"So you have this striking landscape that has so much going on in it, that at one minute is sort of abstract and beautiful depending on the light, then another minute, the tide comes in and it becomes another place, with horses standing in the water.”
(Stephanie Joy, August 2005).
ARTIST INTERVIEW: Stephanie Joy in conversation with Nicola Murphy on Friday 5 August 2005
From Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, Stephanie has lived and worked in Dublin for some years. Her interest with the Arts and Photography was heightened by her experiences of living and working in Paris, in the eighties. Her travels to South America in the nineties, affected her decision to work as an artist - in particular the journey through Patagonia and the Beagle Channel. There she realized a long held dream to discover this untamed, silent landscape and created a visual diary. Now back in Ireland, she continues to photograph, creating new bodies of work.
This exhibition of photographs ‘Wondering’ was conceived on the wild, barren landscape of the Burry estuary in Wales and is composed of both landscape and portrait images. Stephanie elaborates - “I had no idea why I wanted to work there. However, as I explored this instinct visually, the work emerged. A web of associations formed, fleeting and hazy, between this landscape and holidays spent in Waterford. I was connecting with a past time beyond conscious memory.” We are reminded that it is with people, and locations, and through story that we make sense of our world.
Studying under Paul Seawright, Stephanie completed a degree in Documentary Photography in the University of Wales, Newport in 2003.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you got started as a photographer?
A: I’ve been living in Dublin for some years, and being from the country, I like to go there – and do so regularly. I have travelled and worked abroad i.e. in Europe and particularly France, and more recently in Wales between 2000 and 2004. I’ve also travelled and experienced life in North and South America.
Once I began to travel at all as a teenager, I began to use a camera – it was something I always carried with me. I may have just picked up my mothers camera – she had a box camera. My father also had cameras and both had a good eye.
I still have some of those old images, some very dog eared. I visited art galleries and have always done so - creating images became a natural progression for me.
Q: Can you tell us what inspires you to start a project?
A: There are a number of factors - it may be life itself and people that I meet at a particular time; events in the world and/or the landscape I find myself in - e.g. in the case of ‘Wondering’, it was the landscape and a strong instinct to stay and work on the Burry estuary.
The idea for another body of work, ‘Waiting’ came from the changing structure of rural Ireland. Where is it most evident except in a multicultural sense? Multiculturalism has been evident in Dublin for years but only recently in rural Ireland. My images included people from all over the world, focusing on our commonalities rather than differences. I felt this was necessary, as we endeavour to come to terms with a complete change in the structure of our society.
Q: You received an award of merit for this work, isn’t that so?
A: Yes, the work received a merit at the Metro Eireann/RTE Media and Multicultural Awards, in the individual multicultural section in 2004 (MAMA). These awards are very important and encouraging to receive. I also brought a selection from ‘Wondering’ to Arles Photographic Festival and received a commendation from the Rencontres Arlatan/Galerie D’essai, Dotation Photo Service judges. Even though part of the fringe events, it was rewarding to be contacted.
Q: Do you prefer photographing portraits to landscapes?
A: It depends on the work. Both are enjoyable though portraiture is challenging at times. It requires a particular skill photographically. I am conscious that some people don’t like to be photographed. Therefore I have included a portrait of Lilian’s hands in this body of work. Lilian is 92 years and was a cockle picker with her father in the 1920’s.
Q: Do you think that you have a certain style and if yes, has it changed over the years?
A: I don’t believe I have a particular style. It is eclectic. It evolves through the influence of the subject matter.
Q: Have you ever tried other art forms like drawing, painting or sculpting, making music, or dancing for instance?
A: I’ve worked with sculpture- bronze casting - for a few years at night and it is something I would like to return to. I also love both the sound of voice and the way people use words. I read and always enjoy having a book with me. I always fancied that I’m going to be singing in the chorus of a musical like Okalahoma! Listening to the flute is pure pleasure, it has elegance. So, all art forms are a pleasure.
Q: What other artists or people have influenced or inspired you, and in what ways?
A: I’ve been inspired by the old masters, by the work from the Renaissance. I am captivated by Cubism and times where styles are changing and evolving. Many photographers inspire me - including Sophie Calle, Eugene Atget, Martine Franck. I accompanied Martine in Dublin and to Tory in 2000. Her professionalism and her way of working in our culture was admirable. Rineke Djkestra subject matter has been interesting, also William Egglleston’s. Paul Seawright has been an influence - I studied under him in Newport.
I’ve been very stimulated by education and will always be involved I expect. I am on the Artist’s Panel at IMMA. I am collaborating on some work there later this year and I’m looking forward to that. Engaging with the public and the connections we make in the Gallery and studios can be informative and stimulating. More people engage with the work too.
