Gerwyn Davies – In Conversation: SIPF Open Call Artists
Heatwave by Gerwyn Davies (Australia)
Interviewed by Marcus Che.
Heatwave is an ongoing inventory of characters that are assembled, worn and staged for the camera in an expanded and performative approach to image making. Through the layered act of dressing, the body is used as a platform for reinvention and transposition, slowly concealed through disparate materials while gradually revealing an ‘Other’. Exploring photography’s potential as a prolonged and highly plastic performance, Davies looks into the possibilities of the contrived photographic image.
The costumes in your images seem very intricate and thoughtful. How much time and effort did you put into making them?
GD: The costume element is an integral component in a wider series of practices that make up the photographic process for me and can demand a lot more time and effort than the studio component. The design, construction and performance of characters is in a sense photographic as each decision is made in this drawn out process in a sort of preparation of the character for the ultimate image. Depending on what the material I am working with, this can be a seamless, meditative and cathartic process or it can be completely infuriating.
Some materials are more malleable than others, they lend themselves to being contorted into new forms, hugging the body. Others are resistant and painful. I enjoy working with readymade materials to build the costumes as this makes the process a bit more unexpected and experimental, the materials have an
opportunity to dictate how the forms manifest—it is almost like collaborating with inanimate objects. Sometimes the materials contribute unexpected deviations that are weird improvements
and other times the material serves up a disaster.
Who are some other costume designers that you are inspired by?
GD: Leigh Bowery, Alexander McQueen, Bjork, Gareth Pugh, Viktor and Rolf, Ssion, Samuel, the content of Phillip Galembo’s practice is pretty amazing and Samuel Fosso as well.
Many photographers like to capture scenes ‘in the moment’. What do you think heavily constructed photography can achieve that instinctual photography cannot?
Often people are still fixated on notions of photographic truth and authenticity and there is a lot of moral panic that accompanies that. While I understand that this is an essential tenet to some communities of practice, ie. photojournalism, restrictive borders and hard edges emerge in the pursuit of
‘integrity’ and ‘objectivity’ that might limit the potentials of the medium to expand and grow in exciting new ways.
Outdated photographic clichés like ‘the camera never lies’ have a lot to answer for in that sense. Images to an extent are all entirely constructed, a moment of capture selectively frames a sentence of a novel, it attempts to dilute a narrative into fixing a singular spatio-temporal moment but in doing so selectively omits so much of the surrounding detail. I guess a more intentionally constructed image allows you to explore things more broadly, to gradually assemble, concoct and layer more of the narrative.
The rhetoric around the ‘decisive moment’ as the crux of photography can often feel a bit self congratulatory too—words like ‘instinct’ suggest photographers, as wranglers of cameras are the gatekeepers to representing ‘reality’, that they possess some innate attentiveness to the world around them that nobody else could notice. It is often suggested they have remained entirely objective (pure, authentic, #nofilter, etc.) in bringing it to the audience’s attention and at one with their equipment. I think image making is predominantly a subjective process, hyper constructed or otherwise.
I think this partitioning off of ‘instinctual photography’ probably overlooks the diverse ways that images are now brought into the world as well and the more diverse voices behind them that have previously been excluded from professional photographic worlds via factors like cost and access to the technical knowledge. I am drawn more towards practices that might toy with these technical and ideological weights that are put upon the medium. Work that extends itself in its making, leaks into other media, begs, borrows, and steals from the world of images. I am not interested in any tenuous truth of images—it is a myth making device, giving me the weird alchemy, illusion and magic.
Your images are quite humouristic. Was it intended?
GD: Absolutely. I am entirely aware of how ridiculous some of these images become as they gradually reveal themselves. Part of working in such a way, with a series of strategies/processes in creating the work means it is a surprise, a reveal, a process of becoming to me as well. So I have a great amount of fun making this work and I think that ideally, this emerges in the final product. At its core, being a grown man with an arts practice that is based upon playing ‘dress up’ is pretty funny. Camp has always been important to me in approaching my work.
In line with a lot of practices that employ strategies of Camp, there is a darker side that is intrinsic and entwined in generating images of such excess, parody and humour. Camp was historically a performative strategy used for identification and communication between queers, a way of safely reaching out to your community. So it by nature has a pretty serious and weighty substructure to it considering people were so intensely isolated and restrained without it, it was like a survival strategy in its origins. Obviously that isn’t the same impetus for my work but I think those histories often still linger through queer art. There inevitably emerges a somewhat somber side to these characters as a result of that Camp excess—they are almost encumbered and overcome by their hypervisual existence. These two sides are something that people are always identifying in the work and something I can completely acknowledge.
How do you think teaching photography has impacted your view on photography itself?
GD: Teaching photography involves helping people build a practice from the ground up and attempting to find the clearest pathways through its development. There is a lot of discussion around work that is in progress rather than just staring at a finished product which is otherwise uncommon. As such, it helps you uncover new ways of problem solving by witnessing your peers’ methods. You are invited to be more open in identifying strengths and weaknesses and getting diverse feedback while you are inside the work. That goes both ways with teacher-student, I am applying the discussions we have after class to my own practice and points the students raise.
Part of teaching is that you are constantly looking at the work of other artists and the students bring their own, so it has enhanced my view of the breadth and strength of the medium and that is something I encourage the students to push as well, to explore the edges of the field and take risks. Art school is such a luxury, you have this concentrated period specifically set aside for creative experimentation and a wealth of opportunities to discuss its growth, which for a lot of people vanishes when they finish—you can become isolated alone with your head in your work after.
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