Interview with the Artist: Jonathan Notley

The Norman Rea Gallery's first exhibition of the Spring Term, 'WAVES', in aid of Surfers Against Sewage and curated by student Brooke Balesi, showcases works by five artists: Jonathan Notley, Mathilda Della Torre, Florence Goodhand-Tait, Charlotte Ager and Nolij, whose works attempts to come to terms with the threats to our coastlines and seas. To gain more of an insight into Jonathan Notley's stunning photographic works,  we decided to ask him a few questions about his practice...

What is your favourite work on display in the 'WAVES' exhibition and why? The greenish one of Bedruthan Steps (image above). It’s a bizarre colour palette and it’s not achieved through over zealous post-production. It’s a long exposure started just before sunset and continued for a good 5-10 minutes after the sun had set, the colours are actually a balance of the warm tones of the setting sun on the rocks and the cooler, bluer, light seen once it had set. The water gets the glossy smooth effect, and in fact reflects areas of the sky (most visible in the foreground near the large rock).

What has been your favourite subject to photograph?                 Definitely the sea, or just water in general. It gives the images a palpable sense of calm and tranquility - we’re so used to seeing water in motion that freezing it with the camera has quite an effect. If I had some curse placed on me that forbade me from photographing water in any way I’d probably go for mountains.

Was it always your ambition to be a photographer and what inspired you to follow this path? No, but I fell onto the path very quickly once given a camera. I was handed a friend’s camera whilst out on a boat waterskiing so that I could take pictures of his set and by the time it was my turn to get in the water I’d decided I much preferred photography. I called him up the next day and asked him which camera he had and ordered my own shortly afterwards. It all happened very quickly, and I’m still trying to keep some of the momentum as I move onwards with new projects. There’s also a seagull that stood still for long enough to be in the final image. He must be pretty patient.

How do you feel the media you use in your photography affects the image, and do you prefer film or digital photography?                                                                   I actually find this really stressful. I love film, I had a darkroom set up for a while. The colours, the grain, I love all of it BUT it’s just too much hassle. I travel a lot and obviously can’t take a darkroom with me, and I struggle with some of the limitations of film. There was a time when the most detailed images I could take were on medium format film (same chemicals, same film stock but larger than the 36x24mm image area most people are familiar with) but now my top end DSLR body can outperform it. I do want to give large format film a go at some point, but I’ve got a long way to go.

What would be your most useful piece of advice for a budding photographer? Don’t worry about your kit, don’t worry about people giving you odd looks and understand early on that it’s going to take you a long time to learn.

How useful do you feel your academic training has been in developing your practice? Has had absolutely no influence whatsoever and in fact my desperation to get out of Manchester led me to some pretty interesting places. 

'WAVES' runs until 10th February

Display shot of Notley's work in the 'WAVES' exhibition

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