Lou Conboy Hobart, Tasmania
Lou Conboy was chosen by photographer Lucia Rossi
Laatikkomo’s interview with Lou Conboy February 20th, 2016.
L: Where are you from? What cities, and/or countries have you lived in – or what places have influenced you?
LC: I grew up in valley surrounded by apple groves next to a mountain in Tasmania. My parents moved to Tasmania when I was just over 1 year old. They had just taken me backpacking through Europe, America and parts of Asia. Tasmania was the last place we visited on this trip and we just ended up staying. I have always loved the idea that you could arrive to a place with a backpack and a babe and make a new life. My dad has always had an appetite for travel. He has some really interesting stories. He would ride his motorbike to the northern most tip of Australia, catch a plane over to Timor and travel through to Southeast Asia. This was a pretty regular thing in his youth. Once my dad convinced my mum to stow away to New Zealand. The trip took 2 weeks. They had to spend most of their time below deck except at night when they could roam the boat freely because the captain was a reliable and solid sleeper.
I have mostly lived in Hobart, but I have studied and lived in Melbourne and also Berlin, but just for a short period of time.
Many places in Tasmania influence me as a Photographer. The West Coast of Tasmania is beautifully spectacular and strange. Bruny island, Cradle Mountain… anywhere with mountains basically.
L: What is your earliest memory of photography?
LC: I couldn’t say exactly what my first memory of photography was, but I do remember my first real interest in observation. Observation and Photography are similarly linked for me. When I was 5, I would break into houses in our area with my mischievous neighbour. I remember so vividly the feeling of stepping into an unknown lounge room, the charm of home decorating, the chaos and clutter of a big family or the quietness and orderliness of an elderly couples possessions. Looking back, I’m not sure what my neighbours interest in these ventures where. It was never to steal, although I did come across a tiny eraser the shape of a pineapple that fitted perfectly on the end of a pencil. I’d never seen anything so brilliant and I had to have it. These memories and moods are deeply etched into my memory as snapshot images. Years later I experienced the same stirring feeling after visiting a seemingly near derelict zinc factory nearby my school and that’s when I picked up a camera.
L: I noticed that some of your images exist as black and white images and that the same images are also shown as colour images. What are some deciding factors in choosing to show an image in either black and white or in colour or separately both?
LC: Yes that’s a tricky one, as I shoot medium format film and sometimes all I have in my camera bag is a black and white roll or a colour roll. I think as a general rule I’d say shooting colour in the early morning or late afternoon is a good idea for colour saturation, perhaps black and white during the middle of the day when the light is not as interesting, but then again rulz shmulz…
L: Even though your photographs capture one instance they seem to be moments of carefully planned action. What is your personal relationship to performance arts and theatre?
LC: I think I might be a closet director…probably not in the traditional sense. Thinking back to creative projects that have really captured my attention and energy they have mostly been experiments with timing and consequence. High-speed imaging is one of these past obsessions. In my studies I made a light and sound trigger that would fire a high-speed light output flash, at a measured time in an event. I would spend hours in a blackened studio smashing objects together, trying to capture the point of impact or just after. After a while I introduced people into the studio, and asked them to do a whole array of strange things. It’s good to have patient and creative friends.
These photography experiments filled me with such wonder in regards to all events regarding kinetic energy and Newton’s Third Law of motion “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. I felt elated knowing that there were all these amazing exchanges going on around me that my eyes were just not quick enough to detect.
Similarly slit Photography has captivated me in the past. With slit photography you move the film through the camera at the same speed as your subject moves passed the cameras field of view, all the while the shutter is open. There is a beautiful, meditative, repetitive and choreographed relationship that develops between you and the subject. I could go on and on, but getting back to the original question about performance and theatre I think in a less traditional sense I think there are big similarities.
L: Mythology and themes of disguise appear to play an important role in the conceptual aspect of your images. Are you referring to specific myths/costumes or what has influenced the creation of your characters?
LC: I think at times I am referring to specific myths. The Australian Aboriginal myth of the Bunyip I find captivating.
But more often then not I think the characters are playing with the reality of dislocation and identity issues surrounding Tasmanian’s convict history and disjointed white settlement. It’s funny to think how far these original ideas of myth have travelled when considering the distance between Europe and little island Tasmania on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. There’s a good 17,500km in that distance.
The figures in my work are dislocated spirits. In their transportation from the ‘old world,’ they are mutated and demented. They are nameless orphans. They don’t really belong anywhere.
L: The figures in your images are almost always masked. Are these self-portraits of a performance-like instance or do you compose these photographs as collaborations with other people (standing in the role of a character)?
LC: Yes, both self-portrait and collaborations.
Masks are fascinating things and can be interpreted many different ways. Understandably masks can seem confronting considering their historical uses, for example the medieval mask of shame the Scold’s Bridle. Or the old medical masks with the ginormous beaks that the plague doctors wore for protection. Really all they managed to do was terrify the poor patient on their deathbed.
Personally my interest in masks is far less sinister. Masks can provide a shelter for creative freedom and also help shape visual continuity. They also present an opportunity to play with gratuitous silliness. This act of play may seem incongruous but it is actually quite important to me.
L: Water, water symbolism or sea-life plays a main role in your imagery. Does this interest come from your experience of life on an island, or do you also have other explanations for the reference to water in your images?
LC: Yes, I think simply life on the Island. I don’t ever really last long in a place without a clear line of sight to the sea. No matter where you are in Tasmania the coastline is only ever 200km away, or less. This is important to my sense of equilibrium.
Adding to the theme of water, I also work for a Marine Science organisation with Shark and Ray Scientist. Gee you get to see some breathtaking stuff. Google ‘Goblin Shark images’, you will not be disappointed.
Lastly, without being too morbid, I think also surviving a boating collision that caused the boat to sink, adds to my experiences with water. It seems natural that these experiences would filter into my photography.
L: Could you list 5(or more) words you were thinking about when you made this work?
LC: Preternatural, alchemy, environment, mythology, dislocation
Thank you so much Lou!