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• Interview – with Locky Morris, Dragana Jurišić & Ciarán Óg Arnold, ‘The Physicality of Looking’, The Visual Artist’s News Sheet, Sept/Oct 2019

September 11, 2019

The Physicality of Looking

JOANNE LAWS INTERVIEWS THREE ARTISTS ABOUT THEIR DIVERSE PHOTOGRAPHIC PRACTICES.

Joanne Laws: How do you approach research and what are some of the prominent themes within your photographic practice?

Ciarán Óg Arnold: I usually take photographs within a very short distance from where I live – I don’t travel far, and I do a lot of walking around. Ideas come into my head, but there would normally be a bit of time between conceiving a photo and actually taking it. I also read fiction books that have nothing to do with photography, and I watch films. I normally take documentary photographs and then try and edit them into some sort of narrative or dreamlike sequence that reflects the kind of atmosphere I’m trying to create – whether that be claustrophobia or psychological isolation. I studied film at undergraduate level, so I’m very much influenced by that. I approach editing a series of photographs in the same way that I would edit a film – by considering movement through space, while creating a body of interconnected images.

Dragana Jurišić: My practice is research heavy. I tend to spend between three to five years on a project. I need time to test ideas before I feel there is enough material to make a multi-layered work. The prominent theme that keeps reappearing in my work is the influence of photography on memory, as well as questions around identity and photographic representation.

Locky Morris: Whenever I see the word ‘research’, I kind of recoil. I tend to think of research as something more formal, like proposal writing. I suppose my photos are a form of research in themselves, but I don’t theorise about them in that way. You might attend a really interesting lecture, but then you step out into the chaos of the world, and you realise that the theory doesn’t really reflect what it means to live. I came to that realisation about 30 or 40 years ago, which gave me the germ of how I now operate as an artist. Sometimes when you’re taking a photograph, you’re trying to unlearn what you’ve been taught, to a degree, and maybe also losing some of the cynicism in the process. There are philosophical threads and ideas running through the work, but generally, I’m just reacting instinctively, noticing gaps or exploring different things. I enjoy the element of surprise and how things can reveal themselves over time.

JL: Can you outline some of your technical requirements – such as access to equipment or processing/editing facilities – and how these impact on the format of your photographs?

COA: All of my photography is on 35mm film. I use a Contact T2 compact camera; it’s just a point-and-shoot camera, but a high-end and discreet camera that works for my kind of practice. I develop my own black and white film, but I don’t have the facilities to develop colour. There’s a shop in Sligo that still develop colour film with analogue machines. I then scan these colour negatives at home. I own a decent digital camera, but I don’t like the aesthetic at all, and I just can’t get used to being able to take so many photographs. I find that when you’re limited – to say 26 shots on a roll – you have to think about what you are doing. I find I become incredibly undisciplined with a digital camera. The machine-gunning process produces so many shots of the same thing. In my view, this detracts from the subject or cheapens it somehow, becoming throwaway images. I’ve always preferred film, particularly the graininess and colourcast of 35mm film.

DJ: I work in variety of ways, including medium format photography, digital photography and mobile phone technology. I generally like to play with formats and sizes. I need access to high resolution scanners, black and white darkrooms, as well as an adequate Lightroom set up, which I use to edit digital images. My studio resembles a library or an office – it is a place to think and plan.

LM: Mostly I use an iPhone camera. Often these images aren’t great resolution and can’t be printed very large, but they have other qualities. I have other larger cameras, including a compact Canon, but I don’t seem to get the same immediacy, intimacy or arresting quality that I do with the phone. The larger cameras are more formal, and those images seem to create layers of distance. I took a beautiful short film of a feather floating weirdly on the iPhone recently. If I’d had the big camera, I never would have gotten that footage; by the time I’d got everything set up, the moment would’ve been lost. Some photographs are superbly composed and framed, but they just become a kind of mode or a genre – all of sudden, they’re dead. There are no surprises. I want to keep the flux and the sense of possibility, without fixing it down. That’s the joy of the working process for me – you’re in it, and you escape for those few seconds, into this other zone.

