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Simon Strong

Fotógrafo australiano que encuentra en el surrealismo su medio de expresión. Plasma influencias occidentales con orientales en sus composiciones, llenas de sueños y recuerdos oníricos. Le gusta jugar al máximo con la percepción humana y sumergirnos en una realidad diferente.

Marta Portalés

When did you begin assembling images from multiple shots? At school we did collage and multiple exposure tricks in the camera and darkroom, but I wasn’t really that interested in it back then. I also did painting, drawing and sculpture, so I was probably more interested in taking “single shot” images early on. Sometimes I would come up with ideas in my head and just draw them with pencil. Although we used computers at school, they weren’t really capable of doing the sort of composition I can do now. When I went to University, I studied Graphic Design. In the first year, we didn’t use computers, we photocopied and printed and cut everything up and assembled the finished piece. By second year, we were allowed to use computers, so the process of compositing image, typography, blocks of color and other graphic elements became happened

all at once, and was much more seamless than traditional manual collage. I think it was at this point when I realized the computer could be used to manipulate photography. This was around 1994-95 and the computers I had access to, were still not that powerful. However, I began to experiment in Photoshop, I was able to composite images together, change the colors... What led you to see the power in collage? I really think that as computers became more powerful and I learnt to use Photoshop, it became clear which direction I wanted to take. My problem with traditional manual collage was that it wasn’t always possible, or was often very time consuming to collage elements together and make everything look seamless and realistic. With Photoshop and the computer, all the elements could be scaled, color balanced and adjusted so they fitted together in a much more integrated fashion. I wanted my collages to look as realistic as possible, the ultimate goal was for them to not look like composites at all. Why did you begin doing this surrealists images? I think it was my imagination that drew me to more surrealist imagery. I often had particular ideas in my head, or I would take photographs and imagine other elements, figures or situations going in them. Back when I started, it was generally impractical to try to set up the whole image as I saw it in my head, so using collage in Photoshop was often the next best thing. I

Fotografía: Simon Strong

How did you start out learning photography? My father started teaching me about photography when I was quite young. I remember him giving me his old Pentax 35mm camera, completely manual (no light meter!) and obviously film. I think I must have been about 10 or 11. He drew all sorts of diagrams to try to explain depth of field, f-stops and shutter speeds, but I don’t think I really understood then. When I was able to take photography as an actual subject at school, I started shooting a lot of black and white and did the processing and printing myself. That’s when I really started to learn and experiment.

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I always thought that if I was a fantastic photo-realistic painter, I probably would have ended up painting my images. Having said that, I love the unexpected things that happen in photography, where you will take a whole lot of shots, and the results come out differently to the way you expected them to, sometimes even better. That surprise element often half the fun of working with photography. Is it your personal challenge to push your pictures as far as they can possibly go? It definitely is. With each image or group of images I work on, I try to technically improve upon my previous work. There’s always room for improvement and always new techniques to learn. I’m always conscious of my ideas, and try to keep the fresh and interesting. I think that when you have a digital camera, a computer and Photoshop, you have the freedom to create anything you want to create, but I don’t want to just composite anything and everything together, just because I’m able to. It’s very important to me that my concept tells some sort of story, and retains some of the style that I have created in my past works. I always see myself building on my previous works, as if they were an endless storyline, not starting from scratch every time I create a new work.

Do you turn back to images that didn’t mean anything to you before, and all of a sudden they do? This is something I definitely do. I have very large files with medium format transparencies, and I often go back and use photos that have been stored for years and years. Even in my most recent body of work, I found some old photos which I scanned, and I eventually went back to the same location to photographs some more. Sometimes I will take a series of photographs and know that I will have to use them for sometime, but I don’t always know how I will do this. It sometimes takes years for those original photos to make it into one of my works.

Let’s talk more about your creative process. Where do you find the inspiration to choose the elements and to assemble the picture? There are basically two ways I find inspiration for my work. The first is that I will “see” it in my mind – often a dream or fragment of a dream, or an old memory that has grown and taken a life of itself. The second is that I will photograph a location and imagine an event or scene happening there. For instance, I have just been to Cambodia and took a lot of photographs at Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. Now I am looking through the images and starting come up with different ideas of what I can add to these pictures to create complete scenes. In some of my earlier work, the images are more inspired by childhood memories and dreams, they are attempts to visual in a single image and string of different memories or dreams. Sometimes they are very close to what I imagine in my head, and other times they are just a representation of the original idea.

