Combining traditional and digital processes within the realm of photography is the focus of Cath Dack’s work. She explores a variety of subject matter but her growing expertise in dark room and wet photographic processes makes necessary the consideration of a dedicated space in which to work. Dack currently works without a studio and I asked her about her aspirations to have one. It’s an idea she has been considering for a while.
There is a work space in an upstairs bedroom, it’s a defined and dedicated place with laptop, printer, reference books and equipment. The desk can be cleared and the surface used to photograph small objects so it functions as a small studio area on occasions but with Dack’s aspirations to explore portraiture a new space is being considered. In preparation for my visit she had been thinking about what the artist studio represents. In addition to the obvious place to work she describes in some detail the reflective opportunities that can be afforded by such as space. It is this reflective aspect of the studio that can be so important. It offers the opportunity for isolation, which is when the most in depth reflection can occur.
Researching the ways in which photographers have used studio spaces, Dack references a quote from Richard Avedon “I always prefer to work in the studio, it isolates people from their environment … I often find people come to me to be photographed to find out how they are“(1). It is this how they are and not who they are that intrigues Dack. The photographers studio may be viewed as a place of sanctuary, an environment where the influences of the outside world can be controlled. Sitting for a portrait allows time to reflect, space for the sitter to consider how they are in themselves, in the world, the context in which they find themselves, in relation to the photographer.
There is the possibility of an intense relationship – sometimes fleeting, sometimes extending over years or decades – to develop between sitter and photographer, amplified by the confines of the studio. Dack goes on to explain “the process of having a photograph taken transforms you as a sitter. By its nature a photographers studio is a space which is for sharing, its not a private space”. This aspect of inviting people into the studio that intrigues Dack, the unpredictable range of people who all come into the same space but who will all have a different experience. It follows that not only is the sitter transformed but also the studio itself, temporarily, as the dynamics of each interaction occur. She then goes on to describe how in Avedon’s American West series he goes out on the road, setting up a temporary mobile studio so he can work in the landscape in the environments where his subjects work and live. Images of Avedon at work with his mobile studio during this time were captured by his assistant of 6 years Laura Wilson, a photographer in her own right. Its interesting how his view of the studio (where he can remove people from their environment) juxtaposes with the American West series images where he took portraits of people against a white backdrop but still very much in their own environment.
We walk outside into a flourishing garden to the site where a new studio will be situated. Currently a couple of sheds occupy the space, these will eventually be cleared and a new structure erected. Dack is unsure at this time if this will be a studio or a darkroom, or a combination of the two. As this site becomes a place for either the transformative qualities of dark room processes or the direct relationship between sitter and photographer it will be interesting to see how her work evolves and develops into new territory formed and shaped by this potential space of image making and reflection.
1.Richard Avendon in Susan Sontag ‘On Photography’ London Penguin Books 1977 p. 187-188