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Projections of transitory appearances into the future

Interview with photographer Stephanie Mortimore, a recent graduate from Hereford College of Arts.

 

When did you first become aware of photography?

I grew up with an awareness of photography with my parents documenting my childhood on their Fujifilm Full Automatic DL-150 film camera. Throughout my life I have always had a huge love for the arts and from a young age I knew that I wanted to be an artist. Until I began experimenting with photography at the age of eleven, taking photographs in the garden using my parents’ film camera, I had always considered photography as a tool for documentation and had anticipated that I’d grow up creating art using iconic media, since my focus remained on drawing. Though, as I continued to experiment with photography, I came to realise the true magic of the medium and my fascination grew.

Whilst studying for my degree at Hereford College of Arts I developed a love for critical theory, and through my reading of and engagement with theory I became fascinated with photography as a medium, which embalms time and acts as a form of posthumous communication. My reading of theory transformed the manner in which I perceive and engage with photography, enabling the realisation that the creation of photographs was not limited to the taking of them.

What themes do you explore in your work?

Through my practice I primarily explore themes of time, memory and transience in my engagement with ‘lost’ photographs and the ‘lost’ histories they imbue.

What I find most beautiful and haunting about photographs is the manner in which they embalm time. When I look at a photograph I feel as though I am looking at a ghost or a distant constellation. In the case of the ‘old’ photographs that I collect and work with, I consider looking at a photograph to be no different from looking at a ghost. In a photograph I am able to see an apparition of a dead person, a nebulous image which has become manifest to me through the medium of photography. In this sense, photography also has a relationship with my spiritual fascination and this is apparent in my work.

Roland Barthes said in Camera Lucida:

“It is as if the photograph always carries its referent with itself, both affected by the same amorous or funereal immobility, at the very heart of the moving world: they are glued together, limb by limb…” (Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography)

 

What influences your practice?

My practice is primarily driven by my engagement with photographic theory and my fascination with the medium’s ontological qualities.

My reading of ‘Camera Lucida’ by Roland Barthes has been highly influential to my photographic practice and engagement with photography as a medium. ‘Camera Lucida’ is a reflection on photography in which Barthes explores the relationship between photography and life, death and history and the relationships that we have with photographs.

I have also been heavily influenced by the work of Tom Butler, whose work focuses upon the transformation of the mundane to the fantastical. Working with 19th century cabinet cards, Butler’s work is often presented within the classic proportions of portraiture, juxtaposed with abstraction, and is focused on visually revealing a sense of unconscious. Butler has a fascination with the scientific and spiritual landscape in which his source material might have been created, which influenced the spiritual and otherworldly aspect of his work. The domestication of cabinet cards was contemporaneous to that of séances and, at the time, even seeing their own images reproduced must have been somewhat magical in itself.

 

What is your method of working?

My working process is very instinctive. In producing ‘Gemini’, I worked with a series of graduation portraits purchased online in the form of a ‘high school yearbook’ from Norway, Maine. I felt an instant connection with the sitters in the collection in that they were graduating students and I was soon to graduate myself. Since these portraits were to be used for work presented at my Degree Show, this was a synchronicity I couldn’t ignore.

When working on ‘Gemini’, the relationship between each constellation and each individual sitter was directed by what I considered an intrinsic link between the two. My engagement with each sitter enabled me to create a body of work which portrays an instinctive, yet purposeful, reflection of my relationship with photographic imagery and critical theory. In producing the work, it was so beautiful to see light emanating through the pinhole constellations pierced through the surface of each image, immediately transforming the formal portrait into something fantastical.

 

 

What do you intend viewers to perceive from your images?

Through my practice and engagement with photography I hope to grant visibility to lost imagery and the lost histories they embody.

‘Gemini’ was heavily influenced by the Roland Barthes quote: “The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here; the duration of the transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being, as Sontag says, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star.” From my reading and interpretation of this quote, I began considering the anonymous sitters in the original collection as ‘constellatory bodies’ who exist, as stars do, as delayed projections of light into the future.