Laura Cartledge meets a photographer who is putting artists in the picture.
Sussex is well known as a creative county and the white walls of prestigious galleries certainly are proof of this.
But how does the finished artwork get to be there and who is the person behind the canvas, sculpture or piece?
These are the questions Brighton-based photographer Alun Callender is setting out to answer with his personal project.
“Seeing behind the scenes is incredibly fascinating,” explains Alun. “It’s like when you go to the theatre.
“I wanted to keep it quite real and when I first did it I wanted to turn up and just shoot what I found,” he reveals. “But I soon discovered the key was to prop [stage] the space up and really communicate with the person.”
While Alun’s day job sees him travel far and wide covering features for glossy magazines his project sees him delve into local studios. But both have a similar aim.
“Commercially I work for lots of lovely women’s magazines – for them I shoot a range of pictures to tell a narrative,” he says. “Whereas in my personal work I want that strong narrative which really sums up that person and their work in one shot. It’s a really interesting challenge.”
The project began when, after ten years as a photographer, Alun says he “decided to review what I was doing and where I was going”. It was then that inspiration struck.
“East Sussex is a microcosm with such a great diverse range of creatives,” he reveals. “People trying to make a living as well as being as creative as they can is something that has to be celebrated.
“Peter Quinell was the third one I did and that set the benchmark,” Alun adds. “Part of the rules of this project is they have to be working artists in East Sussex and I usually go on recommendation from one person to the next.”
Now, having taken approximately 40 portraits, Alun sees himself “about halfway through”. So how would he describe his style?
“I am influenced by classic photography I like strong composition,” he replies, “and lighting is really important to me.”
As a result Alun’s work certainly draws comparisons with traditional portraiture, the twist being that his resembles a painting but is not painted giving the results a timeless quality.
“If people want to call my work art they are entitled to do that but I don’t see it like that,” he says. “For me it is a form of communication – I take pictures and try to tell stories.
“I normally spend two hours with people – that is enough time for them to put up with me,” he laughs. “Most people I have done have been really open to it, they get that I am trying to reflect who they are and their space.
“I think what I do is against fashion. I feel with fashion that you can be in fashion but you can go out,” he says. “So if you are never in you are never going to go out.”
As well as capturing so much in one shot the project also comes with other challenges.
“Because you are working on location and every place is different you always have to adapt,” Alun agrees. “One of my favourite things about photography is the fact you are always learning things and new techniques. I still don’t think I have the hang of it.”
This is made particularly poignant when you learn Alun first began photography “a good 25 years ago” when he took it up as an option at A Level.
“I learnt about the history of photography. I loved being in the dark room and the combination of the craft, science and art really fascinated me,” he recalls.
“So I studied and I was an assistant for eight years in London.
“I’ve been shooting independently for 11 years now and switched to digital about six years ago after being so dead against it for so long.
“I wanted to maintain the craft and the skills I had learnt,” he explains. “But before long it becomes a part of you. You don’t think how you work it, you become one with the camera and one with the computer – it was really like being back in the dark room in the garage of my parents’ house.”
Keeping up with ongoing advancements is something Alun embraces.
“I feel like I am a dog with its head out the window taking it all in,” he smiles. “You don’t have much choice you have to rush along with it, it’s really exciting. There are so many interesting people still to photograph.”
Alun’s work will be included in ‘Making it’ a showcase exhibition of the work of designers and makers based in and around Brighton.
Organised by Richard Ainsworth, who runs Rodhus Studio, and Ian Elwick, who runs The Werks/Coachwerks and The Dock, the exhibition will be held in Gallery 40, in the North Laines, at the end of October.
To find out more visit www.rodhus.co.uk For information about Alun Callender’s projects, visit www.aluncallender.com More private shows of Alun’s work is to follow.
October 23, 2013 Culture and Events