“I am naturally drawn to quiet, almost melancholic imagery, and as always it’s the light in a space which controls my photography – I work around the naturally occurring light.”
Alison Gibson is an artist from the UK. She divides her time between personal documentary style projects and commercial wedding and portrait photography.
For Alison Gibson photography is a means to gain access to worlds she otherwise wouldn’t have discovered. In this interview, she talks about the great diversity of her portfolio and about one of her most recent personal series called “The Castle”.
Interview with Alison Gibson
Alison, your portfolio shows a great variety of different genres: portraits, documentary, wedding photography and personal projects. What does each genre mean to you?
I love documentary photography, and looking at that type of work really made me realise that I wanted to be a photographer. I’ve made a few documentary projects and some of that work is still what I’m most proud of. I’d love to pursue that area of working, getting stuck in to a really great subject matter, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to do that again.
Currently my own project work is really my way of experimenting with light and imagery – It’s how I express myself and explore ideas that I have, no matter how vague they are. So while a lot of my photos are quite dark and melancholic, they’re often the result of me having ‘fun’! I’m drawn to quiet, subtle imagery and my own work allows me to make those images.
The wedding photography is something which has happened a bit unexpectedly – a few years ago if you’d told me I’d be a wedding photographer I wouldn’t have believed you. But as it turns out, it’s a great way to make money doing what you love, and I really do enjoy it. It’s an area which has become so much more creative and exciting in the last few years. When I first graduated I spent that year assisting a wedding and commercial photographer, and after that myself and a friend from college started our own business. Wedding photography is probably one of the most challenging areas to work in; it requires confidence in your own abilities, and it definitely keeps you sharp.
Where do they differ and where do you see some common ground?
I feel there’s common ground between all the photography that I do. I don’t feel that I alter my style too much from genre to genre. As I mentioned, I think about natural light and how it will work with my subject, regardless of whether it’s my own personal work, a portrait, or a wedding shoot. Obviously when shooting a bride the focus is on beauty and happiness, which is a departure from some of my darker project work and portraits. But I always strive to use the natural light in the most suitable way.
Shooting documentary is something I love to do, and I basically apply the same principles to shooting a wedding – looking for those expressions, smiles, looks that wouldn’t necessarily be noticed otherwise.
In today’s society image making has become accessible to almost everybody. How does that affect you as a professional photographer who makes a living out of taking pictures?
I can’t say that it affects me in a positive or negative way generally. There is now an abundance of people offering their services in the commercial photography field – particularly in wedding photography, and yes, it can be hard, especially when you’re just starting out, to be noticed amongst all the others. I think the key is to have a good online presence. Ultimately if your photography is good you will stand out.
Connecting to the previous question: What is it in your opinion a single photograph or a series needs in order to stand out and get noticed? Especially keeping in mind the over abundance of photographic imagery these days.
I think it’s usually pretty clear when something has been executed well, whether as a single image or as a series. I think a series is successful when you feel as the viewer that you have a sense of the atmosphere or emotion the photographer was trying to convey.
One of your recent series is called “The Castle”. What is it about?
“I’m interested in the traces left behind by people who have passed through – this is an idea I continue to explore in my work-in-progress.”
“The Castle” is about a space mainly; I wanted to work with the idea that a space can remain unchanged and impervious to the comings and goings of the people who inhabit that space. I saw the house in which the series is set as a cool observer to the joys and miseries of the characters inside. I’m interested in the traces left behind by people who have passed through – this is an idea I continue to explore in my work-in-progress.
The pictures of that series are very quiet, solemn and low-key. Can you please elaborate a little bit on the aesthetics inherent in your images?
As I mentioned, I am naturally drawn to quiet, almost melancholic imagery, and as always it’s the light in a space which controls my photography – I work around the naturally occurring light. I aim to capture a certain atmosphere in my photos, and in The Castle I wanted to create a feeling of quietness, solitude, and perhaps something darker.
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 learned about yourself?
“It is voyeuristic, but I think it’s really important that people are out there documenting their own lives.”
What I love about looking at photography and being a viewer is this window you get into other people’s lives. It is voyeuristic, but I think it’s really important that people are out there documenting their own lives and the lives of others, and I want to see it.
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 definitely think leaving college was a big landmark – I basically totally changed my way of working. Obviously it’s hard adjusting to working alone without a group of peers around you, and having no set deadlines. But I think it was quite freeing, and actually my own work has become much more personalised.
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.
I think you’ve covered it!