Do you find inspiration in surrealist painters? When I was younger, I definitely found inspiration in surrealist painting. At this point, though, I often drew images with a graphite pencil. While I was learning photography at school, my teacher made me aware of the work of Man Ray, so I was very aware of surrealism in photography. Which photographers do you particularly appreciate? I’ve loved the work of American photographer Gregory Crewdson for a while now. He is the master of staged photography, and is able to set his shots up like a movie set, with lighting and support crew. His work is dark and sinister, which are elements that I like to put into my work. I also love David

Fotografías: Simon Strong

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LaChappelle for similar reasons, although he has a completely different visual style. Obviously I’m not able to set shots up in the same way as these photographers, but their work inspires me to pursue “staged” photography because I can see that so many things are possible, and there are still many more directions to explore. I’m also loving the work of Nadav Kander, Richard Misrach and Todd Hido... they have such strong visual styles, and their work inspired me to refine my own style. What do you want to to express with your photographs? I think the main thing I want with my work is for the viewer

obvious that most of my images are not 100% real, but viewers are very well versed in manipulated imagery, so I like to walk the line here, spectators are able to suspend their disbelief long enough to believe in the image and absorb it’s story. How much time can you spend processing one artwork? The time taken to produce one work really varies, and is also determined by the capacity of the computer I have at the time. I often end up making my work very complicated and detailed, with hundreds of elements composited into a work, so in these cases, the works could easily take 35-70 hours compositing. I think the longest time I’ve ever spent would be 180 hours compositing, about 9 months. Sometimes, I really try to stop myself from making an image too complicated, and I have been able to finish something in 20-30 hours over a few weeks, including the shooting time. Usually, I have to work on images over a period of time, and not always full time, so it’s often hard to really determine how much time a work took to complete. It’s also hard to determine how long I might have spent shooting the different elements.

to be immersed in the images and to spend time looking for all the different details. There are meanings and messages attached to the work, some more obvious and some less so. I want to be able to offer these to the viewer as a starting point for their own interpretation. I read somewhere that on average, viewers can spend less than a minute looking at an image or an artwork, so my goal is to capture the viewer’s attention for a bit longer! Do you want to make them believe for a moment that the images you present are real? Part of the appeal of my work is the fact that many of the elements seem real, because they are photographers of real things, so this is part of the hook that draws viewers in. It’s

Which project has given you the most satisfaction? My photocomposite work is really an ongoing journey, and I always find my most recent body of work the most exciting to me – for instance, The Green Wood which I showed in July in Sydney and am showing now in Melbourne. To be quite honest, one of the most exciting projects to date has been the collaborative show with an artist friend, Robert Doble, who is a painter… This work is most exciting for both of us because we feel we created something very new and fresh, and we can see so many possibilities and directions to take with it. It’s also fantastic to be able to work on two very different streams of work, because it lets you take a break from one stream while you work on the other, while still working in a similar creative vein. After I finished the collaborative exhibition this year, I was refreshed and was able to devote two full months of work for “The Green Wood”. Do you solicit feedback from others as well? Or is it mostly an internal dialog with yourself? Actually, I usually don’t look for feedback from others, except for when I show my new work to my gallerists. The only person I really go to for suggestions and feedback is the artist I collaborated with. For years we have been able to offer

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criticism and feedback to both our own solo bodies of work, and we are both comfortable with the other doing so. I have found it’s sometimes good to get an outside persons thoughts on a work, but you have to really be able to trust them in order to take on board what they have to say. What kind of equipment are you using now? These days I’m shooting on a Canon 5D MkII 21mpx camera with 24-105mm lens, occasionally using a borrowed Nikon D3s with various lenses. I love the Nikon lenses, but Canon’s 21mpx camera came out first so I switched for the moment. I use a MacPro with two 30” displays for all the compositing work. While all the background imagery is shot on location, I generally shoot all my other elements in a studio, such as my models, objects... Would you have any advice for those who would like use their photographic vision as a creative approach? I think my best advice would be to try to find your own style and shoot things that really interest you. It is important to be aware of what other photographers are doing, and you can learn a lot from looking at their work, but from that, you have to make your work your own. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of creating work that is an emulation of someone you admire, rather than something that is inspired by them. How would you challenge students to be the most creative and effective photographers they could be? I think one of the important things to remember is that you need to practise your photography and your photoshop skills. The more you shoot and the more you work on the computer, the better you’ll be. Both the camera and the computer are very technical tools, and it’s easy to let the tools control the direc-

tion of your work, rather than the other way around. I’ve found in the past that it’s often necessary to re-shoot, or start a composite from the beginning, so don’t be afraid to do that. In the same way the other artists such as painters will discard a work and start fresh, I think it’s important for photographers to know when to do the same. What advice would you give to photographers that are serious about their fine art work? A really important thing to learn is self-editing – know what your best work is, and if something isn’t up to scratch don’t show it. Because of the nature of photography, it’s possible to generate hundreds of shots, and the art is in the editing. Don’t expect the viewer to do the editing for you. One weak image can ruin a series, so really spend time editing your work with your own critical eye.

Interview Simon Strong