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© Stephen Iles and Nicola Dale, 2016
© Stephen Iles and Nicola Dale, 2016
© Stephen Iles and Nicola Dale, 2016
Open 2: Pieces of You, Open Eye Gallery © Paul Karalius, 2016
Open 2: Pieces of You, Open Eye Gallery © Paul Karalius, 2016
Open 2: Pieces of You, Open Eye Gallery © Paul Karalius, 2016

Artist Interview: Stephen Iles

Photographer Stephen Iles and sculptor Nicola Dale collaborate to explore the possibilities of photography to communicate an understanding of a subject. Their work is currently on display as part of Open 2: Pieces of You.

This interview has been conducted by Pauline Rowe, who is currently at Open Eye Gallery on a PhD placement from the University of Liverpool.

Pauline Rowe: How and why did you become an artist?

Stephen Iles: I’m not sure if being an artist is something you choose to become or something you are.  At first it is a title conferred upon you when as a child you show an aptitude for drawing on creative activity and you subsequently begin to assume it as an identity. Sometimes I’m an artist and sometimes I’m a photographer. I’d say I’m an artist in the approach I take as a photographer but not necessarily that everything I produce is the work of an artist.

It may be common to photographers to equivocate with the term ‘artist’ given the rather complicated history between photography and art. I’m happy to be called either but what interests me most is that as we transition from the title photographer to that of artist we do not automatically confer the title art to all our images. We may call our photographs art but they are most resolutely still photographs with properties that resist consumption by ‘art’. The way photography can equivocate in this way, being art if we call it such whilst still having an independent authority all it’s own allows me to work with a camera to explore what art might be, pointing the camera at art in the hope that it may reveal itself.


PR: Can you say something about the camera you prefer to use and why?

SI: In these times the preference expressed most often concerns the choice of medium, either film or digital. I use both medium,preference often being dictated by technical suitability for a particular application, other times because it is the camera at hand.

I have owned and used many film cameras over time, each with their different qualities and quirks. Currently I prefer a 6×7 medium format camera when working with film, the more squared format of the image more easily references painting, maybe creating a more settled image whereas a more stretched 35mm image references cinema, television and suggests movement.

Working with digital more often these days, I am aware how some of the preferences I had working with a film camera bleed into the digital environment. I prefer a digital camera with a more squared crop for example and the lenses are the same for both medium and have as much to do with the resultant image as the camera does.

The question of style in relation to the camera and subsequent technical processes is always prominent. Style is something we develop through doing, it becomes a signature of ourselves as the artist but it is also tethered to the quite specific and narrow characteristics of the technology. Working with digital I’ve found the greater flexibility and less distinctive thumbprint [than that we find with individual film types] encourages me to search for a more neutral, less stylised space and to employ multiple styles in order to try and escape the notion of style. Working and collaborating with many different artists I try not to impose my style upon their work but rather try different approaches and cameras depending upon the context.

In a sense a preference for a particular camera is like a fetish, as objects they combine magical and tactile properties so well. Their complexity makes them different to a tool, [like a brush or a chisel.] Cameras bring with them their own character and characteristics, affording them their own voice and a quota of authorship, becoming a part of the collaboration.


PR: Also, how do you select, edit, process your images and then decide on a final sequence and order etc.,?

SI: It’s hard to define a specific process relating to selection. With each different collaboration the approach is likely to be different, either confirming or disrupting narrative, depending again on context. Though I do find it interesting that as much as we make selections, we still seem to have thousands of them, maybe when we press the delete button to deselect we are making a most definitive selection!


PR: What is the difference for you between photographing an artist/sculptor as a collaborative work and a photograph as portraiture?

SI: In a sense photographing an artists work is always a collaboration, between both the individuals involved and between the object and the camera. Working within a premeditated collaboration allows an exploration of the intersection between the work being completed and it being photographed.

There is always a tension between what a photograph is and what we might want to say about or attribute to it, a tension between notions of intention and authorship.  When we describe a photograph of an artist or their work as a portrait we confer the authorship to the photographer, the artist submits themselves and their work and with it authorship of the image to the photographer. The artist is still the author of the work shown in the image but not of the image itself.

In submitting to be photographed, the work goes through a metaphysical process whereby it becomes something else. It is not necessarily a copy, as it is now represented in another medium. It’s dimensions and materiality have been altered. The image begins to take on multiple identities, the relationship between the original object and its image begin to blur.


PR: It seems important that these images not only question the framing and stillness of photographs but also capture internal spaces – can you comment on the space in which the images are set – and why this is important?

SI: A camera gobbles up space with a voracious appetite, in a fraction of a second it can render an inordinate amount of information. When the camera photographs a space it photographs all the things in that space and a narrative begins to emerge where the image can be seen to be about that space, or the content of that image can be subjected to further narratives and concerns.

By working in a more neutral studio space, [which provides minimal visual information about itself] the notion of space as it exists within the camera  begins to become more prominent. It’s about trying to address the idea of a ubiquitous space as opposed to a specific one, to marvel at the cameras ability to dialogue with space rather than to simply copy it.


PR: Has this collaboration with Nicola been challenging in ways you did not expect – and, if so, how?

SI: Through collaboration we can take this event, [photographing a piece of work] and begin to stretch it. We can explore the degree to which a physical work may be conceived as image as much as object and reflect upon the fact that works are seen, [and therefore known?] more by their image than by their physical presence. We can ask to what degree does the object serve the image when the more accepted scenario is one of the image serving the object.


PR: Is there anything else you think important to add?

SI: The majority of my photography work is to some degree or other in collaboration with other artists where the challenge of representing art through photography is the central concern.  The ambiguities that exist between a work and a photograph of that work and the ensuing skewing of things like intention determine a constant adjustment of expectations.

Poems linked to ideas, energy and themes in Steve Iles’s work:

Rembrandt’s Late Self-Portraits: Elizabeth Jenningshttp://www.poetryarchive.org/poem/rembrandts-late-self-portraits

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird: Wallace Stevens

A PDF pack containing interviews with each of the artists exhibiting in Open 2: Pieces of You is available to download here.

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