IN MY BAG INTERVIEW – SIMON ILLINGSWORTH – MARCH 2015.
Unlike most landscape photographers who are happy to capture it in its natural form, your cleverly treat the landscape as a set. How did this concept come about?
I have always been interested in exploring the interplay of relationships within the photographic image. During my MA in Photography I placed figures in urban and rural settings, exploring the different associations created between the people within the image, their relationship to the camera and my role as photographer.
My landscape work functions in a similar way. I have replaced the figures with forests into which I make small and temporary interventions. The work is still about relationships between myself and the space and about the way that we conceive of and idealise landscape in a wider sense.
Talk us through your creative process?
My ideas usually come when I’m walking. I make lots of notes and sketches, noting materials, atmosphere, time of day, equipment. I usually make one piece of work a day, but a project can take up to a year to complete. My Stars series was shot in the summer, with full leaf on the trees, so I have had to take a break from it over the winter and am waiting for the new growth so that I can begin work on the series again.
I usually arrive at my chosen location with a fairly clear idea of what I want to make but the process of constructing and photographing is always an interaction and I enjoy the way things change and evolve in the moment in relation to the environment I am working in.
Whats’s your overall artistic vision and does that intent change with different series of images?
My work is about exploring my relationship with the landscape and from a broader perspective it looks at how landscape is a product of culture. It is a notion constructed through all sorts of histories, ecology, science, conservation, myths and legends and these layers of meaning and received wisdom overlay and colour our perception of the natural world around us.
How long does it typically take to stage a landscape?
Each piece of work is made, photographed and completely removed within one day. It’s very important that I don’t litter or damage the landscape in any way, I have a ‘leave no trace’ approach. The only series I created that deviated from this was The Dwellings. I made the dens and then left them for up to a month before coming back to photograph them. I wanted to explore how my relationship to the built structures changed over time and absence.
Do people frequently ask you what you are doing?
I try to work far away from people so that I don’t have to explain what I’m up to – the New Forest is a huge area so I can usually find wonderfully secluded places to work.
Several years ago I had a hilarious and terrifying experience in a very remote forest in North Wales. It was dusk and we were in an ancient pine plantation, the trees were densely planted and the ground was carpeted with thick emerald green moss. This is where I made The Gloaming series.
My partner, John, had wandered off to forage for mushrooms and we had agreed to stay within shouting distance of each other. I looked through my lens and saw that a man clothed only in tiny shorts and trainers was running very fast towards me! I screamed and ran, shouting for John as I went. It was a completely instinctive reaction to the fright of encountering another human being in those woods…running towards me! Only when I calmed down a few minutes later did I reason that this man was most likely a fell runner and I must have scared him as much as he scared me.
What gear do you use and what’s your favorite three items?
I use a Nikon D3, with a few different lenses, and a Manfrotto tripod and head. That’s it. I like to have a very lightweight kit so that I can work alone and carry everything myself. It is important that I work alone because I think it creates the right atmosphere in my work so I like to use a small kit so that I’m free to wander. I like to work alone because it creates the right atmosphere in my work, so I tend to use a lightweight small kit so that I can carry everything myself and at the same time be free to wander.
I always have gaffer tape and an umbrella to rig up over the camera in case of rain.
I also use a Shutterbug – a little gadget that allows me to fire the shutter from an app on my phone. This is revolutionary for my practice because it allows me to create things in front of the camera and fire the shutter at the same time. Not only does it mean I’m not constantly running back and forth, but I am able to photograph moving objects also by effectively being in front of and behind the camera at the same time. This was particularly useful for my Between the Trees, 2014 series.
What’s your next purchase and what’s on your dream list?
I’d love to be able to one day invest in a medium format digital camera and a huge iMac but I won’t be purchasing them any time soon! I would love my own laser projector and a big petrol powered generator.
What question should we have asked you and what is the answer?
That’s a hard one!!
Someone recently asked me this question which I liked…
There is a certain darkness in your photographs, do you have a dark side yourself?
I think my photographs hold dark and light, mystery, narrative and intrigue. Some people find my work very dark and others find it joyful and uplifting. I think it says more about the viewer themselves. The images explore the different cultural perceptions of the forest, and how this plays into our experience of these spaces. These contructs come to us through media, history, fairytales, myth, psychology, conservation, and so on, and range from framing the forest as a benign leisure facility all the way through to a place of danger, unknown horrors and as a metaphor for the unconscious mind. My images explore these layers of meaning, encouraging the viewer to make their own interpretation of what is going on.
My work is also about trying to capture how it feels to stand in the woods. When you step inside a dense woodland, the wind drops and the air cools and you experience a heightened sense of awareness. Sometimes the forest feels welcoming, but sometimes to be alone in the woods feels unnerving and uncomfortable. This is the darkness in my work.