of a eureka moment?

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Mike Read, from Boundless Plains, 2015

MIKE READ: I don’t know if there’s one particular eureka moment image for me but rather a few different ones that have given me encouragement along the way.

There were times in Spain in 2012 when I was making my series The Way, which happened thanks to receiving the Pool Grant that year, where I was able to review what I’d shot that day and think ‘I’m getting paid to travel and do what I love’, which was really affirming, but there was still a strong sense of not being attuned to what my process was.

So if we’re talking about process, I think the biggest eureka moment would be the portrait of Fazeel and Ali that I took in Cisarua (above). Portraiture had always been a bit of an issue for me – just feeling uncomfortable with people and with the connection required for good portraiture and it really left a real hole in my work. It wasn’t that I was taking bad portraits, it was that I wasn’t taking any portraits. It took me about a month of living with Ali and next door to Fazeel before I took that image, which I think helped all of us to get comfortable with each other and see beyond the camera. So that image is really special to me in that it marked a moment where I first felt that I’m able to have that connection with a subject, through the camera.

I’d be really interested to know your thoughts on the process in relation to your practice. In your series The Winter Garden, where you’ve been photographing a lot of people and places close to you, you’ve managed to take some really beautiful, tender portraits. Can you tell me a bit about your process, particularly any challenges that exist in capturing moments that involve those close to you and how those relationships change once a camera is involved?

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Christine McFetridge, from The Winter Garden, 2015

CM: As I’ve come to understand the project more, I’ve been more confident about what I want my pictures to convey. I suppose on a basic level photographing my family has helped me to learn how to ask for portraits and to not be afraid of moving people around in the frame, if necessary (partly because they are the only people I feel comfortable ordering around!). It’s also helping me to understand the various ways the people close to me, and myself included, have been affected by the trauma of the Christchurch earthquakes. Ultimately, as soon as you pull a camera out people become suspicious of the way you’ll be representing them but because I’ve been documenting my family for such a long time now, they’re used to me being around with a camera. The work also operates as a love letter to them, in a way. We’re not a family that openly expresses their feelings so this is my way of showing them how I see them.

There are always a lot of ethical considerations when photographing people. One of the times I’ve felt I’d stretched this boundary was when I asked my Nana if I could photograph her mother in her hospital bed, not long before she died. I had this expectation that I would take a photograph that was gritty and raw but in reality, it just felt wildly inappropriate and at odds with my practice. The photograph I actually ended up using was of her empty bed, with an orchid resting on the pillow where her head had been. So through photographing people close to me I’ve come to realise what feels like an authentic way of making for me, which is an important lesson for any artist.

Have you consciously veered away from more personal subject matter?

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Mike Read, from Boundless Plains, 2015

MR: I’ve veered away from it in a sense, especially when it comes to photographing family, but it hasn’t really been a conscious decision. I do think it’s something that I would struggle with. It’s funny you talk of that ethical dilemma too, as my dad has made me promise that if he ever has a stroke or something that leaves him incapacitated that I have to photograph him, so hopefully it doesn’t come down to that as a starting point!

CM: Do you think you could? I’m unsure I would be able to make a record of something like that because it forces you to confront a terrible situation and record it. There’s nowhere to hide! That being said, I’ve always used photography as a way of making sense of things.

MR: It’s one of those things that I probably don’t know until I’m put in the situation. I’d like to think that I could do it, but then they’re all other realities that would need to be considered – as a family member what other responsibilities and roles come into a situation like that and overrule my role as a photographer? So I guess maybe that’s part of why I don’t really photograph family, there’s too much grey as to what role I’m there as and I maybe don’t exist in the family setting confidently enough as a photographer for me to take command and work the way I normally would if I was making another project.

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Christine McFetridge, from The Winter Garden, 2015

CM: With that in mind, and knowing the extent of the relationships you have with the members of the refugee and asylum seeker community in Cisarua, could you talk about the difference in the process to photographing them as opposed to your family, where a different kind of intimacy and understanding exists?

MR: When I work in Cisarua I try to make sure I’ve got time – that I can get to know people and just hang out for a bit doing whatever they’re doing rather than being there in a role as a photographer. I wouldn’t dare say that I ever have a real understanding of their experience – I always know that my time in Cisarua has an end date on it and I’m able to get on a plane and return home to my pretty comfortable life, but I think it’s important to be able to share a moment of boredom with the people that I photograph to help break down the roles of photographer and subject in order to help get those unguarded moments.

Given that we’ve just booked to both go over there later this year, do you have any thoughts on how any of your recent projects or collaborations might feed into anything that you might want to do there?

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Mike Read, from Boundless Plains, 2015

CM: We’ve been working towards establishing an archive of collected visual material from collaborative projects with communities, and I think it would be wonderful to do something along those lines in Cisarua. My first experience with this was through my Creative Gippsland residency in Trafalgar. I invited people along to a workshop where we shared stories about the place and then set off on a walk in order to use photographs to express some of the things we’d talked about. Doing this enabled me to gain a greater understanding of the township via the insight of the participants and it also helped me to develop relationships with them too. I’m in the process of putting the outcome of this workshop up online and have no doubt it would be a worthwhile thing to do while in Indonesia. Using photography as a visual language is a significant way to communicate not only ideas about place but feelings and impressions. The idea of forming an archive came from you, how did it come about?

MR: There were a few things that probably combined to spawn the idea but it essentially comes from an idea that a lot of issues that are caused by fear of ‘the other’, especially in the toxic nature of immigration policies in this country, could be challenged by getting people to document everyday experiences and aspects of their lives in a way which people could then view in this archive. It’s not to suggest that all people share the same experiences, although many are shared, but more to give an insight into the different ways that people live and to break down some of that fear of the unknown.

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Christine McFetridge, from The Winter Garden, 2015

Christine McFetridge and Mike Read are Melbourne-based photographers. More of their work can be found here:

www.christinemcfetridge.com

www.mikereadphotography.com

Photodust

Author: Photodust

PHOTODUST is an independent art and photography organisation based in Melbourne, Australia. We are a not-for-profit Asia-Pacific curation project. Our aim is to engage and encourage collaboration between artists, for the production and publication of photographic and lens-based art. PHOTODUST aims to establish a unique perspective toward visual culture. For this purpose, we are constantly searching for artworks that involve the use of photography and related processes. The rules are simple: all photographic and lens-based works will be considered. Our only requirement is that the work should be produced by artists born or based in the Asia-Pacific region. www.photodust.org (copyright details available here: http://peril.com.au/about/photodust/)

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