Alexandra Lethbridge – In Conversation: SIPF Open Call Artists
Other Ways of Knowing by Alexandra Lethbridge (United Kingdom)
Interviewed by Marcus Che.
An exploration into the theatrical illusion of magic and misdirection
in comparison to ideas of criminal deceit, Lethbridge aims to investigate how deceptive clues, false emphasis and symbolic meaning can affect our understanding of information. Focusing on visual perception against instinct, the photographs invite the viewer to consider the truthfulness of what is encountered.
What was your process when manipulating these images?
AL : The process is fairly organic. I source found imagery until I have a collection I think I can work with. After that I start to work out how I can interpret the research I’ve done and the ideas I’m interested in through those images. A lot of the time I have ideas about how that might happen already but sometimes, new methods come out with some experimentation. I try to keep the process open and fluid so that I can welcome new ways of working and intervening with the images when I come across
them. The process really changes for each image and again for each project. For me, it’s very similar to taking photographs with a camera. I’m essentially looking for that moment when you know it worked, a feeling or an instinct that the image is complete.
Popular media nowadays is feeding the public with information that’s usually easily digestible yet incomprehensive. Your work seems to challenge that. Is that true?
AL : The research behind my work is concerned with how we process information and how the presentation of it can affect what we think. Those ideas could easily be extended to the media and how we perceive the news given to us. In terms of challenging those ideas, you could use those theories to do that. I’m interested in looking at how our preconceptions change and affect our impressions moving forward.
For me with my work, the order in which you look at images in an exhibition can change your understanding of the entire exhibition. I have an image within my series Other Ways of Knowing that appears twice in exhibition format. The image shows a woman kneeling over another woman, with her hands over her head. The image is obscured at that point where her hands meet her head so you can’t tell what’s happening. The image is shown with a caption describing how to resuscitate someone and again with a caption on how to suffocate someone. The image you reach first within the exhibition affects how you read the remaining images. It’s ideas like these and how imagery is presented that drive what I do.
What is your impression of truth in the media?
AL : I think the notion of truth in the media is a loose concept. It’s hard to know whether information is entirely truthful as it’s fed down to us through so many filters. We have to be aware of the implications of the way we share information through social media and online platforms as rumours easily develop and fake news is something we deal with, more often than we’re aware of.
Photography shares the same problematic balance with the media, as they’re both deemed to be factual and reliable sources. That should be the case but isn’t always. Photography is especially problematic as it, by nature, has to have an author and that isn’t always an impartial one. This feeds into a much larger conversation around integrity in photography and whether any image can be entirely truthful and unbiased.
Do you think society is gullible when it comes to discerning the news
AL : I don’t think society is gullible necessarily, I think it comes down to your own values and how you function within society. It’s similar to what I mentioned earlier about the images in the exhibition you reach first. More often than not, our beliefs are affected by much more than just what we hear in the news. We’re coming with backgrounds moulded by our families, where we live, who our friends are and the situations we find ourselves in. The news and what we choose to believe is partially impacted by what fits those preconceptions and impressions we may have—consciously or no.
There’s a scientific theory I read about during my research that proved that even when faulty information is proven to be faulty, if that information fits with the person’s values and beliefs, it often doesn’t change their impressions, even once the ‘fact’ is retracted. It just shows the weight that incorrect information can have once it’s put out there. We hear what we want to hear; much in the way my work looks at how we see what we want to see.
To what extent do you think an image belongs to an artist after re-contextualising it?
AL : I think it entirely depends on the re-contextualisation. Working with found imagery is really about finding a balance. The image itself can attract you for a number of reasons and you have to be mindful to take those reasons and adapt them to your own narrative, to the ideas you’re working towards. The image itself already functions in it’s own realm and to work with it, is to influence it and make it new. I think if you’re doing that, you can claim the image has a new author as it’s functioning differently.
For me personally, in some cases where found imagery is used more as a reference, I won’t take authorship. In other cases, the image feels entirely different. For instance, I came across a source image in my studio the other day and it was odd seeing it in that way, to me it only existed in the new form.
How has coming from a fine art background influenced the way you work with photography?
AL : My BA degree was in Graphic Arts specialising in Photography and I’ve definitely seen that having an impact in the way I work. Some of my images have a real graphic element to them, which changes the aesthetic of my images entirely. I also think it changes the way I approach photography more generally
as sometimes it’s the main focus of my work and other times, it feels like an element of a larger way of working outside of solely using photography.
About In Conversation : SIPF Open Call Artists
The 6th Portfolio Open Call instalment of SIPF has brought in a wide range of artists
whose themes range from human impact on our ever changing environment to tales of loss and longing. The photographers chosen for these conversations have displayed an ability to convey profound and complex emotions through their series of images, bringing us into an immersive experience that is unique to each artist. In this series of interviews, we delve deeper into why these photographers do what they do, taking a look at the intimate and personal stories behind each of their projects.
This series of interviews can be found in DECK Journal of Photography #01