JH: As we are both recent graduates, I wanted to begin by asking if it feels different to make work outside of the safety net of university?
CP: Making work does feel slightly different now. I would say I still work with the same intensity and with the same motivation I had at University, but I think there is much more freedom to experiment. I was always quite shy about showing my work to other students as it was very different from everyone else on my course.
JH: That’s understandable, revealing your work to others is a process of exposure that can leave you quite vulnerable. When the content of the work is so personal it must be heightened. For me, your images seem aware of the spectator’s encounter with them but they also feel intensely private. Could you tell me a bit about your decision to make self-portraits?
CP: I’m aware of the audience, but like to keep a sense of privacy within the image. My main concern is my face. I like to cover or shield it so that the audience cannot fully see it.I decided to take self-portraits in my second year of University because it allowed me to express myself and to deal with an emotion. The act of taking a picture allowed me to let out my frustration, without a confrontation. The self-portrait offered a way of producing something good out of a bad emotion or situation and then once it’s taken moving on.
JH: It’s interesting that you say your work allows you to deal with frustrations without confrontation given that you conceal your face. In hiding your face you inhibit the opportunity for the viewer to look you in the eyes, which can be quite a confrontational act. Was this combination intentional?
CP: The combination of hiding my face and not looking the viewer in the eyes was my intention. I think this came about because even though I make my work knowing it will be viewed, I feel the need to conceal my face. It’s like the viewer is looking in on a private moment, like they are looking at my diary. If I were to look the viewer in the eyes, that would be too confrontational. Looking straight at the camera is something I am unable to do.Unless I’m portraying another character, I find it very hard to look at the camera with my eyes open.
JH: Would you give an example of a work where you feel like you played a character? When I look at a self portrait I’m always conscious that the artist might rely on an element of subterfuge. Which might be a harsh way of putting it – but I always wonder whether it is a depiction of how an artist believes the world sees them or how they see themselves. Do you identify with either approach?
CP: I agree with you, it’s hard to know sometimes how truthful a self-portrait is. I would say I identify with the approach of showing how I see myself; personally I’m not sure how the world sees me. Though saying this I do not think that I clearly show myself to the viewer, so to some extent I do rely on concealing. An example of a piece in which I think I have played a character is Mother because I was portraying ‘Mother nature’, a universal woman rather than simply myself. Though, in the majority of my work I do not feel like I am playing a character.
JH: I detect the influence of Francesca Woodman. There is a similar sense of using the photographic image for emotional release. What I love about Woodman is her projection of very ambiguous emotions. I find this contradictory to the fact that when we encounter a camera in everyday life it’s often a prompt to paste a smile across our face; so often that feels deceitful.
CP: I love Francesca’s work and have been obsessed with it since I discovered her. She’s so different to any other photographer I’ve ever seen. I admire the way that she used her work as an emotional release and this is something that has really influenced my own work.
JH: You have said that your practice offers a cathartic release and your titles indicate that the feelings associated are quite bleak. A viewer might expect to pick up on traces of anger or resentment but in contrast your images have a sense of grace and beauty. Yet this feels precarious as though a dark edge might quickly seep in if you let it. Would you agree and do the images feel as serene to you?
CP: Yes, I agree even though my work is formed by emotions that, as you pointed out, are quite bleak my images do feel quite serene. I think that even within our negative emotions there can be a sense of beauty and I wanted to make something positive come from my unhappiness and frustration. When I am producing my work it’s almost like an escape for me so I guess there is a beauty in that.
Delirium #2, 2012
JH: Quite and given how you describe them, there is a meditative quality to your work. The combination of the soft focus and vignette format creates a very ethereal dreamlike quality. What drew you to that style of printing?
CP: I love the look of film photography and am fascinated by how beautiful photography looked in the past, for example Victorian photographers such as Julia Margaret Cameron and Lady Clementina Hawarden. Julia Margaret Cameron has really influenced my use of ovals/circles with her beautiful oval pieces. Digital can be really sharp and I just don’t really like using it. I feel more in touch with my work when using film. I like the tactility of loading, developing and printing. I think that both film and digital have their merits I really like some digital photography and tried it myself but I’ve found it’s just not for me. I suppose what I do to my images, the colouring, could be compared to Photoshop editing.
JH: That brings me back to our discussion of concealing. Your use of netting and even to a certain extend the hand colouring – which one might liken to a form of post-production ‘costume’ – operate as devices which both highlight and conceal. I sense that there is a certain amount of playing with adornment, which still seems to run throughout your work. Is it something that you’re continuing to experiment with?
CP: I agree with you that my hand colouring could be linked to a form of post-production costume as like using props or costumes. I am highlighting with the colour in certain areas and by doing so choosing what I want to make more of an emphasis on. I always conceal my body or hide it in some way, with the usage of either hiding my face or as you mentioned the usage of netting. It’s like a barrier which allows me to share enough to the viewer but also to keep some back. This is something I will always experiment with and I am currently using wallpaper a lot in my work. I also paint a lot of my backdrops, so even though I think my work represents myself truthfully, there is an element of creating something that is not already there.
JH: I last saw Julia Margaret Cameron’s photography at Tate Liverpool’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Exhibition. Often it is tied to an argument about photography as an interesting and technologically advanced medium for women to use in the period but I find that approach a bit tired and, to be honest, rather unfruitful in terms of understanding the practice in its own right.
CP: Yes I agree. From photography’s infancy woman photographers, such as Julia Margaret Cameron whose deliberate soft focus was criticized at the time as inability, were pioneers whose work equalled and in some cases surpassed male photographers.
JH: Of course each age has its challenges! What are your priorities right now?
CP: Certainly. At the moment I’m working toward strengthening my portfolio, expanding my gallery representation and I hope to secure a place on a MA course. As a recent graduate I feel that it is important to continue develop my work and keep pushing myself.
Corinne Perry has recently been accpeted on to the Masters programme at Central Saint Martins and is currently developing a new series of self-portraits that explore how we become part of the spaces we inhabit.
This interview previously appeared on uk.untitled – the first rung for young artists and critics.