PHOTODUST Interview by Christine McFetridge
Mythology and storytelling are important devices not only in photography but also for collective memory and cultural identity. I’m very interested in your process of combining elements of nonfiction and fiction in your work. What initially informed your interest in working in this way and how do you see this developing within your practice? What truths do you think fiction has the ability to convey?
I became interested in combining fiction and nonfiction because it allowed me the freedom to construct my own versions of preexisting narratives; to combine my fascination with Australian landscapes, small towns, and visual storytelling; and to use the story as a foundation and build upon it, suggesting alternative scenarios and conclusions and incorporating an array of visual languages.
This meant I felt like I wasn’t narrowing my practice down to being a specifically documentary (I graduated with a Bachelor of Documentary in 2015), but a kind of hybrid between art and documentary. The next step for me in following this idea of fact and fiction would be to really push the fiction side of things, in creating a narrative that appears to be, but isn’t nonfictional, and believed as truth. That’s a tough one, the aspects of fiction that I portray visually come from personal experience and thoughts. This idea of escape, for example, is reoccurring in my practice, I always find myself leaning towards it but not consciously telling myself that is what I’m going to focus on. So there is a kind of personal truth that is behind my use of fiction.
What do you think stops you from consciously focusing on escape?
I think I’m more interested in the idea of escape as a kind of by-product of other ideas and concepts that I choose to focus on, or perhaps having escape as an underlying concept and not something I actively seek to convey. So there isn’t anything stopping me other than my desire to focus on other concepts and ideas.
I think that’s a really important point to make: in using these techniques to tell stories, the stories will be much richer and multi-layered in their content. In your photobookRed Herring which explores the disappearance of a young girl from a small Victorian town, and also the winner this year’s Australian Photobook of the Year Award, you use different kinds of imagery to tell your interpretation of the story. Could you talk about your process of finding this content, and the how you went about editing it into book form?
The use of appropriation in Red Herring was inspired by a body of work I made prior titled Explore Australia. In that project, I dissected books with similar titles that represented a very stereotypical rendition of Australia. Red Herring served as another platform to take similar imagery and see what kind of conversation it created when combined with my own. In regards to finding content to photograph, I spent a lot of time driving around, searching and looking for things to jump out at me. Quite often I stumble upon content that I think would work in a project, yet other times I have a clear idea of what I need.
Editing Red Herring was a continual process, one that I was doing from the start. I found it made it easier to work out what was lacking in regards to the narrative and it’s structure. And presenting it in book form meant that I could really experiment with visual languages because I had control over the sequence and linear narrative.
I totally agree with that; book format is such a well-suited mode of presentation for narrative photographic work. As you mentioned earlier, your engagement with this process is motivated by not wanting to narrow your practice to being specifically ‘documentary’ in nature. Do you think you’ll continue working in this way as you move forward, or have experiences like your recent residency in Japan altered the way you think about that?
The residency in Japan reinforced the idea that I’m happy to continue with an open process without narrowing down to one specific genre. After meeting artists from different mediums, especially after studying at a university that was purely photographic based, talking to artists who were painters, writers and sculptors gave me the opportunity to think about alternative ways of approaching my own ideas on a photographic level. So the residency in Japan definitely taught me a lot and helped reinforce ideas that I had but also presented me with so much more.
That’s really exciting! Could you expand on that a little more?
I definitely enjoyed studying at a photographic college (that had introduction classes to video and editing) where I was constantly surrounded by photography, but it also meant that unless I knew artists in other fields, the only insights I could get were from the internet. I met a Swedish artist who was also a part of the residency program at Youkobo who shared a similar interest in appropriation. Her primary fields were writing and installation which meant we were coming from, in some ways, contrasting fields. In having the chance and being in an environment that encouraged talk between artists we had a lot of great conversations about similar ideas. That was something I hadn’t really had the chance to do until then. In hearing someone talk about the same concepts from the perspective of installation was fascinating. Both hearing about research and execution. As part of the residency program, I held a solo show in Tokyo where I was able to include elements of installation alongside appropriation and my own photographic work. Having talked to artists in other fields I was able to see a direct response to my work at that time from the conversations we had about ideas and to see them come to life in an exhibition space.
I can imagine that would have been an incredibly validating experience. Hearing that I think immediately of artists like Christian Patterson; appropriating found imagery and using sculptural and sound elements to tell stories. To what extent do you think this expansion to a more physically interactive style of documentary has arisen from a need to entertain an audience with increasingly shorter attention spans?
Christian Patterson was one of my biggest influences at the beginning of Red Herring. The reason being was for his exploration of visual languages, as you mentioned; how he translated the book to the exhibition; and how he was able to visually dissect a real life event and transform it into a project. For some people it might well be a heavy influence, the shortening of attention spans, and how we are constantly flooded with imagery and, perhaps to create a body of work that stands out, it has to hold an audience’s attention for longer than a few seconds or for the time it takes to swipe a thumb. I think at the same time if that became a major influence it would stop becoming about ideas and concepts and more about aesthetics and visual appeal.
You’re absolutely right. There’s also perhaps an element of photographers making work for photographers, so at least part of an audience will already have an inherent understanding and appreciation for what’s in front of them. Are you able to give away any details about what you’re currently working on?
At the moment, I’m in the process of sequencing the work I made in Japan at Youkobo. It’s taking shape with a lot of refining and selecting, which I’m very excited about! I’m also working on a couple of new projects here in Australia that fit under the umbrella of aiming to contextualise social and physical Australian landscapes.