Polysh Magazine Interview, Taiwan

Polysh Magazine Interview, Taiwan with Alice Chan


[Q & A Ellie Davies and Alice Chan]

1. Why did you made the decision to step into the photography? Please share with us your journey of being into the photography world so far.

All my life I have felt a need to make things with my hands, to sculpt and to create.  I grew up painting, taking pictures, working in clay, making jewelry and making things out of materials found in the woods and on the beaches.  This urge to be creative comes from the meditative pleasure I find from working on something from start to finish, seeing what will emerge and discovering something about myself along the way.

During my teens I dreamt of being a sculptor but I realized that this would be a lonely life.  I wanted to find a way to be creative without working on my own.  I realised that of all the art forms I loved, it was photography that would allow me to do this.  It is ironic that now I find most pleasure from my work when I am alone in the woods.

2. What is the most fascinating part of photography? And what is your philosophy of photography?

I love the element of surprise.  I often have a clear idea of what I want to make when I begin a day of photography but I can never fully predict what will happen during the shoot, there is always an element of the unknown.  Unexpected things happen which make the image change from OK to great and this is where the excitement happens.  There is a particular feeling that comes when I think “this is it…I’ve got something good!”.

3. As we know, you’ve been working in UK forests for the past seven years. What brought you there initially? What has attracted you coming back all these years to photograph?

It’s nearly eight years now.  I grew up in the New Forest and spent a lot of time playing with my twin sister in the woods.  Later on, when I wanted to work in the forest landscape this was the place I was drawn to.  The New Forest is large and diverse, and has extensive areas of beech and oak as well as heathland.  I particularly love the winter colours in the New Forest: the oak and the heather create a beautiful grey and brown palette that is very distinct from other areas in the south of England.  For the first five or six years I only wanted to work with these wintry muted tones but in my recent Stars and Between the Trees series I have really enjoyed moving towards more verdant greens and blues, it has felt very liberating.

I can’t imagine a time I will feel I have exhausted all the inspiration and potential this forest has to offer me in my work.

4. Do the forests & the stars of night sky contain special meanings to you?

For me both the forest and the starscapes are places of infinite possibilities.  I use the forest like a studio space, within which I make interventions which explore my relationship to the landscape and the forest setting.

I wanted to bring these remote and unreachable starscapes into the forest spaces as a way to explore how I experience the forest, how it can feel distant, disconnected and vast but at the same time shimmering with possibility and tantalizing allure, familiar yet unfamiliar.

5. As we know, you used some devices to create smoke or light, which makes the forests come with mysterious, dark & unreachable aura and aesthetic. Please tell us more about the world you depict through your lens.

The images and the world I depict are the forest of my imagination.  I walk a lot in the woods and these images come as ideas, and I think about how I can create them with photography.  The forest of my imagination is a place where it is easy to imagine all sorts of unusual outcomes, surprises, hidden potential, unexpected occurrences and these provide me with a way to create a dialogue with the natural world, so that I can find my own place within it.

6. You mentioned in your statement that you want to explore the complex interrelationship between the landscape and the individual through your work,and place the viewer in the gap between reality and fantasy. Can you tell us more about this?

My images create fictional spaces but draw on my own life to evoke an experience for the viewer which conveys how it might feel to stand in the woods with the possibility of discovering something new, whether real or imagined.  This is sometimes described as a liminal space, a boundary or threshold between what we consider to be ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’, and it asks the viewer to question where the lines of these boundaries are drawn, how we arrive at these assumptions and how concrete we should consider them to be.

7. What mood did you hope to invoke with these images? 

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.  Some images are fantastical, others brooding and dark, some are uplifting.  I feel that my photographs hold elements of dark and light, mystery, narrative and intrigue.  I try not to impose a narrative on the viewer and I love that different people react so differently to my work; some finding it joyful and inspiring, others dark and disturbing.  I think it often says more about the viewer than the image itself.

8.Tell us the story & inspiration behind your latest Star series. My work is inspired by looking at the balance between how our ideas of landscape are constructed by the culture we live in and by our own experiences of these natural spaces.  We enter the forest laden with cultural reference points from fairytales, history, myth and folklore. Our ideas about the forest are overlaid with received knowledge, especially for those of us living in urban spaces where we are so far removed from the natural world.

The Stars, 2014 series combines star-scapes taken by the Hubble Space Telescope with forest landscapes.  The series considers the fragile nature of our relationship with the natural world by interposing images of the intangible and unknown universe with these ancient forests.  It creates a new experience of the woodland, one which draws the viewer into a mystery at the heart of the forest, and offers the potential for discovery and exploration.  My work allows us to find our own place within this process; to make even fleetingly a space of our own and a way to exist within it.

This series considers the fragile nature of our relationship with the natural world by interposing images of the intangible and unknown universe with these ancient forests.  It creates a new experience of the woodland, one which draws the viewer into a mystery at the heart of the forest, and offers the potential for discovery and exploration.

9. From your first time to photograph the forests till now, we believe there were a lot of touching moments in your photograph career. Please share with us a story that happened in shooting process you impressed most.

When I very first starting exhibiting my work I was selected for the New Brewery Arts Open Exhibition, a group exhibition in a vibrant arts centre in Cirencester, UK.  I went to the opening and was bowled over to be awarded the Audience Choice Award.  At this early stage in my career I was just so astonished and thrilled to be chosen from all the other artists by the visiting public!

Since then I’ve had a number of solo exhibitions in the UK and abroad, and these stand out as highpoints in my career.  I love travelling abroad to attend exhibition openings, most notably to Kiev in Ukraine in 2012 for my first international solo show, and more recently to A.Galerie in Paris for the opening of “Outside”.

10 .Last, what is the “ideal life” you depict in your mind?

I am very happy to be able to say that my life feels pretty ideal.  I always wanted to be an artist and make the work I love, I have a wonderful little son and I feel exceedingly lucky at this point.