Photography is a beautiful intersection of art and science – where aesthetic and creativity meets the rigidity of procedure, chemical process and technical innovation. Andrew Tenison is a talented photographer (amongst many other things!), currently based in Canberra.
We’re excited to feature some of his previous and upcoming works he has curated for this issue.
We got in touch with Andrew to discuss his process and what went into this amazing body of work.
*All images on this page are copyright Andrew Tenison and are displayed here with his permission.*
Stills From Films Never Made
This body of work was made in Wollongong and Sydney in 2006-2007 and was a response to film (cinema). In some cases the photographs make reference to scenes from films I was watching at the time. In other cases the photographs were made while walking around and responding to locations and objects I encountered on those walks. The final body of work was eventually exhibited in Shift at Wollongong Art Gallery (WAG) as part of their emerging Artist Mentorship Program in 2007.
KultureKid: What sparked your interest in photography and how did you start out to learn the skills you would need to make such beautiful photographs?
Andrew: To be honest, I fell upon photography almost by accident in art classes at high school. From a young age I enjoyed most visual art, including drawing, painting and later film. Art was a subject I gravitated towards; it made sense to me.
Black and white darkroom photography was offered as an elective at my high school. Seeing a photo essay spread out in a magazine in Year 8 or 9 really opened my eyes up to the language of photography, particularly W. Eugene Smith’s essays like Country Doctor and Spanish Village. Around the same time Art Monthly magazine exposed me to Australian photographers, particularly those associated with modernism like Max Dupain and Olive Cotton. I was also exposed to Australian fine art photographers like Bill Henson and Tracey Moffatt. So from the beginning I was getting this broad exposure to different sorts of photography. The creative side of these contemporary art photographers was very inspiring.
In my last year of high school I developed my skills by photographing events and locations that interested me or I felt drawn to document. In most cases this was live music, which has always been a passion of mine. At first I didn’t have access to a manual camera with a changeable aperture, shutter speed dial, and manual focusing lens. I was stuck with an automatic point-and-shoot 35mm film camera. However, it was with the point-and-shoot camera that I learned how to compose, because composition was the key thing I could control. I realised after some time that I needed a manual camera if I wanted to get more involved with the image making process.
In 2003 I enrolled in a Bachelor of Art (Photography) at Charles Sturt University, Albury. At the time the course was slanted towards people interested in Fine Art photography (as opposed to commercial photography like RMIT in Melbourne). The course lecturers had developed a strong relationship with Albury Regional Art Gallery (now MAMA), which meant students had the opportunity to show their work in a regional art gallery at the point of graduation. We weren’t allowed to touch a digital camera initially, even though affordable digital cameras were just hitting the consumer market. This degree taught me about photographic technique, theory and history. The people I did the course with became great friends who I could bounce ideas off and solve technical and visual problems with.
Calenture is the body of work resulting from a six-month artist’s residency at WAG, it was made in direct response to artwork held in the gallery’s extensive collection. Of all the works within the WAG collection I developed a certain affinity with the work of painter Joan Meats, and her artistic oeuvre and biography became a key focus of my research into the WAG collection. Through these photographs I explored the potential for narrative to define us, the power of memory, and the strength of family bonds. These are themes I have continued to explore in my work.
KultureKid: What types of photography have you used to create these images?
Andrew: My favoured approach to making images is constructed photography or tableau vivant (literally meaning living picture), which can be traced back to medieval liturgical dramas and mystery plays. I’ve been pursuing this sort of photography on and off since 2003. For want of a better description, this work tends to have a cinematic look. My series Stills From Films Never Made is a good example of this particular approach.
More recent work is much more about pure documentation, collecting, and observing. I’ve often returned to locations, in some cases several times over a period of years. These images are about looking for the extraordinary (on a personal level at least) in the mundane, and have also combined my love of rural and urban exploration with photography. This type of work tends to be driven by pure visual inclinations rather than a self-imposed concept like my constructed photography projects that require specific constraints to yield results.
KultureKid: How do you build a body of work? Do you actively create an idea to then shoot around, or is it more of an organic process for you?
Andrew: I use a number of approaches to make photographs that help me keep things interesting and challenge me in new ways going into a project. I value clear ideas and spontaneity in equal measure and hinted at this in the previous question. Coming from art school where ideas are ‘King’ I do have bodies of work that are more conceptually driven, but I also try to strike an even balance between a solid concept and a interesting visual approach.
