Ailsa Bowyer Perth, Australia
Based in Perth, Ailsa Bowyer feels instinctively drawn to photography as a way of combining her desire for aesthetic pleasure with a very visceral need to bring about a deeper focus upon the most profound aspects of her being. Through her work, she explores these aspects as she perceives them in other people and places, and then weaves these into narratives that entangle with her personal history, whilst also documenting her experience of self in the present moment.
Ailsa Bowyer was chosen by photographer Mitsu Maeda
Laatikkomo’s interview with Ailsa Bowyer October 30th, 2016
L: Where are you from? What cities, and/or countries have you lived in – or what places have influenced you?
AB: I’m from Perth, Australia, and still live in Perth. I love it here. I adore exploring new places, but I find that influence for me isn’t about a particular city or country; rather it is about what my body desperately wants to feel or experience closely at any given time, and how it then sniffs that out within whichever place I’m in. During travels or at home, in addition to being enamoured with particular people, it’s often been particular things or spaces that have triggered my insatiable need to photograph: things or spaces as common as dirty bathrooms, wild oceans, mens’ bodies, sewage streams; which can fortunately be found in millions of places.
L: What is your earliest memory of photography?
AB: My dad used to take photos of our family all the time, quite obsessively, sometimes even when we were sleeping. He never really took pictures of places or things – just us. My mum once said, “You love taking photos just like your father.” I didn’t like that she said that, because I don’t like him. So I very actively resisted taking photos for some time. But, that didn’t last long, and upon reflection, it turns out that I’ve ended up taking photos quite obsessively of people I love, just like he did.
L: Most of the series you show in Laatikkomo is black and white but you have included two images in colour. What interests you about black and white film?
AB: I love that black and white can allow for such a variety of feelings to be projected onto it. In contrast, I feel that colour almost demands a specific feeling or sentiment, and leaves less room and space for the viewer’s own interpretations. But, I think each are equally perfect in their own right, because I love how colour can successfully isolate a particular feeling or sentiment, which I think black and white can’t always do. I also however think that colour vs black and white is not often a cognitive choice, but rather an instinctive one. In earlier days of photography I used to think it was a bit strange when photographers would speak of this sense of ‘just knowing’ whether an image was ‘meant’ to be in black and white, or in colour. (By strange, I mean, I thought it was total bullshit). But, in my experience, that statement is completely true, and undeniably so. There is a gut sense that each and every image simply cannot be experienced or presented in any other way.
In this series particularly, colour choice was also about ratio. The images selected here were taken from a photobook, and in the book, the hope was that the few colour images will hint at a particular significance in time and space, and intentionally interrupt the flow.
L: Photography is often used to talk about memory but the narrative aspect of your series is also, perhaps similarly, important. What are your thoughts on the distortion or preservation of memory through photography?
AB: I think all memories become distorted and abstracted over time. And with photography, even if someone takes a photo to preserve a memory, as that person changes and evolves, so too will their own perception or recollection of all or parts of that memory. The memory then becomes fragmented. I also think that photographic memories change in the hands of others. I may take a photo to try and remember a moment or space, but as soon as that photo is shared with someone else, it takes on a new life and that person will then project onto that image whatever meaning they like, including whatever memories of their own, they like. And I absolutely love that.
I remember one of the most formative times in my photography was during a workshop called “The Vicinity of Narrative”. Up until that point I was attracted to the illusion of capturing ‘truth’ in photos. I remember the tutor paired a random photo of a woman holding a gun with a photo of a lake: “See! Woman shot herself and died in the lake.” It completely messed with my head and deconstructed so much of what I’d previously believed in. But, then it became the most liberating revelation. I could use photography to create whatever I want, and then, even still, viewers will essentially read into it whatever they want. So, I might as well give in to the lack of control, as the work is no longer just mine.
L: The importance you give to size, format, order and space around each image -or- image pair, alludes to different branches of art practices such as installation or literature. Do you work with other art forms, or what kinds of art, influence your work as a photographer?
AB: This collection of images was always intended to be presented as a photobook, so I’ve chosen to still keep the layout of the images here using design elements of the book to try influence how the images are viewed, as part of a greater narrative.
In terms of my photography work, for the last few years I have had an all-consuming love affair with photobooks, and have adored experimenting with photobook design and handmade photobooks. I find literature in terms of construction of narrative is, yes, directly influential for photobook design, as is cinema for aesthetics and visual literacy. I also find music is influential in terms of flow, rhythm and progression. But most significantly, I find that installation is a very critical influence in terms of choices in sequence, structure, layout, design and materials all contributing to the photobook as an experience which hopes to be greater than the sum of it’s parts. I feel that photobooks really allow someone to enter into a space, in the same way that installation art does. My favourite photobook to date is Paul Gaffney’s “We Make the Path by Walking.” The sequential flow, sizing and image placement really creates a sense that you are actually walking with the photographer through rural Europe, discovering every new landscape as he does, and quietly meditating on the landscapes as he is. I feel that truly amazing photobooks take you on those journeys.
L: Could you list five or more words related to the work you are showing in Laatikkomo?
AB: Lust, love, chaos, longing, grief, death.
Thank you so much Ailsa!