“Photography allows me to keep secrets. It has also saved my life in times of great suffering as a tool for expression. It has helped shape my identity, understand who I am and what I need to continue to do.”
Daniel Regan is a contemporary artist from the UK currently based in London. In this interview he talks about his most recent series called “Insula” which he hopes to publish as a book soon. The project deals with the struggle between mind and body to achieve equilibrium. For Daniel Regan photography is a medium to “record memories, to express himself in an ambiguous and less tangible way than words, and a feeling of producing something”.
“Insula” embodies a continuous cycle of recovery where chaos reigns supreme. By documenting the mind and body under duress and their struggle to achieve equilibrium, this personal work highlights the enduring search for light amongst the darkness. It continues to raise questions regarding the discrepancy in how we portray ourselves to the world and how we truly feel under the façade.” Read more…
Interview with Daniel Regan
Daniel, in your work you often focus on themes such as recovery, psychology and mental health. What is it that intrigues you in taking on these subjects?
When I first started taking photographs I was very interested in exploring my emotions in a way that I meant it was not explicit in an image. How I could work with a visual language to create a pictorial representation of emotions. I have been shooting these images continuously for fifteen years as an exploration of my own mental health and problems. For me, Insula is a kind of curated project of all these images and then some.
Since I am often looking inwardly at how photography helps express my own feelings and pain, it seems a natural step to incorporate the sensitivity of that approach to others. I am very much interested in the body and its relationship to self-esteem, which is my motivation for completing projects on Alopecia (hair loss) and burns survivors.
As to the genre of photography you seem to have a special affinity to portraits. What is it that made you embrace this particular genre of photography?
I’m especially motivated about making work when it comes to people. I love to hear people’s stories and create a connection. It’s a challenge – to get to know someone (often rather quickly) and then to capture a photograph that you feel encapsulates the person they have described to you. I am inspired by landscapes, moments, but the most rewarding work for me is that which involves other people.
Portraiture is a genre traditionally used to explore issues of identity. What do your photographs tell about the persons being portrayed?
“Open your eyes, there is beauty everywhere.”
In my work to do with alopecia and burns I am offering up the opportunity for the person to be seen as beautiful (because they are). Often people can be changed for the worse from these experiences and I try to show the world that: Look, these people that do not fit the “norm” are just as beautiful as you and I. Open your eyes, there is beauty everywhere.
Your recent project is called “Insula”. It’s a portrait series, but you chose a rather unusual approach. What’s the idea behind it?
I’m not sure if I would call it a portrait series. It is a series of moments and abstract self-portraits, however you never see the face of the person. It could be just myself or any number of people, which comes back to the need to fragment the narrative of my own story.
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 use for your portraits in order to link form and content? In general and in “Insula”.
“I prefer to challenge myself which pushes me to try new ways of working, dependent on the subject matter.”
I treat each project I create with a totally different approach and it often develops over time. I don’t set out with a plan of how images will look from the onset. Therefore the delivery can range from works that are rather stark, to projects that rely heavily on the light and shadows of natural light. I prefer to challenge myself which pushes me to try new ways of working, dependent on the subject matter.
In “Insula” the abstract self portraits were shot in the studio – it was a very clinical environment. The images within the book are shot over a period of 10 years using all sorts of cameras, but mostly shot using natural light.
The two different approaches are representative of the double facets of the project – the clinical and often quick-fire “I’m fine” response to being asked how you are, and the reality of suffering inside but not displaying the true emotions.
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. Was that the case with “Insula” and if so what did you learn during the project?
“Insula” had lots of twists and turns. It was produced for my MA and it took two years to come together. It is quite difficult to condense a decade’s worth of work. Over the two years the work morphed and took on a route that was not so much about pushing to keep creating new work, or how to work with an existing collection, but how to marry the two together.
What reaction do you intend to provoke in people looking at you photos?
One of an emotive nature.
One general question: What do you consider the most important developments in contemporary portrait photography? And what have been the greatest changes compared to portrait photography in the past?
Hmm, I don’t like this question. Sorry!
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?
Photography allows me to keep secrets. It has also saved my life in times of great suffering as a tool for expression. It has helped shape my identity, understand who I am and what I need to continue to do.
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?
Achieving great success with my Alopecia project with multiple exhibitions across the country, seeing my work on the London Underground, organising and securing funding to put on my own shows, completing my MA (I was pretty sure I would never go back to university).
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: What’s next?
A: I’m looking to produce a limited run of the Insula book with a book designer. Hoping to secure a larger exhibition in 2014 of more of the work from this project. Reading books for fun (not studying) for a few weeks. I also have a few projects in the pipeline but I never like to share anything too soon.