s e i r o t S s ' r e g n a r St Exhibition catalogue includes an interviews with the photographers
Andrea Allan Alex McIlhiney
Andrea Allan firstname.lastname@example.org
Mandana Ahmadvazir email@example.com
Alex McIlhiney firstname.lastname@example.org
Also available as a colour, e-publication: www.viewfinder.org.uk/shop
Curated by: Published by: Louise Forrester email@example.com Interviews by: Eloise Donnelly firstname.lastname@example.org
Viewfinder Photography Gallery 52 Brixton Village London SW9 8PS www.viewfinder.org.uk First published October 2010
Edited by: Kathleen Sadler email@example.com
ÂŠ The artists and authors. The views expressed in this publication are not necessarily the views of the publisher or the editors.
The Viewfinder Photography Gallery presents “Stranger’s Stories”, an exhibition of photographic works by Andrea Allan and Alex McIlhiney, combining photography with narrative texts to tell the stories of the world and people around them. Andrea Allan and Alex McIlhiney broaden the limits of photography and writing to explore the human experience. Andrea Allan amalgamates photographs and text in order to extend the narrative of both mediums, creating photo short stories. The relationship between the two allows a new kind of event to transpire; the photograph becomes free in terms of interpretation. Whilst the text serves to act as a way to prolong the atmosphere, and enhance the narrative by allowing the viewer an insight into the way the work can be read. Alex McIlhiney’s body of work sprung from the need to go back to using film after buying a digital SLR. Starting by walking around his local area of south east London with an old Minolta camera, with no aperture or shutter speed control or auto focus, McIlhiney deliberately took photographs of banal scenes and structures, interested more in their colour or their shape rather than what they represented. His photographs are accompanied by overlaid written ‘reports’ of strange individuals observed. The resulting images are potentially disconnected from the location depicted, but endeavour to express the mood and feel of the encounter. Viewfinder curator Kathleen Brey says, "The photographs featured in ‘Stranger’s Stories’ exhibition trigger emotions that all of us share. The exhibition is about observing people and creating our own stories regarding the lives of others. Photography, like the written word, has the poetic power to weave complex and often mysterious narratives. By layering images with words, Andrea Allan and Alex McIlhiney push the limits of visual documentation.”
Interview with: Alex McIlhiney (AM) Andrea Allan (AA) by Eloise Donnelly • How did the project originate? AM: From boredom of Photoshop and all that goes with it. AA: The Romance of Strangers series was created in my final year at university for my degree show exhibition. I had, in previous work, experimented with text and photography, trying to get that delicate balance between the two. In this series I wanted to progress my knowledge and understanding to create a narrative that was longer and more articulate in its message. • How has the project developed since its initial conception? AM: After amassing a large catalogue of images I decided to add text after seeing and meeting many strange individuals and situations during the taking of the photos.
AA: When you’re working through any project it inevitably changes. From starting with an initial idea of what I wanted to convey in the work, I began to plan it out. The research period allowed me to think about the aesthetics of the work, how I want to write the text, how I want to display the work. After shooting the first batch of film, the story line changed slightly, presentation details altered from being an installation piece to being framed work. The meaning behind the work is the only constant part of the project; I find more articulate ways of conveying my message than what I had originally planned. • Which photographers influence your work? AM: For this project, William Eggleston mostly, especially the way he chooses and composes images for their colour qualities. AA: The main influence for this work was Sophie Calle’s work ‘Exquisite Pain’ and ‘M'as tu vue’, her work frequently uses photography and text to explore central themes such as voyeurism, human vulnerability, and examines identity and intimacy. I also found her work useful when deciding on the presentation of the work, as this is integral to the way the work is read. Another photographer who works within the areas of photography and text that influenced my work is Duane Michals. I became very interested when comparing his and Calle’s work as to how the text should be written, i.e. either handwritten or typed. The book called ‘The Descendants’ by Janne Lehtinen and the work of Kate Mellor ‘In the steps of Robert Pinnacle’ were also a great inspiration, along with films such as ‘Three colors’ and ‘Innocence’ for the way they were shot.
• Do you find working with text easier than conveying narrative through images? AM: I find every photograph I take has some narrative for myself, with this project I wanted to make my narrative explicit and impose it on the viewer.
