Interview, Liam Warton -
Into the Ocean of Emotion
Liam! What is chaos to you?
I am generally a quiet, introverted and reflective person and I often over-analyze things in order to gain some form of control. This means that I can be a little apprehensive when it comes to meeting new people or when faced with new social groups or situations (I am not really one for embracing the unknown or unfamiliar). For me, chaos is something that erupts from my personal anxiety and fears. A desperate state of panic when I am overwhelmed by the uncontrollability of my situation. I have lived with anxiety most of my life and I am working on managing and understanding how it affects me, so it doesn’t become all-consuming.
..and how do you face the anarchy of the inner world (one within yourself)? Is it through acceptance, or sometimes, you fight it?
It depends on the moment and how defeated and anxious I feel (there are complexities and uncertainties to every situation). I often find the best approach to face this anarchy head on and address the root of the problem as well as remembering that it will pass. However, defeatism can often arise and sometimes it’s just easiest to be alone and escape for a little while. Photography has been a very dependable and soothing mechanism for me, one I use as a way of fleeing from everyday life, especially when I am feeling down or self-critical. It is a way for me to break the downward spiral of negativity and to accept and channel my own feelings into my work or photography. Or as Rebecca Solnit eloquently put it, “To lose yourself: a voluptuous surrender, lost in your arms, lost to the world, utterly immersed in what is present so that its surroundings fade away”.
Is your photographic work a reflection of everything that goes inside of you?
As touched on in the previous question, I use photography as a way to escape from my reality and feelings, to try and gain some form of comfort and relief. It is my medium to express myself, bring clarity and understand life. I also find that the best approach for me is to channel my own vantage point and feelings, hence my images depict themes of solitude, loneliness, nostalgia, melancholy, anxiety (chaos), longing and masculinity.
I recently exhibited some photographs in Berlin with three other photographers Annika Weertz, Joe Barrett and Phoebe Jane Barrett, with the theme being challenging traditional portrayals of masculinity. My aim with the series was to question stereotypical perceptions, where this strong and sexual traditional portrayal of masculinity meets the scrutiny and objectification that the female body has been historically subjected to, through the male gaze (in cinema and photography). I wanted to work with this topic of masculinity, as a result of growing up as a heterosexual male in Australia and struggling to strongly relate to this outdated masculine stereotype and being a photographer belonging to an industry where it is acceptable to exploit and over-sexualize women in the name of art.
Although there’s little of it, you do have photographs where two people are immersed in each other. These photographs, can you talk to us about them?
To be honest, I don’t really know why I have chosen to create these multiple exposures of two people merging into each other. If I was going to interpret these photographs I would probably say that they have something to do with the duality of the self and a critique of this false sense of self which we portray outward through for example social media (showing only our ideal selves rather than who we really are).
When I look at your work, I see an undercurrent of equanimity with great chaos. Is that because you find yourself exploring your subconscious more?
I always find it interesting to see how different people interpret my photographs and the meanings they derive. For me, when I create something I do not necessarily have any preconceived ideas in mind but rather I just create (it’s mostly in the process of connecting with my subject and feeling something that my ideas and imagination run away with me). This could be an exploration of my subconscious but it could also be something entirely different altogether.
..and is your mixed media approach responsible for bringing out oversaturated emotion?
For me, at times I feel that the medium of photography can be limited and fixed, that the photo doesn’t exist until it captured on film but from that point on its fixed and no longer fluid. This in comparison to other art forms where the process is flexible and ongoing. I am interested in the process of creating something over a longer period of time, starting off somewhere, changing ideas and coming back to this work in progress at a later date. I feel that the instant nature of photography is a blessing and a curse. I love the fact that I can go out and create a whole series of images and have the results within 48 hours (shooting film), but at the same time I feel like it is too easy to mass produce photos, and that there is something worthwhile in creating less over a longer period of time (the feeling of creating something rather than just documenting a moment in time). This feeling of dissatisfaction has made me want to explore different avenues and continue working on my images/ negatives after I have developed them in the darkroom. I also feel that I have more control and that I can add an additional layer to something that feels quite two dimensional, thus creating several and different sets of emotions through this manipulation.
Can you talk to us a little more about your creative process? How do you use film, work with light, and add digital elements to your work?
I shoot the majority of my work on film, however, I do have digital cameras and there are benefits and negatives to both formats. For me, it is ultimately about the photographic process and the hands-on approach that inspires me the most. I love the chemical magic of film, capturing something in reality and then seeing it later unravel before my eyes in the darkroom. The delayed gratification, of being focused in the moment rather than looking at a thousand photos constantly on the back of your screen. The sheer joy I get from testing different expired films and different ways of developing the negatives. The end result when shooting analog is also more in line with what I strive to express through my photography.
For inspiration, I usually do not turn to photography or to other photographers (that being said I do love/ feel inspired by the works of Maya Beano, Edie Sunday, Prue Stent, Lauren Withrow, and Laura Kampman). I rather draw inspiration from my surroundings and other art forms. Things that make me stop and question my perspectives and view things differently, such as music, literature, installations, paintings, cinema etc. These forms of creative expression inspire me to be determined by my art and to express myself through photography.
Another thing that’s there, as substantial, in your work is nakedness. Is there a deeper symbolism in the photographs you would the subject posed naked?
Ultimately, I aim to create photographs that are raw and honest that channel my own vantage point and feelings. I can pose my subjects naked as a way of breaking down the barriers or distractions so that all that is left is vulnerability and fragility. That said, I am aware that our culture is constantly bombarded with sexualized images of women and I do not want to participate in this. Instead, I aim to depict both men and women equally. It’s not about sexualization but rather about expressing something that is real to me.
With that, can you tell us about any story that you have read or a specific culture that has moved you deeply and you are constantly inspired by?
I don’t have a specific work or story that I am constantly inspired by, however, I feel that I do derive inspiration from literature. I moved from Australia to Sweden three years ago and as a part of the integration process and learning a new language I have continuously read Swedish books, thus broadening my cultural perspectives. This move sparked an interest in languages which I didn’t know I had. In particular, I am fascinated by the meaning of words (and their translations) and how they differ from one language to another, for example, the world “vilse” in Swedish translates to “lost” in English. These two words, however, don’t have exactly the same meaning and there is this gap and something that is lost in the translation. There is power in the written word, however, these words have to be interpreted and understood which is subjective to the chosen language and the recipient. I am interested in this subjectivity, by what is fleeting, what goes unnoticed and what is lost, whether that is in language, in photography or other forms of expression.
Lastly, what would you suggest and share with other photographers?
Take your time to find your craft or style, don’t just go in copy what someone else is doing or what is popular on Instagram or Flickr. Look outside of photography to other art forms for inspirations and find something that works for you. Create only for yourself instead of the intended audience. It’s about questioning what you see, thinking about how you would like to portray it differently and how would you go about doing that with still images. I would also recommend not spending too much money or time on equipment or cameras but instead experimenting and exploring different techniques or approaches, it is often in the unknown that you find yourself and the happy accidents which shape your style.
Interview with Liam Warton