We have been very quiet as of late and for that we apologise, but rest assured we have been working hard to source interesting content for you to indulge in. We have also been discussing the possibility of an exhibition at the end of the summer, showcasing the submissions as well as some of the featured artist here at PUSH. So keep those coming!
Next to be featured on our series of Artist interviews is Stephen Vaughan whose work investigates the connections between geology, archeology and memory across the globe, from Iceland to Japan with his series Ultima Thule and A Catfish Sleeps ( Which You can find on issuu that includes an essay by David Chandler) In this interview he also shares with us new images from a project he is currently working on, we are very lucky. Enjoy.
Could you describe your earliest experiences with photography, both as a viewer and an artist?
I first started making photographs as a very young boy, using a Kodak ‘Disc’ Camera. It had a self timer and a mirror on the front and I used to make playful narrative self portraits and comedy portraits of my family. I remember one picture of my Dad pretending to electrocute himself while he was changing a plug (with his hair stood up on end) and another of my Mum playing my saxophone with rollers in her hair. Wonderful stuff, looking back.
Later on, I became serious about photography while I was studying for a Degree in Music and Performing Arts at Leicester Polytechnic. There wasn’t a photography course, but I used to hang around in the university darkrooms when the inimitable Greg Lucas was leading workshops. Greg and the technician Andrezej Jablonski taught me everything I needed to know! During my time there, I made photographs of student productions and exhibited them in my final year at the local theatre – this led to my first paid work as a theatre photographer and my first images published in the national press. At the time, I was looking at theatre photographs by people like John Haynes and Maurizio Buscarino (his book ‘il popolo del teatro’ was incredible).
The artistic director of the Haymarket Theatre in Leicester where I was working was also (and continues to be) a really inspiring figure. David Gothard introduced me to so many things in the contemporary cultural landscape of the time – in theatre, music, literature, art, cinema and photography. He would introduce me to actors, directors, writers; send me to London to attend exhibition openings (it was 1989 and the 150th anniversary of the birth of photography); arrange for me to photograph and work with playwrights like Howard Barker, as well as with the company that was rehearsing Samuel Beckett’s last production before his death in 1989. This introduction to Beckett was perhaps the most important thing that happened and the experience still resonates today. It was a particularly fertile and formative creative period for me as a young photographer.
What or who influence you?
Over the longer term, I have been most influenced by things outside photography. The work of Samuel Beckett has always been there for me as the finest example of restrained complexity, shared humanity, poetry and stark beauty. There isn’t anything like it. For similar reasons, the music of Arvo Part (pieces such as Tabula Rasa, Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, Fratres, Passio) is something I always return to and try to relate to in my own approach to creative practice. I became aware of Beckett and Part during that post-university period in the late 80s early 90s (the Hilliard Ensemble gave an unforgettable performance of Arvo Part’s music in the St Mary da Castro cathedral in Leicester around that time). The writer Italo Calvino is a big influence too – ‘Mr Palomar’ is a really wonderful book and his ‘Six Memos for the Next Millennium’ (essays on Lightness, Quickness, Exactitude, Visibility and Multiplicity) is an inspiring manifesto for literature (and all creative endeavour). Photographically, my formative influences have been a broad mix – Thomas Joshua Cooper, Paul Hill, Jem Southam (who I now work alongside at Plymouth University), Thomas Struth, Paul Graham, Robert Frank, Josef Sudek, Eugene Atget, Cuny Janssen, Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld, Robert Adams, Emmet Gowin, Takashi Homma, Naoya Hatakeyama etc etc.
More recently, I am influenced and inspired by things relating to earth science and geology – geological maps and seismic maps in particular.
What format do you work in and why?
I mostly, but not exclusively, use large-format cameras – 5x4 and 10x8. I work with large format cameras because they help me to approach the landscape with a sense of duration and stillness rather than moving through the space. It feels like more of an extended experience of standing and looking over a period of time. Hopefully, this sense of duration is translated through the photographs to the experience of looking at them in the gallery or on the page. Partly, this is also to do with the fact that they contain an enormous amount of information that will sustain detailed and extended reading. I also occasionally use a Fuji 6x9 camera which still gives a reasonably large negative, but allows more spontaneity and speed when appropriate for the subject.
What do you hope your audience will come away with after seeing your work?
I read an interview with Raymond Moore when I first started making pictures. He said he felt that if he was genuinely interested in something, then there would be others who would find it equally interesting, that the work would succeed because it emerges from genuine fascination. This exchange of fascination – about the world that surrounds us and about photography’s ability to describe it in compelling ways is what I hope to participate in. However, I also remember those occasions when I have encountered particular photographs in a gallery that have affected me in an immediate, instinctive and non-intellectual way – pictures that you are drawn to as physical objects and which demand your attention. It would be wonderful if my photographs were sometimes able to achieve that sense of wonder and enjoyment.
What’s your current project about?
I’m working on an over-arching long term project that contains a number of different series – all of which relate in some way to the tectonic map and the movements of the Earth’s crust. This includes the work I’ve made in Iceland (Ultima Thule) and Japan (A Catfish Sleeps and Tohoku). I’m currently looking at sites in Greece and Turkey where ancient cult centres, sanctuaries and oracles were positioned (perhaps deliberately) on seismic faults. I’ve become very interested in a place on the southern shores of the Corinthian Gulf where the lost city of Helike lies buried beneath the contemporary landscape surface. Helike was overwhelmed by an earthquake in 373 BC and was submerged by the resulting tsunami. It was the cult centre for the worship of Poseidon (the God of Earthquakes and the Ocean). Having made photographs in Japan at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, I am trying to find ways of placing that work in the context of deeper geological and cultural contexts. I’m also hoping to return to Japan in the near future to photograph the deep ocean drilling research in the seismogenic zone of the Nankai Trough.
New Work - ’Oracular Cave of Herakles Vouraikos’
New Work - 'Helike, Gulf of Corinth'
What’s your plans for the near future?
The end of the academic year is approaching once again. These are always exciting and busy times for us as the 3rd Year students produce their most accomplished and ambitious work at the climax of their studies. I’ll also be working on the Oracles project over the coming months in Greece and Turkey.
New Work - ’Kerynites River, Gulf of Corinth’
New Work - Nikolaiika (site of the lost city of Helike)
Any advice for students currently studying?
Enjoy all the things involved in making, thinking about and writing about photographs. Squeeze as much out of the course as you can. Commitment and dedication, hard work, experimentation and play. Absorb yourself in the cultural community of the course, the wider university and the city. Read books, journals, articles, essays. Use the library. Go to all the talks and exhibitions you can. Ask questions. Become well-informed and able to write critically about the work you see. Become an expert in what you do. Use the facilities. Do more than the course itself demands. Be inventive. Form groups. Share work. Make books. Organise exhibitions. Make things happen. You’ll have a brilliant time if you do these things.