I’ve learned through postgraduate study and class critiques that it’s not enough to simply have great ideas. You must also have the technical skills to realise your concept. Artists can (and do) remove themselves from the actual making side of their concept, but that’s not why I got into photography in the first place. In more recent times I’ve incorporated things like sculpture and set building to push myself creatively. I enjoy being out and making images rather than being chained to a computer.
In the past concepts have been quite loose and have involved observation and response to a location I’ve seen. Sometimes I’ve combined these two approaches. The Calenture body of work that I completed back in 2010 as part of the Wollongong Art Gallery Residency is a good example of this.
Let Me Imagine You
This project centres on the concept of repurposing and responding to a found 35mm photographic negative. The negative became a springboard to create a new series of photographs which consider the potential for found photographic images to provoke questions about the past and the role photography plays in memory making and the interpretation of events.
KultureKid: Analogue vs Digital photography?
Andrew: I became interested in photography just as affordable digital cameras were hitting the consumer market. I learnt the basics on a 35mm film camera and I wouldn’t take back that experience because I see it as invaluable. When affordable digital equipment became more common it opened up so many possibilities that had previously only been available to professional photographers. I really enjoy the way in which you can use both digital and analogue photography to drive a project. I often use a digital camera to test shoot and story board and then commit visual ideas to film. Shooting film then scanning at high resolution especially with larger formats like 8×10 gives you the best of both worlds.
KultureKid: You also work in collection management with historic photographic, film and sound collections (thanks for contributing to our very first issue too!). How does working with more historic objects and more procedural requirements impact on your photographic creativity/creative process?
Andrew: The impact is both a positive and a negative one. It’s a pleasure to be around archival collections most days of the week. I’ve worked at the University of Wollongong Library archive, Australian War Memorial and National Film and Sound Archive and each collection is unique with its own special requirements for handling and storage etc. There’s an archival bent in me that plays out in how I approach the job.
Working in collection management means I tend to think about archival collections differently than I previously did. I really appreciate the object-based aspect of collections and this has for example influenced my latest body of work Let Me Imagine You, which is a visual response to a found 35mm negative. I also utilised the national archives to research stories that could help flesh details in the fictional story depicted.
The negative aspect is mainly to do with over exposure to imagery and the pressures and politics of the work environment, which can be a real energy drainer, that impacts on your ability to actually want to be creative in your free time.
KultureKid: Creativity is not necessarily synonymous with fun. You have creative process with your photography practice, is it fun for you? Are there any challenging moments that you’ve experienced where it may not be so fun?
Andrew: You touch on a really important point here that I’ve often pondered long and hard. I often think about how much effort for example went into creating a piece of art, film or music when I am looking, watching and listening to it. How much blood, sweat and tears went into this that we as the fortunate outside observer will never see?
A lot of the creative process can be challenging. The process is never a straight-forward progression, for me it has always involved facing set backs that test my resolve and determination to realise my vision for a project. Photography remains fun for me. However, to keep things interesting I’ve incorporated things like sculpture and set building into my artistic process. I also pursue other things like making music to bring balance.
Recent (Untitled Work)
KultureKid: Do you have any advice for young/emerging artists, particularly in the age of instant gratification social media?
Andrew: My main advice is to be passionate about what you’re doing and be prepared to work hard. Have a grasp of both your technical approach to photography and the concept building side of things. Group exhibitions are a great way to start out and help you build creative networks. One of the most important things I’ve learnt is editing. Bodies of work become stronger with editing. In an image-saturated culture less is often more.
KultureKid: What’s next for you?
Andrew: The next step is an exhibition I have opening on Thursday the 20th of July 2017 at Photo Access in Manuka, ACT. This current body of work is driven by the concept of responding photographically to a found negative and building a narrative out of the found image by imaging the individual depicted and what may have happened at different points in their life.
The ongoing documentation and observational based body of work that I’ve been working on over the last few years and is eventually going to be compiled into some sort of self published book, perhaps with a small exhibition. The book should surface sometime in late 2018.
Andrew, thank you so much for your time!
Kulture Kids, check out the Photo Access website or Facebook to stay tuned about Andrew’s upcoming exhibition.