Today we are pleased to feature the work of Valda Bailey.
Please tell us a little about yourself.
I was born in Jersey in the Channel Islands In 1958. My first creative passion was art – as far back as I can remember I drew, doodled, sketched, cartooned and painted. On every available surface, actually – much to the frustration of my mother. In fact I remain an inveterate doodler. I spent some time at art college in London after I left school but for various reasons, too convoluted to go into, it didn’t work out and I returned to Jersey. In the early 90’s I moved to the U.K. and I now live in a converted farmhouse in the Sussex countryside with my husband and two golden retrievers. My time is divided between my studio at home and travelling around teaching workshops with my friend and fellow photographer, Doug Chinnery.
How did you come to photography?
I first became interested in photography at the age of about 14 and got very engrossed in the makeshift darkroom my dad and I rigged up in the downstairs toilet. I found it totally absorbing and loved the hands-on process of developing and printing. Other things took over in my 20’s and 30’s, although I continued to paint and draw for much of this time and most of my endeavors during these years had a creative slant of one form or another.
I returned to photography about 15 years ago – just as digital was starting to become viable. During that time I have been slowly carving a path through various approaches to image making – systemically discarding things along the way, until I find myself now, in some sort of murky fusion space where art and photography collide.
Why do you create?
I can’t imagine a life not doing so. I am just hard wired to be that way. All the interests I have ever had have a creative element to them – gardening, cooking, mosaic-making, drawing cartoons – always making something, trying to create.
Who or what has had an influence on your creative process?
Hard to pinpoint just one person but possibly my biggest lightbulb moment came the day I saw the work of Chris Friel in a photography magazine. An image that was little more than a few blocks of colour – almost Rothko-like in its pared back simplicity, it literally stopped me in my tracks. I was searching for a direction and at the time, I really had no idea that photography could be like this. He was producing images with his camera that were exactly what I had tried (and failed) to do with my paintbrush so many years before.
The image was made using intentional camera movement – something I had played around with very briefly but never pursued because I didn’t think it was ‘allowed’. It set me off on a journey of discovery where so many creative options suddenly seemed viable. Chris was incredibly generous in sharing his knowledge with me and I have much to thank him for.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
Tough question! I suppose the image above taught me a very important lesson.
In my quest to find a photographic identity I spent several years pursuing street photography in the mistaken belief it was the only way of making an image that was unique. I am a great believer in learning from the very best and so I rocked up for a workshop at Jay Masiel’s famous bank building in the Bowery, about 10 years ago, fresh from the undemanding shallows of Flickr, not seriously considering I might be out of my depth. It was very much a case of not waving but drowning as I proudly presented the image below which I felt sure would be well received as it it was heavily influenced by a similar and considerably more accomplished image that Jay had once made. I was rather thrilled to explain if such an explanation was necessary where the inspiration had come from. It slowly dawned on me that there was nothing inspired or creative about taping somebody else’s ideas.
We all clamber up on the shoulders of giants and quotations regarding the ethics of stealing/borrowing/misappropriating someone else’s work abound. The famous aphorism “Good artists copy, Great artists steal” is widely attributed to Picasso, though many have made similar observations. I prefer the interpretation below, widely accredited to T.S. Eliot:
‘Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal, bad poets deface what they take and good poets make it into something better or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique utterly different than that from which it is torn the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion’
I certainly hadn’t taken heed of those wise words when shooting my image. I have since realised that I don’t have the right personality for street photography, however the other lesson I learned from Jay’s image – that compelling images are all around us if we only take time to look – continues to serve me well.
Do you remember the first piece of art that made a lasting impression on you?
I’m not sure you could call it ‘art’ exactly, but I remember a greeting card we kept on the windowsill at home when I was a child which certainly struck a chord. The image was of a dreamy sand dune with waving grasses and soft evening light. All very lovely, gentle pastels – albeit somewhat hackneyed although perhaps not to my 9- year old eyes. However, it was the verse that accompanied the image that made me stop and think.
From William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence there was something in the words and indeed the accompanying image that fired up my childish imagination and perhaps made me think about looking beyond the obvious:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
Do you find that you are inspired by literature or music?
I find inspiration in all sorts of places – all visual arts, but also literature and music. Poetry
especially. It seems to me that the more you immerse yourself, the more the ideas flow.
Disparate thoughts often, seemingly bubbling up out of nowhere. Usually swiftly
forgotten but hopefully filed away in a dusty corner of my mental hard drive for another
What makes a good day for you creatively speaking?
When creativity flows, seemingly without effort and the ideas I have in my head are realised in my work. I have yet to make an image that I am completely happy with, so absolute satisfaction is but a distant dream. Life seems to be a precarious balance between utter despair and acceptance that I will never achieve the level of competence that I might hope for.
What have you found is essential in the making of your work?
Solitude and silence, definitely. Unfortunately – and I don’t know if this is a sign of getting older and my brain no longer being able to multi-task – I find it very disruptive to have music playing or the radio on when I am trying to work. The only exception is when I am applying gold leaf – which in itself is quite a meditative process – and some background music or a podcast is very welcome.
Is the art community important to you?
By nature I am an introvert and I cherish the solitude that my work affords me. I have mixed feelings about social media. I have learned from and been inspired by, so many wonderful people there and that is obviously a very good thing. However, I struggle massively with the sharing of work, fishing for ‘likes’, harvesting compliments etc. I do realize that agonizing about it being egotistical and self-serving is somewhat akin to complaining that a hamburger tastes of beef. It is what it is. I do know I am in danger of over-thinking things. Nevertheless I go through phases of posting work fairly regularly then long periods where I simply cannot contemplate it.
Whats on the horizon?
Some free time I hope! Life has been manically busy during the past 18 months. Doug and I set up our teaching partnership and currently are running one tour a month. While the teaching is enormously enjoyable and a huge privilege, running the company, the admin etc. takes up a lot of time.
I have embarked on very early talks with the lovely people at Kozu who are interested in publishing a book. I have an idea about what I would like to say, which I suppose is half the battle. Finding enough work that I feel is of a sufficiently high standard to make the cut is another challenge altogether. I also have the work from Photo London being shown at the MMX Gallery in August and if time allows, I would like to make a trip across the pond to visit the Sohn Gallery with some of my gold leaf work.
In September, I have been invited to speak at the Center for Photographic Art in Carmel. Like most people, I would rather run a mile than stand up and talk to a crowded room, but I’m hoping that the warm welcome I have been given together with the fact that several of my friends and clients will be there will go some way to soothing my tattered nerves.
Thank you Valda for sharing your work and words with us.
To learn more about Valda Bailey please visit her site at Valda Bailey.