Today we bring you the work of photographer Lisa Creagh.
Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
I was born and raised in Coventry, an industrial city just south of Birmingham in England. My parents were Irish immigrants who came to Coventry during the car manufacturing boom in the 1950s. In the eighties Coventry went into a severe decline. My family, along with tens of thousands of others in the city, had to struggle to survive. I found an outlet in drawing and painting. Through an interest in art, theatre and literature, I learnt to connect with a bigger sense of myself within a historical time and place. I learnt about the world through movies, plays and books rented from my local library. I moved to London at eighteen to study Fine Art and Art History at Goldsmiths College. London was a shock in a good way. At Goldsmiths I was interested in photo collage, painting and installation. After graduating and a few years work in London I moved to New York in 1997. I loved that city and all it had to offer. I tried everything – film, animation, dot coms but eventually I found my way back to painting and galleries. I started curating and selling art. I got to know photographic lab owners and became interested in the technical side of photography. I taught myself to colour print.
How did you get started photography?
I desperately wanted to go to college at eighteen and was too impatient to do a foundation course. One of my A Level tutors suggested that I build a portfolio on my own by taking a few extra courses in different subjects. So I chose black and white photography. I loved it right away. I worked at an off-license part-time doing my levels. When I left, my co-workers bought me my first camera – a manual Ricoh. It had a really good feature for long exposures. I suppose that’s how I developed a love of dark backgrounds and soft shadow.
Where did you get your photographic training?
I’m self taught. The ethos at Goldsmiths was, “We don’t teach you anything but ideas. If you want to know technical stuff, find a technician who will help” The only technician that I really liked at Goldsmiths was the chap in the media lab. He helped me to make my first photocopied work, ‘Beatification’ and even after I left, he still let me in to copy and make slides. I like to learn as I do. I discovered the computer lab in my last term at Goldsmiths and I was hooked. Photoshop 1 had just come out and I could see so much potential for collage. I took at ten week course in Photoshop at a community college in North London and that was it. Anything I haven’t felt confident in doing, I’ve built into paid work. So I learnt Photoshop by training others how to use it. I taught myself how to colour print in New York and finessed that understanding by working in labs. Nobody taught me how to take pictures or how to paint. I don’t think creativity is something you can learn from another person and I’ve never been patient enough to listen anyway.
Did you have a mentor?
At Goldsmiths I had two mentors – Sarat Maharaj the Art Historian and Jean Matthee from the Fine Art Department. Since leaving college I guess I’ve had a few others – Christopher Stewart took me under his wing at Brighton University, as did Joanna Lowry. Artists mentor me too – Ruth from SemiConductor Films, Neeta Madahar, Sian Bonnell, Gina Glover and probably half a dozen others! All of these good people have seen a light in me and tried to help me keep it burning. Mentoring is essential in the arts as there’s no path..you have to find your own way and you need others to inspire you to keep going.
If you could spend a day with any other photographer or artist living or passed who would it be?
If I had to choose an artist I’d probably choose Leonardo da Vinci. Who wouldn’t want to spend time with him. I’d love to see how the functional intersected with the artistic, how it was all mixed up together.
What hangs on your own walls?
I’ve got a beautiful huge Chinese child by Zhang Ou which I bought when she was printing her student work for the RCA at Spectrum where I worked at the time. Also a nice small print by Jim Cooke from The Engineerium series and one by Magalie Nougzarede, both bought at a Brighton Photo Biennial fundraiser.
Would you share with us an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time and why?
I suppose it must be the only picture we had hanging up at home – Salvador Dali’s, Christ of St John of the Cross. I’m not sure I like it but I’ll never forget it – the drama, the dizzying perspective, the sense of isolation and that hidden face. It used to hang next to the front door and I always think of it there under the light and outside the door, the dark street at night. It gave me an idea of the theatre of art – how a still image can create suspense.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
It’s hard to single out one because I think art is a process of self-revelation, so each body of work offers new insight. I guess Floriculture 1 taught me not to fret if I don’t know where something is going. When I started that piece I didn’t like it very much. It was coming out of quite an unexpected direction – very emotional, decorative, anti-intellectual. But by the time I had pulled everything together into one composition a year later, I loved it. It sort of released me from everything I thought I had to be as an artist. Since then I haven’t worried so much about knowing where I’m headed with something. I’ve got a bit more faith in the process.
What equipment have you found essential in the making of your work?
A powerful Apple Mac. I have a 24” iMac these days. I love it like an old friend.
Is there one thing that you wish people would stop doing when it comes to the creative process or the photographic world?
I’d like people to stop using the word ‘real’ around photography. It has never been ‘real’. There has always been the mediator; the photographer, the equipment, the frame. Photography is way behind music and film in terms of developing the language to talk about how and why visual artists are using digital effects. It’s frustrating, especially when I see really old, clunky ideas heralded as the very latest thing by critics and curators. Artists who are proficient in this very plastic medium have been developing a whole new aesthetic for two decades. The phraseology of photographic history needs to shift to make way for the enormity of digital imaging. It’s a new visual language and it needs proper words.
Whats on the horizon?
I’m working on a new series called ‘Holding Time’ that brings together the pre-Renaissance ‘Madonna Lactans’ (breastfeeding Madonnas) with an ancient geometrical tiling system called Cosmateque. My general method is to crash things together and see if I can reinvent them in some new way. I’m hoping for a new way to visualise Time – both in terms of the photographic ‘moment’ and in terms of Motherhood. A sort of consolidated moment.
Thank you Lisa for sharing your work and words with us.
To learn more about the work of Lisa Creagh please visit her page at Lisa Creagh.