Artist's talk at Mudam 2012 on Youtube - View here

Interview by PhD candidate Cristina Dias De Magalhaes, July 2012.

- How did you get the idea to work on the project Loves Scenes (Naxi in China), and then on your last project The Nurturing Island, The sky is glowing with the setting sun (Japan)?
- Why Asia?
- How long did you investigate in these minority villages?
- How did you manage to convince people to take part in this project?
- Did they easily agree to be photographed?

In 1998 I was invited to Kyoto to attend a group exhibition including my work at the National Museum of Modern Art. I took the opportunity to travel a little whilst there. It was a beautiful and amazing experience, which initiated a fascination for the country, its culture and traditions. I was then fortunate to be selected in 2002 for a 3-month residency in Sapporo. Each trip and experience expanded and deepened my bond with Japan. I was later recommended by friends to visit Yunnan in China, again working through an artist in residence program. Artist residencies have offered me unique opportunities affording me time to focus on new work, and to expand my vision and experience through travel, especially to remote locations. They provide wonderful support on location, and aid access to people and sites, which would otherwise be very hard to reach, or indeed never come to light.

Both Love Scenes and The Nurturing Island, evolved through direct experience and discovery on location. Research, intuition and curiosity are central to my working method, as well as the forging of strong bonds with locals.
Love Scenes evolved from 2 trips to China in 2006 and 2007. The first was a 6-week research trip (originally planned for a month, but extended whilst there), and the second was for 3 months. The second trip was largely focused on the video work capturing a vanished tradition.
Having heard about the Naxi courtship song tradition late on my first visit, I was determined to discover more. It took over 2 months on location to find willing and able participants and to record the songs, with amazing help from the residency team and their friends and supporters.

With The Nurturing Island project, I was lucky to travel to Amami Oshima with a Dutch photographer who was working on a commission in 2007. I had no expectations from the trip, but found myself deeply inspired and fascinated with the culture and island rituals. I was again obsessed with new ideas, and determined to return. I returned in 2010 for 5 weeks and again in 2011 for 4 weeks to pursue these ideas. During these trips I traveled to many villages and forests around the islands working with locals as guides and translators. With each visit the bond has deepened and many there feel like family, and indeed welcome me into their homes as such. Without their support The Nurturing Island and The sky is glowing with the setting sun would not have been possible.

Trust and an understanding have been formed with the subjects of my photographs and videos, especially following my most recent trip. Many of the subjects featured in my work were approached by my guides in advance, to encourage their involvement in the project, based on my desires and contact with them on the previous visit. This repetition and specific interest in them, has been essential to the projects success, and to making it a beautiful and genuine collaboration with them all. They are incredibly humble and shy people, but also good humored. It was wonderful to experience their genuine and open attitude to me, now that we have a strong base of trust. They live in such remote locations, and have fairly constant quiet lifestyles, that the return of a foreigner interested in their lives, is quite striking for them. My interest makes them curious and proud, and as one told me, is more fun than sitting around drinking tea with your elderly mother and sister every day! But they are elderly, and as such tire quickly. Each work session is quite unpredictable.
-Your artworks are often an installation with photographs, video and music. Why have you made this choice? What dimension or signification do you give to your photographic work?

The photographic works form the core of each project. My projects often have a pilgrimage like quality, and this begins with my explorations on location and with my camera. I however don’t view myself as a photographer. I enjoy creating a more complex layered experience within the exhibitions. Exploring the dynamic between sound and visual, both in the exhibition space and during my time on location has become central to my work. Each element subtly plays on the other, and deepens the work. In The sky is glowing with the setting sun, the taiko drumbeat is like the heart beat of the island, and the exhibition.

You partially answer this in the second part of your question! The contrast is important here. I am trying to reveal the relationship between the human and the nature, and the tension and respect that exists, and the fragility. I feel this is important to look at, and to learn from. I believe we need to develop a more harmonious and respectful way of living on this planet. In smaller, rural and more isolated communities, this has always been essential to survival. We are also living in an aging population, so again I believe there is much we can learn from these Japanese communities. The contrast is further accentuated by the shift in scale between the photographs of the landscape and those of the portraits and homes, and the rhythm of the hanging.

- In your work The sky is glowing with the setting sun, 2010-2012 why did you choose to shoot the photos in black and white for the landscape and in colour for the back view (human)?
-In your pictures the contrast between landscape and the human environment seems very important to you.
-Why are you showing this contrast?

-The view of the back does it bring a new dimension in your work? Does the back view have a signification or a symbolic significance in your work?

The black and white accentuates the landscapes magical quality. They are mysterious, inaccessible, time-less and all enduring. The colour creates a warmth and intimacy, and reveals more of the decay, fading and demise of the community. Each also reveals aspects of the analog of the film and processing/printing. Analog photography is a disappearing tradition, which echoes that of the villages demise.

In the two portraits with the view from behind the subject, I was fascinated by the intimacy it allows the viewer, whilst simultaneously maintaining a mystery and sense of exclusion. There is a sense of elegance and a barrier. And a sense of disappearance or departure. I brought the idea of these back views with me on the trip, and was really pleased when unexpectedly this lady offered the perfect opportunity to try it out. Her little hair comb was subtly placed there before my arrival, probably only as a convenience, (she uses it to comb her hair, rather than to style it), but is a beautiful touch of elegance and pride. There are only 2 women in the village, both over 80 years old, and visitors are few.

-Do you think it is important to travel to be inspired and be creative?
-What subjects or motivations makes you progress in your creative process?

Travel has indeed created wonderful opportunities and great inspiration for me. Movement, and the unknown, aid an openness that enables me to create and follow my inspirations Artists residencies have particularly enabled and introduced this, and enriched my working practice.
They also offer amazing support teams, focus and time. Lately I have been fortunate to receive funding for specific projects, and created the structure and team myself. For me, being on a ‘journey’ is important, both creatively and physically. It is also wonderful to enter and become part of a community in this way.

It is as wayfarers that we inhabit the Earth. We are not place-’bound’ but place-’binding’. Life unfolds not in places but along paths. In walking a long a path we leave a trace. Where inhabitants meet, traces are entwined, as the life of each becomes bound up with the other. Every entwining is a knot, and the more that lifelines are entwined the greater the density of the knot.

After Tim Ingold.