I love to hear about people who have retired and taken up art, like a friend of my mothers, who took up art in her 70’s, hanging it on her walls and also selling it. And I love the idea of de-mystifying art so that it’s for everybody.
Other visual art inspires me – seeing it without any pre-conceived ideas about what will emerge.
I appreciate listening to other artists. I love to see people’s immersion in their craft and being skilled at it. I would support and encourage people to be involved in various art forms at all stages of life.
I am also inspired by the people that I meet here, when I’m considering a new body of work. And then out in the stillness, in a landscape in a very quiet place, the notion of what I’m doing may become more defined.
Q: Tell us a little bit about the processes you use as a photographer?
A: I use 6’6’ negative film, both colour and black and white. I find it interesting , that people are still printing ‘C’ type Prints, using the old regular print process, in the darkroom. Technology has changed the way people work and print work.
The thirteen prints that make up this Exhibition are colour, 60cms and 76cms square. All but two are ‘C’ type. Two of the larger prints are Lambda Digital Prints on Dibond - 101cms and 122cms square. The two processes work together and I see them as complementary.
Q: Do you ever have bad days and how do you motivate yourself to keep going?
A: Once I’ve begun a project, and inspired to do a body of work, the work itself will demand a particular input of time, energy, research, and planning. All of these elements are hugely important, and I commit to it. Sometimes it can be slow and then it takes off. In general I am intrigued once a project inspires me; I’m always fascinated with doing more.
I wake up at 3 in the morning with an idea sometimes. And yes, there are often other sacrifices that are made in order to do the work. Once the drive and ambition is there to continue though, nothing will really stand in the way of completing it.
It’s a big commitment financially and in terms of time. Time is such a precious commodity – one needs lots of it, to be engaged with any artistic process. High quality work is costly in every sense.
Q: Do you have any advice for artists starting out?
A: This is my first solo show and the learning is ongoing, indeed it’s a lifelong quest . You need to work hard, have commitment and keep at it. I think it’s really important to find supportive people to work and engage with.
Q: So tell us a little bit more about your forthcoming exhibition in Draíocht called ‘Wondering’, and about your time in the Burry estuary in Wales?
A: ‘Wondering’ was conceived on the wild, barren landscape of the Burry estuary in Wales and is composed of both landscape and portrait images.
Living conditions are harsh in this small, close-knit community. The estuary is tidal and my taking part was also governed by the tides and weather. High tide meant I couldn’t walk on roads that were passable beforehand. Not only that, but also the colours appeared more vibrant. Nature was a far greater force than people. Yet the people living on this landscape were totally in tune with nature.
One day, I realised that I needed to live there in order to capture the essence of the work. I followed a strong instinct. Once I did, the work began to emerge and a web of associations formed, fleeting and hazy, between this landscape and holidays I’d spent in Waterford.
At a local level, there is the story of the community itself, and its people, many facing hardship because of restrictions on collecting cockles; a devastating blow to them. This industry is part of their identity. The portrait of Lilian’s hands is testimony; she’s been picking cockles since the 1920’s with her father. They travelled out with the donkey and baskets. In the present, all that was left was the diminishing pile of empty shells.
I am enthusiastic that the work is showing in this space here, in Draíocht. I admire the way in which the gallery connects with, and involves the community. On a regular basis during the next six weeks, I will visit the gallery and collaborate with the community. A number of ideas have emerged – I am happy to be available to the public who wish to engage with the work in a variety of ways.
Q: Can you tell us a little about the stories behind some of your images, perhaps starting with the cockle pickers, as featured on your preview card?
A: I waited months to go out with the cockle pickers, because of the Government ban on collecting. I went out on the sands at 4am for this particular image. The cockle pickers were working really hard so I worked around them. As the water recedes with the ebb tide, the cockles come to the top of the sand, though still partially submerged. They are scooped up, the sand is washed off in the water, and the cockle is left. It’s a way of ensuring supply that has worked for generations, and its how these people have connected with nature and survived. They work relentlessly.
So you have this striking landscape that has so much going on in it, that at one minute is sort of abstract and beautiful depending on the light, then another minute, the tide comes in and it becomes another place, with horses standing in the water.
There are so many stories to tell, and I’m looking forward to meeting the community to start the dialogue. People will make their own connections too, of course.
To find out more about Lilian, the 92 year old cockle picker and the horses that stand in the water, come to see Stephanie Joy’s exhibition ‘Wondering’, in Draíocht’s Ground Floor Gallery from 1 September to 15 October 2005.
Stephanie will be available to talk to members of the public at various times during the exhibition.
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