The Edgelands exhibition revealed by UK photographer

July 13, 2015

Today on theprintspace blog, we’re featuring photographer and client Tom Owens who has an exhibition opening this Saturday in Suffolk.

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Hi Tom! Please introduce yourself:

I am Tom Owens, a photographer based in Ipswich, Suffolk. I offer general commercial services using both digital and film but engage in self-directed, film-based photographic studies that have various time and other constraints applied to them. I have a BA(Hons) Photography from UCS, Ipswich and I currently hold an Associate distinction with the Royal Photographic Society.

How did you get into photography?

My father was a keen amateur photographer and I took up the interest in 1968, starting off with a Lubitel 2 TLR shooting 120 roll film, and then I moved on to a Zenith B 35mm SLR.

I was very active in the school photographic society and was also Competitions secretary of the Crosby Camera Club at age 17. I was offered a place at Birmingham to study for a BSc in photography in 1973. I never took up the offer. I eventually enrolled at UCS in 2011.

My photography is very much more measured since undertaking the degree. I have found ways to channel my ideas, and with the fundamentals of the course being based on film-based technology, it was going back to my roots and re-engaging with dormant ideas.

I doubt very much that I could have made a body of work for my degree project as a 21 year old, as I did as a mature student. I am convinced that my digital work is very much more measured and controlled following my re-discovery of film, and even more so since learning and becoming addicted to large and medium-format colour work. I could not afford colour as a youth. I still love to shoot black and white though and process my own negatives at home.

What is Edgelands about?

Edgelands is based in East Anglia. The first phase is based in Suffolk. It was the topic of my degree project and is an examination of the hinterland that exists between urban and rural environments.

It began as an observation looking into Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB on the basis that every designated area of outstanding natural beauty has a back door to it. The project evolved into a study of Edgelands as I found out that I was not actually in the AONB when I made my initial work, but between two such areas.

I decided to challenge the notion of what is officially “beautiful” by concentrating my efforts on the edges of places, but to make the work in favourable light either at the beginning or end of the day. I only make the work between late September and early April and I only use Portra 400 or 160 in 5×4 sheet or 120 roll film. I use two large-format cameras – a Toyo 45C monorail and a Toyo 45A Field camera. The tripod is set at 8 feet high for these cameras and I use a Zenza Bronica SQAi for my medium-format work where the lens is set at 9 year old eye height, an age when I began to relish my Edgelands as a child.

Kodak Alaris have kindly supplied me with more 120 roll film to continue making new work for the series. I produced a book for the RPS’ inaugural International Photobook exhibition based on my degree project work. This book was shortlisted, and this helped spur me on to extend the series. At some point I will draw a line and call it a day, but right now there are many locations I have yet to explore in East Anglia.

What inspires you?

An accidental discovery in Tate Britain of Keith Arnatt’s work made me realise I was making work that had already been done with his AONB series and Miss Grace’s Lane. I was already making work on large format film and medium format film and here was someone who had already done it. Rather than research photographers for the project, I read the History of the Countryside by Oliver Rackham, Edgelands by Paul Farley & Michael Symmons Roberts – I had already coined the term Edgelands before finding this book, and The Unofficial Countryside by Richard Mabey. These latter two books had no imagery at all other than that drawn in prose. These books helped me unleash the images I had in my mind’s eye without influencing the construction in any way. I went on to study Durer and Casper David Friedrich plus Dutch still life paintings purely for their use of light. Apart from Arnatt, I also researched Tom Hunter’s work, Sea Change by Michael Marten and The Last Stand by Marc Wilson. These latter two artists made a point of visiting places more than once and my project is based on repeated visits to the same locations.

Do you have any upcoming exhibitions?

My exhibition Edgelands opens to the public on 18th July 2015 and runs through to 31st March 2016 in the Abbot’s Hall at the Museum of East Anglian Life. The private view is on 16th July from 7pm by invitation only.

Have you got any new projects on the horizon?

I regularly show work in monthly themed exhibitions in a local art gallery called The Freudian Sheep. One of the owners was a fine art student when I was studying photography. I enjoy working with other artists as it keeps my mind open to other ideas.

The discipline of getting work made and ready for monthly exhibitions is challenging but also fits in with my themed approach to making work. I intend to start a new chapter in Edgelands this Autumn as I spread further out into other towns in Suffolk and possibly branch into Norfolk and Essex. I am also working on a collaborative project with the RPS and other photographers making a long study of the docklands of the Orwell. I consider most of my photography is about rather than of something and I am a member of the RPS’ Contemporary special interest group.

Thanks Tom!

Tom Owens


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