What drew you to photography and why did you decide to study it?
I fell into photography whilst studying an Art Foundation Diploma. I had originally planned on studying Graphic Design, but with the encouragement from a tutor, ended up on the photography pathway.
Do you remember purchasing your first camera?
My first camera of any note was a Bronica SQ-A – pretty much the typical eBay purchase for a student that couldn’t afford a Hasselblad
In your project: ‘Direction of Travel’, you explore how the urban landscape reflects the inhabitants. Can you elaborate how did the inhabitants feel towards the changes associated with the Olympic Park?
The relationship being explored is something of an allegorical one, and on the whole not based literally on any individual inhabitants’ feelings – more of a collective mood that I have curated. The project uses photographs and found material gathered from the streets of east London over two years, in areas surrounding the Olympic Park, and it attempts to use these products of the environment to try and say something about the environment from which it was created, or in which it was discarded. There are underlying themes that the project seeks to touch upon, such as gentrification, militarisation of the urban environment, and the absurdity, disparity & dislocation within these Olympic park hinterlands. In a non-literal, metaphorical way, the project seeks to interrogate ideas surrounding Olympic-led urban regeneration, and attempts to use these fragments of people’s everyday life to do so.
What advice would you give to current photography graduates?
Make sure you can bring as many skills and experiences to the table as possible by the time you graduate. I was chatting recently to some photography friends, and we agreed that there is something of an elephant in the room throughout education – in terms of a huge amount of focus on our ‘Final Major Projects’, to the extend that some students may actually start believing that these bodies of work might actually ‘get us somewhere’ in a concrete way. Obviously this can happen, but I wish tutors had been more brutal in really spelling out the cold reality in some ways. Competition is fierce, and students need to be prepared for the ‘real world’ a little more, and more prepared to harness other skills – be they organisational, interpersonal etc. – when preparing for job applications and life after university. If tutors could drill into and harness these skills a little more, I think that would be of great benefit to everyone. This isn’t meant to sound pessimistic at all by the way – if you’re hard working, intelligent and a nice person, then you’ll be fine
We thought ‘Direction of Travel’ at the Photographers’ Gallery was very strong. What’s next?
Thank you! Around the time of graduating last November, I started a full-time job working in a commercial art gallery in London, so I know that realistically my next personal body of work may be a while – but I’m happy to be in an idea-generating phase and to relax mentally until I get my teeth into something else. However, I still feel I have some mileage left in terms of distributing my ‘Direction of Travel’ newspaper publication – so at the risk of a shameless plug, if anyone is interested in buying a copy, feel free to point them towards my online shop – http://shop.jamesduncanclark.com/