My first problem in writing an Artist Statement is that I am still uncomfortable referring to myself as an “artist”. Academically I have degrees in the sciences and have no formal qualifications in the arts. When I mentioned this to Dr. Mike Ware, he told me the way he approaches the problem is to refer to himself as an artist to his scientist friends and a scientist to his artist friends. It appears that specialisation has led to people feeling threatened by the arriviste. Even in the late nineteenth century it was still the norm to maintain broad academic interests - for example Sir John Kirk, who made calotypes along the Zambesi river as part of the Livingstone expedition (1858-64) was comfortable both as an artist and a respected botanist sending samples back to Kew. He has several species named after him. But today one has the impression that the artist-scientist is to be regarded as someone who is an amateur at both, in the derogatory sense of the word.
However, the photographic processes I use require the practitioner to take on the role of artist-scientist, involving as it does some troublesome chemistry before you can address any artistic vision.
So what can I say about my work? I work with nineteenth-century photographic techniques because I enjoy the process. My work has been described as nostalgic. I'm not sure about that - they might be better described as focussing on absence. The lack of people in the images and the choice of subject matter I am drawn to are both a consequence of the long exposures required. Many of the images are what might be described as environmental portraits of built structures but that have some historical interest either known to me or inferred. Maybe the Portuguese term Saudades is a better description for some of the images as they examine structures that hark back to earlier times in a wistful way.
In a recent project Mosques of Mozambique which I undertook between 2014 and 2017, I first took a six-month apprenticeship with a Swedish Master Cabinetmaker, Thomas Erikson, in order to learn the skills I’d need to build a view camera. We set up a workshop in Maputo and I built a 16x20” and the 10x12” Capulana Camera. The latter incorporates a bellows made from colourful Mozambican fabric known as Capulana. Both cameras were made from sustainably-grown Mozambican hardwoods. The Capulana Camera was built specifically for the Mosques project. I suppose it’s the photographic equivalent of Method Acting.
I realised when I had completed two cameras that they had become a central part of the project themselves. At the same time they have led me away from a purely lens-based practice to explore printmaking and painting driven in part by a craving for colour after a decade working in monochrome in addition to the incessant need to be making.