In another of our series interviewing upcoming photographers, we interview Tom Owens a mature BA(Hons) Photography student recently graduated from UCS, Ipswich who utilised Metro's student services
to produce his current exhibition 'Edgelands'.
Tom firstly congratulations on your ‘Edgelands’ exhibition. Is this the first solo exhibition of your work and if so what does it mean to you to have produced this show?
Thanks. This is my first solo exhibition and is based on a series that is still in the making. When I embarked on this body of work it was for my degree project at UCS. Even at the very genesis of this project, I knew it would go beyond degree assessment and have a life of its own. I was a founding member of a photography collective at university called 'equals' and I was on the curation team for our Lux Locus degree shows in Ipswich and Free Range 2014 and it was for Free Range that I had Metro drum scan a batch of 'Edgelands' 5x4 negatives. I had to make the best of the huge space we had available so I had 5 large C-Types printed by Metro and framed by a local gallery.
As part of my degree one of the tasks set in 'professional practice' was to complete an Arts Council England funding bid and I was fortunate to have Kodak support me by supplying medium format film to continue making work in this series. Getting support at this level really spurred me on and helped me develop my senses as the series evolved.
‘Edgelands’ features images of areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) in your local area. Can you explain what inspired this project?
The project began as AONB, very much in the manner of Keith Arnatt's series. I had already begun making work loosely on this theme based on my first visit to Ipswich in 1977 when I sailed up the River Orwell; it is a very beautiful river and my thoughts then and now were that if this was the front door then there must be a back door. Although I thought 'someone has already done it' it spurred me on and my initial starting point for the project was near Manningtree.
I researched the extent of Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB using a copy of the map from the Act of Parliament designating the extent and I realised I was 500m outside of it but better still I was between two AONBs, the other being Dedham Vale better known as Constable country. I then realised that I was on the edge so I coined the term Edgelands and that immediately gave me more latitude to make work whilst still staying with large and medium format film.
What specifically did you look for in the settings or sites you photographed for ‘Edgelands’?
I needed to find edges - edges between areas of current or historical use. I had already called my work Edgelands and read Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts' Edgelands book as a catalyst amongst other works. There are no pictures other than in prose so used it to spur my imagination and dig deep into my psyche to make work that was in my mind but not yet visible to anyone.
Years of life experiences had been stowed away and I had discovered the best way to release them was by seeking out industrial/commercial areas that abutted the vast farmlands of Suffolk. Apart from the last ice age that carved out the basic canvas for our countryside, it's the efforts of humankind that has shaped and tamed it but as soon as we give up on an area nature fights back. I wanted to capture some of that whilst also highlighting our wanton disregard to our local surrounding by picking out areas subject to littering and fly-tipping. The AONB aspect became redundant after a while but it was the essential ingredient to getting the project started.
You use analogue and digital cameras for your work; do you have your favourite method of working?
My favoured method of working has to be with my large format cameras, closely followed by my medium format film SLR. I began in 1968 on a Lubitel 2 and I used to marvel at my grandfather's half plate mahogany and brass camera in our loft. It was not until I went to UCS where they major on film based work that the desire to shoot large format got an airing. My first ever E-bay purchase was my Toyo 45C
I love using my digital equipment also. It depends on the task in hand. My cameras are just tools of my trade and I determine what the outcome is first before deciding what tool to shoot on.