JL: From an archival perspective, how have you dealt with photographic formats and technologies becoming outmoded over the years? Do you have any thoughts on the merits or limitations of analogue and digital photography?

COA: I remember watching an interview with a guy who is fairly high up in Google, who said that all of the digital images currently circulating will be lost, as formats change, or as people upgrade their computers. Just two years ago, the owner of the shop where I buy my film stated that film was becoming obsolete; yet a few weeks ago, he told me that film processing is on the rise again, all over the country, among people of all ages. I think it is the physicality of the medium. With celluloid film – and the fact that it needs to be developed, scanned and printed – you end up putting a lot more effort into a single image. When you look at photo albums from my generation, in contrast to looking at family photos on a computer screen, there’s no comparison. The photos our mothers would’ve taken may not have been great, but whatever you have in the family album is so treasured. Nowadays, people take so many pictures that they’re looking for the perfect image but end up not liking any of them. Whereas within the old-fashioned family photos, each one is completely precious.

DJ: I am more worried about digital technology and how we properly archive our digital work. The number of failed hard drives I’ve had over the years is scary to contemplate. I am constantly backing up work. I am also trying to carve out time to properly digitise my old archives.

LM: A previous solo show at the Naughton Gallery in 2016/17 was the culmination of ten years of exploration into photographic display mechanisms. I used photographic lenses, light boxes, high-street-bought picture frames, TV monitors, slide projectors and a digital photo frame to present different images within assemblages. I’m very conscious of the physicality of looking at things, rather than formally displaying photographic prints on a wall, which most of the time, does nothing for me. In a gallery, I try to design viewing encounters with photographs as objects – as sculptures, physical propositions or questions. I’m constantly surprised by how differently people look at things – it’s really quite a complex process.

JL: Perhaps you could discuss your current work and any future plans?

COA: I want to get back into film again and am currently trying to write a short film that I can work on within my means. I’m doing a lot of editing at the moment on i-movie. I’m shooting footage with the digital camera and taking photographs as well, while trying to edit sequences that are quite abstract. Atmosphere and movement will be prominent themes. I find that iPhones are ideal for video, especially if you’re on the fly, and the quality is great.

DJ: Currently, I am working on a project about borders for an upcoming exhibition in the Gallery of Photography Ireland and also for Dublin City Galley The Hugh Lane. In addition, I am leading a six-month-long workshop in the National Gallery of Ireland with residents of Direct Provision. We are looking at ideas of home by investigating the National Gallery’s archives and permanent collection. The aim is that the workshop participants will co-author a new film about the process. I have quite a demanding schedule of exhibitions and artists talks – most recent was a talk on censorship in the Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, in August. Next year I will present solo exhibitions in Dublin (February) and in Malmo, Sweden (August). Meanwhile, I am trying to complete a novel and develop research for my next film project.

LM: At the moment, I’m undertaking a residency at Art Arcadia in Derry, where I am developing artworks around the old graveyard at St Augustine’s Church. The project, titled ‘these frail monuments’, is loosely based on an extract of text I found on one of the huge broken gravestone slabs there. I am also presenting a solo show, ‘Mergers and Acquisitions’, at Glebe House and Gallery, County Donegal, from September to October.

 

Ciarán Óg Arnold is an artist based in Sligo. ciaranogarnold.com

Dragana Jurišić is an ex-Yugoslav artist based in Dublin since 1999. draganajurisic.com

Locky Morris was born in Derry City, where he continues to live and work. lockymorris.org

Joanne Laws is Features Editor of The Visual Artists’ News Sheet. visualartistsireland.com

 

Feaured Image: Dragana Jurišić, from the series, ‘14 Henrietta Street’, 2018, archival pigment print; image © and courtesy of the artist

 

 

 

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