AA: I think that the two combined can create a stronger narrative, that’s not to say that the photograph is unable to convey a narrative, but rather that the ideas I had about the characters and situations were able to evolve to a more complete story. Whereas the photographs themselves would have been more open to interpretation had it not been for the text. In doing so I would have taken away all of my own viewpoints and ideas from the work and handed it over to the viewer to decide what the work was about. Thus the text is a way of guiding them to my own personal thoughts. • Was the text produced as a result of the photograph or vice versa? AM: Partially, the text was an attempt to take the images a step further and convey some of what it was like to wander through these parks and riversides. AA: Both were produced side by side, I sketched out a main framework for the story; where I wanted it to go, what I wanted to get across, and then progressed this along in the photographs. Both were repeatedly edited throughout to hopefully create a very concise piece of work. • Was there any disjuncture between the messages conveyed through image and text? AM: I don’t feel there is. I was very strict on only including real events or individuals I had witnessed. Most of the images are of the location, or a similar location as to where the events recorded took place. AA: No, I didn’t want to conflict the meaning between the two. • What were the challenges associated with translating visual imagery into literary and vice versa? AM: I didn’t really feel a challenge, as I produced the text and the images seperately and only combined them as an afterthought. I think trying to deliberately shoot images to be translated into text or vice versa would be somewhat contrived and too much like hard work. AA: I don’t think that there is any need to translate; one is not trying to supersede the other. Adjoining text and photography is in some respects like adding sound to films: the two works together to construct the scene. Rather it is about making sure the photograph depicts what is happening within the text so that there is no disjuncture. • Do you feel the images and texts could work independently or is the narrative dependent on the interrelationship between both aspects? AM: I feel they could, and did have a small exhibition exhibiting some of the images from the series separately without the text. AA: The narrative depends heavily on the interrelationship between the two;
it was designed from the beginning to work as such. Had I started with the intention to only photograph this series then the photographs themselves would have been very different, they would have had to fill in the areas that the text does. Had the text been written by itself the work would have veered in another direction. While it is descriptive enough to stand alone, the message in the work would have altered dramatically. • Which medium conveyed your message most clearly? AM: I think they both did in equal measure. Well, they conveyed my message to myself quite well, although others might not have the foggiest. AA: The ideas that I had for this project were so succinct that I think perhaps the text relays more than the imagery. I was able to put more detail into it than I could ever have hoped to put into the photographs. • What are your plans for future projects? AM: I'm working on other material using similar concepts related to this project. I'm interested in creating a 'choose your own adventure' book about wandering round the park in the middle of the afternoon and seeing odd people. AA: I am currently working on a new project, which again deals with photography and text. I’m looking to explore new ways to photograph my subject. I’m looking at film noir photographs: the lighting, the angle of the shots, the characters, are all aspects I want to investigate.
Andrea Allan www.andreaallan.co.uk
The Romance of Strangers In my work I am interested in looking at how photography works as a discursive space, and how it is a direct physical output of the reality that it represents. I amalgamate both photographs and text in order to extend the narrative of both mediums, creating photo short stories. This symbiotic relationship allows a new kind of event to transpire; the photograph becomes free in terms of interpretation. The text serves to act as a way to prolong the atmosphere, and enhance the narrative by allowing the viewer an insight into the way the work can be read.
Alex McIlhiney info@londonbusinessphotography. co.uk
The project started when I felt the need to go back to using film after buying a digital SLR. I wanted to do photography that felt spontaneous and ‘easy’ as I seemed to be spending a lot of time managing and manipulating files. At the start I would just take an old Minolta camera, with no aperture, shutter speed control, or auto focus, put it in a carrier bag or my jacket pocket and just walk around my local area. I deliberately took photographs of banal scenes and structures, being more interested in their colour or their shape rather than what they represented. Eventually I had a large library of images but was unsure as to what to actually do with them, or what connection they had to each other. I liked the idea of having some sort of mystery or story to go with the images but wasn’t sure what it would be. One afternoon near my local park I saw a man in a green hooded jacket standing near a phone box. It was only lightly raining and the man seemed overdressed with his hood all the way up and jacket zipped. He seemed keen not to be seen by anyone and kept turning towards the phone box as if he was making a call. What intrigued me was why someone who was so conspicuous looking would at the same time be trying so hard not to be noticed. From this I had the idea of writing down short ‘reports’ of strange individuals I had met or would see and overlaying them onto the images. The images do not necessarily fit in with the location the person was in at the time, but are more an effort to match the mood and feel of the encounter. Some are more serious than others: for example the man who claimed that he was a RAF pilot flying top secret aircraft (he also had a strong case of walleye), and that Roger Moore performed all his own stunts in his James Bond films – both obviously ridiculous statements. Others, for example the person sitting on a bench with a sheet over their head are more ambiguous. The resulting story is so strange that a lot of people don’t believe it really happened! I did not seek out these people, at least not consciously as I felt that would be cheating in some way. Some of the encounters happened during the project, some a few years before. Putting a narrative over the images seemed to fit in a way that I cant rationalise, but when I made the first one I knew that it was the right direction for the project. One source of inspiration comes from local newspapers, in the way they report stories about odd or tragic events in such a flat and matter of fact way, cutting out any unwanted details to fit into the space available. I’ve tried a similar approach with this work, trying not to sensationalise anything or playing upon ridiculous or sinister aspects.
Viewfinder Photography Gallery 52 Brixton Village London SW9 8PS www.viewfinder.org.uk
Strangers' Stories: Photographs with text narratives