In Discussion With Photographer Murray Ballard: From the Outdoor to the Prospect of Immortality
Last week, as I started looking into writing a blog post for YouthArtsOnline on Brighton’s newest outdoor photography exhibit, the first thing that came to mind were loos. Yes, loos–even though they had nothing to do with the Brighton exhibit. An outdoor photo installation on the subject once caught my eye and I haven’t looked at loos the same way since. Loos of the world were showcased like proud monuments in a canal-side park north of the Paris city center. I came away reflecting on plumbing and living conditions in place x,y, and z, and on the quirkiness of some toilets.
Since then, I have been fascinated by outdoor exhibits. This week, Brighton’s ‘One Planet City’ public photography exhibit opened and will remain in town for ten months. These exhibits are scattered around Brighton’s urban landscape and each showcases a separate principle of One Planet Living.
Speaking to Murray Ballard, the youngest of the ten photographers commissioned by FotoDocument in partnership with One Planet Living, I learned that these exhibits are as much about a process as the final product. What I take away from my discussion with this emerging photographer: process, mentorship and ‘good ideas’ are key in photography.
We are in a world of choice. The internet exposes us to so much art, good and bad. We look for a quick spark but Murray reminded me that answers often come as the result of both a process and a spark. When asked ‘Why photography?’, he cited a confluence of exposure to design, arts, and the aesthetic through a university foundation course. Then, at a time when film seemed to be a constraint, photography appeared refreshingly ‘liberating and spontaneous’ to him. A photo of an evicted couple he came across at his college library was instrumental in this conversion (An Eviction 1988 by Jeff Wall).
Like most artists, the photographer can also benefit greatly from the ‘fresh look’ someone else can offer, according to Murray. In addition to the expertise and experience a curator or a more experienced photographer brings to the table, he or she can make you aware of your own bias once they ‘sink their teeth into your work’, as Murray puts it.
FotoDocument is well organised with respect to mentorship. All ten photographers commissioned to the project were assigned their very own mentor irrespective of their level of experience. Murray explained that this was an invaluable resource for an emerging artist like himself. Even Syd Shelton, who enjoys a presence in collections such as the V&A, would require a mentor. On the contrary, this reinforces the value added by ‘a fresh look’ for beginners and seasoned photographers alike.
Mentorship can take the form of even the smallest memorable tips. Murray recalled that a professor once told him that ‘these days photography is about good ideas’. Samples of Murray’s photography and writing on his website reflect an aim to showcase an often unique idea or theme. In our discussion of ideas and sources of inspiration Murray emphasized the role played by his upbringing and interests shared with his family. For instance, subjects like technology and investigating man’s impact on land and wildlife have roots in the values he grew up with.
So what’s next following the opening of Brighton’s latest public exhibits, including Murray’s on the principle of land use and wildlife? At present, Murray is producing a book based on his The Prospect of Immortality project that delves into cryonics. A new possible avenue is the subject of transhumanism. Both cryonics and transhumanism seek to use technology to achieve revolutionary ends. The first involves the preservation of man’s body for future resuscitation while the second involves broadening man’s physical, intellectual, and psychological horizons.
These subjects have technology and its impact on man or nature in common. They are controversial and evoke issues, such as death, that are not typically discussed. As Murray explains it, they evoke a what if?, the unknown.
So if you also have a yen for photography, please note what I have noted from my conversation with Murray Ballard, (or kindly ignore it if you want): 1. Get your feet wet; 2. Look for a fresh perspective; 3. Draw from what you love and what puzzles you; and 4. Go visit Brighton’s newest and most accessible exhibits and/ or visit the FotoDocument website for more information.