“A lot of ‘Terroir’ is about this: things that are slightly ‘off’, not quite right. I love how ambiguity sits conveniently in the landscape.”
Tristan Hutchinson (born in 1980) is a contemporary photographer from the UK. In this interview he talks about his forthcoming series called “Terroir”. It’s an in-depth visual investigation of Ireland, where the artist is currently residing. For Tristan Hutchinson photography is the way to render homage to the country he’s spent many years living in.
Interview with Tristan Hutchinson
Tristan, your forthcoming project is called “Terroir”. What is it about?
It’s quite embryonic at the moment – mainly about community, emigration, folklore and belonging in a country that’s experiencing great transition.
You’ve spent a great deal of your life living in Ireland and labeled the project as a “homage” and ”ode” to the country. What does Ireland mean to you personally?
That’s what I am trying to figure out with through work. I have spent some very significant years here, growing personally and professionally – I am UK-born, but an Irish citizen through my Irish mother. I have a sense of dichotomy when it comes to belonging – I feel attached to this country hugely, but I’m wary of being essentially ‘English’ in Ireland. It’s stupid because very little resentment remains today, so it’s a self-imposed insecurity when it comes to trying to approach people and subjects.
I wanted to make the work essentially as this ode or, as someone recently described it, as a ‘strange love story’, to Ireland. I like that. Its more accurate than I could ever describe it.
How important is it to you to know the territory you are dealing with in order to create a body of work?
“I rarely photograph in Dublin, because I like the unknown and ‘new’.”
It depends entirely on your slant. ‘Terroir’ sits in this strange ether of looking at belonging, but being outside too. Hopefully this might resolve as I make the work. I live in Dublin, but a lot of the work is made in the Midlands, and the West.
I rarely photograph in Dublin, because I like the unknown and ‘new’. Some of the work is made by wandering and discovering, and some of it is by very deliberate repeated visits to places. It’s very informed by journeying.
How has your artistic work as a landscape photographer changed the way you look at your surroundings?
I constantly see places and things as images – it irritates and delights me! I’m the sort of person who doesn’t always carry a camera, so if I look hard enough, I feel like I have missed out on a shot. I want to ‘clock-off’ sometimes and not think like that.
The camera is a means to explore a landscape by visually creating references and to organize a terrain, for example. What’s intriguing you?
Imperfection and ambiguity. A lot of ‘Terroir’ is about this – things that are slightly ‘off’, not quite right. I love how ambiguity sits conveniently in the landscape. One image in the work is a photograph of this strange book I discovered – I re-photographed it and its entitled ‘The House with Crooked Windows”. I love it. I know very little about it, and it’s so much about what I connect with in the landscape, oddness.
Another big theme in the work is ‘dwelling’. I use it as a recurring motif to establish some sort of ‘thread’, and this particular image fits in so well. I hope.
After you’d made up your mind on the subject, how did you decide on the question of how to resolve it photographically, so that form would match content?
A holy grail. I don’t know actually. It’s very organic and frustrating, and changes all the time.
A photographer has many “tools” at hand to bring across his message: lenses, lighting, framing, color treatment etc. Can you elaborate a little bit on the techniques you used for this particular project in order to link form and content?
I don’t dwell massively on my ‘tools’, although it’s a good point to reference. I recently became liberated from this idea of continuity. I felt a big burden of responsibility about making everything look the same – colour, tone, size etc. With this, I am playing, and loving, with different forms. Landscape, interiors and still lives; close-ups, wide vistas; colour and black and white. I like muted colours though – it especially fits the landscape here very well. But I am experimenting lots more than before.
The biggest criticism I have had to date with this so far is its difference in form – and I am dealing with this in quite a reactionary way at the moment – I love breaking free from these conventions.
What role does the concept behind a single image or series play in your work as opposed to the photograph itself?
“I’d eventually like the viewer to be able to dip in and out of the sequence, but there mightn’t be any one definite or ‘true’ narrative.”
“Terroir” is certainly about the sequence – it might be maladjusted and not an easy one to follow, but it’s about how these images play off each other, contradict or compliment. I’d eventually like the viewer to be able to dip in and out of the sequence, but there mightn’t be any one definite or ‘true’ narrative.
“Terroir” is a very complex project encompassing a large number of themes such as identity, community, political and economic transition etc. Have you had these subjects in mind before starting to shoot the projects, kind of like a roadmap, or did these things rather come up along the way – starting off with a vague idea of what you were looking for?
These are themes that recur again and again in my work – they form the backbone of what I am doing, and I am most definitely influenced by what is happening here, both socially and culturally at the moment. A ‘roadmap’ is a great way of looking at it – the themes I have act as spines that allow me to travel tentatively through my process, and create images that reference this.
At the beginning of each project one often has some kind of idea in mind as to what the result could be like. Sometimes that changes along the way and the result is quite different. Has that been the case and if so what have you learnt so far during the project, which is due to be completed in late 2014?
Like I mentioned, the work is still quite in its early stages, and it is developing all the time. And certainly, happily, things come up along the way that develop organically – they often turn out to be the most successful of pursuits. It has taught me to be open to follow a path that you could easily turn a blind eye to.
“Terroir” is a very long-scale project. How much time do you dedicate to it? Do you constantly work on it or do you sometimes put it aside to concentrate on other projects?
It’s sporadic – I can spend months at a time, shooting, travelling and getting a sense of what to shoot, editing etc. And then, when I get frustrated, I shoot something else, try to sleep. Or my 9-5 gets in the way.
I am shooting smaller projects, such as an ongoing series on an illegal bird market, which act frameworks for feedback – I can reference these easier in my mind, and they provide a certain confidence and comfort that ‘Terroir’ cannot provide as of yet.
What reaction do you intend to provoke in people looking at you photos?
I hope they even ‘get’ a reaction. I try to leave my work open, and err on the side of ambiguity, so it gives them space and time to interpret the work on their own terms. I’m not naïve, and I know my work does not appeal to everyone, but I hope those who relate or interact with it get a little something from it.
Are there any plans to turn “Terroir” into a book at some point?
That’s interesting, because I’ve always seen it as a publication more so than an exhibition. I’d like the work to reach more people than an exhibition can give, and give people the chance to absorb it on their own time. I’m excited by the prospect of the whole body of work existing as an object on its own.
Susan Sontag once said “The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own”. How has photography changed the way you look at the world and what have you learnt about yourself?
“I’m very shy naturally, and approaching people was incredibly difficult to start of with. Now, that’s changing the more I push myself.”
I think I’m still undergoing a massive shift in how I perceive photography and how it is changing my outlook on the world. I’m very shy naturally, and approaching people was incredibly difficult to start of with. Now, that’s changing the more I push myself, and its acting as a great benchmark for me growing as a person. It’s allowed a deeper connection with people I might’ve passed by. That could sound incredibly condescending, but it’s very true.
Every photographer is going through different stages in his formation. Which “landmarks” do you recall that have marked you and brought you to the place where you are today as a photographer?
I can’t remember the exact time I decided to become a photographer, but it was around the time I dabbled with filmmaking. I’ve little patience in dealing with things like large crews, so I remember thinking it was easier to photograph, as I only had myself to rely on. And it could’ve been the time I discovered ‘Broken Manual’ by Alec Soth – it blew my mind, and acted as a catalyst for becoming a photographer in my own right.
Last but not least, let’s switch roles: Which question would you have liked to be asked in this interview about your work that I didn’t ask? Please feel free to add it – as well as the answer.
Q: When will you be happy with what you have done?
A: Almost never.