Today we are pleased to feature the work of Rachael Talibart.
Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a full-time, fine art photographer, specialising in coastal subjects. I live in Surrey now but I grew up on the South Coast of England, in a yachting family. For the first twelve years of my life, every weekend and all of the school holidays were spent at sea. Unfortunately, I suffered from sea sickness so I was glad when Dad gave up long distance sailing, but those years left me with a lifelong fascination for the ocean and, although I now live in a landlocked county, I go to the coast as often as I possibly can, at least once a week.
I first became interested in photography in my teens when I was given a little cartridge-film camera for Christmas. The obsession really set in when I took my first 35mm camera on a 9-week, solo, backpacking trip around the world. I’d just qualified as a solicitor in a ‘magic circle’ City firm and was able to take unpaid leave before settling into the rigours of practice. When I got back, I spent my first pay cheque as a qualified solicitor on an SLR and that was it – completely hooked.
I left the legal profession in 2000, when my daughter was born. There were lots of reasons, but looking back I see that I had become bored. It wasn’t just that I wanted to spend more time with the kids; I needed a new challenge. So I went back to university, studying part-time while the children were little. After obtaining a Masters in Victorian Literature and Art from University of London Royal Holloway (my dissertation was, unsurprisingly, about maritime literature), I considered doing a PhD but the lure of photography was stronger and I decided to make it a career.
Where did you get your photographic training?
I am largely self-taught but, when I converted to digital, in 2008, I completed a short course with the Open University that helped me get to grips with the new technology and, in particular, the digital darkroom.
Why do you photograph?
For me, the camera is a creative tool, like a paint brush, or a musical instrument, or a pen. Being creative is fulfilling; it makes me happy and, I think, a better person. I choose the camera rather than any of those other tools because I love being outdoors, immersed (sometimes literally) in the elements. That’s my happy place so, obviously, it’s also where I’m most likely to be creative.
Please tell us about your relationship to the sea.
Growing up in a yachting family, the sea was always a huge part of my life. Thanks to my almost total lack of sea-legs, I used to have to spend long voyages on deck (going down below would make me groggy) and I spent that time staring at the sea. Like most children, I was imaginative and I would see creatures and landscapes in the waves. I also grew up with a healthy respect for the ocean, especially its potential for destruction. I am half afraid of the sea and in my wave photographs, I consciously work in the tradition of the ‘Sublime’ in art, making photographs that are, I hope, beautiful but also a little bit terrifying.
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
I have benefitted enormously from the generous help and advice of my mentor and, now, colleague, Jonathan Chritchley. I first met Jonathan in 2014, when I went on one of his Ocean Capture workshops. I had never been on a photography workshop before, but I admired Jonathan’s art and decided to give it a go. Since then, we’ve become friends and it was he, another great ocean-lover, who recognised where my true passion lay and suggested that I concentrate on the coast. I can honestly say that I’ve not looked back since and I am really pleased now to be leading workshops for Ocean Capture.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
It has to be Jean Guichard’s famous photo of a giant wave engulfing La Jument lighthouse, off the Brittany coast, as the lighthouse keeper stands in the doorway. It’s an incredibly evocative image that perfectly expresses how I feel about the sea, a potent mixture of awe and fear. I have had the pleasure since of taking photos from a helicopter piloted by the same man who was piloting Guichard that day.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson.
‘Five’ is a picture from 2015. This photograph is significant for me as I made it on the weekend I finally decided to shift from what I call documentary landscapes to a more personal style. Looking back, it had been gradually coming on for a while, but Five is the turning point.
I’d been in Venice for the weekend. On the last morning, we had mist. Everyone was out, of course, and they were all photographing gondolas in the mist, as you do, but it just wasn’t working for me. I think it was partly the knowledge that any photo I made would look a lot like the photos the others were making. Anyway, I mooched off on my own and then the atmosphere of the morning started to make itself felt. It was still pre-sunrise so everything was quiet; the water taxis and buses weren’t running yet. It was at the top of the tide, slack tide, so the water was still, and the mist further softened everything. The quiet was beautiful and I made this photograph that doesn’t overtly reference Venice at all. Instead, I hope it communicates how it felt to me to be there in that moment.
What makes a good day for you creatively speaking?
The best day is spent on the shore in the teeth of a gale. Ideally, there’ll be some nice light between weather fronts, and the beach will be empty. That last part is increasingly rare on my local beaches, partly my fault, I’m afraid. But I still yearn for that solitude from time to time. Time seems to stop, almost, when I’m in the zone on days like this. I forget all human needs and am sometimes surprised when I finally stop to discover how tired, cold, hungry and aching my body feels! Really, for me, it’s all about being out there in the elements. Although, as I use RAW format, I must develop my files, I try to spend as little time as possible doing that so I can go outside again.
If you could spend a day with any other photographer or artist living or passed who would it be?
This is so hard! There are so many! I’m going to pick Ernst Haas. His life’s work could teach any artist something new about composition and light. He also said a few pithy and insightful things about photography. Here’s one of my favourites: “A few words about the question of whether photography is art or not: I never understood the question.” – Ernst Haas
What equipment have you found essential in the making of your work?
I’m not really much into gear and it’s nearly 3 years since I bought a new camera or lens. My main camera is my Canon 5DSR and all of my Sirens were captured using Canon’s 70-200mm f2.8 lens. But, whatever camera you use, the most indispensable bit of kit when photographing storm waves is the humble lens hood. Without it, I would have missed most of the photographs while cleaning spray off my lens.
What hangs on your walls?
An eclectic mix of art, both paintings and photographs, as I share my home with my family. We like the watercolours of Michael Morgan RI (forget what you think you know about watercolour) and we also have some really bold oil paintings, including one from a local artist who has captured that special light I love so much, when it peeks out from underneath a passing storm front. I’m also accumulating a nice little collection of prints by photographers I know in the UK. I think photographers aren’t always good about supporting each other so I try to be and I really enjoy seeing these beautiful prints on my studio wall.
What’s on the horizon?
So much! I’ve been rather bowled over by the wonderful response there’s been in recent weeks to my Sirens portfolio and I am very busy fulfilling print orders right now, before I head over to the USA for a month this summer.
I am exhibiting Sirens in two places this Autumn: a solo exhibition will be at The Brighton Photography Gallery from 7 – 27 September and a selection from Sirens will also be in a group exhibition called ‘Tides and Falls’ at Sohn Fine Art Gallery in the Berkshires in Lenox, MA. The exhibition will begin September 7 and run through November 11.
I am also giving presentations at a few big events, including the Irish Light Festival in Dublin in October, and I continue to be very busy running my workshops business, f11 Workshops, here in the South of England. I will also be taking on more workshops for Ocean Capture. In between all of this, I have to make sure I carve out time for my own photography, as I have a few ideas and new projects simmering away in the background. But I won’t stop photographing rough seas and as soon as storm season arrives here in the UK again this autumn, I’ll be down on my beach, getting sea-spray in the face, and loving every minute of it.
Thank you Rachael for sharing your work and words.
To learn more about Rachael Talibart please visit her site at Rachael Talibart.