Lucy Purrington is an amazing photographer whose work both inspires and moves me. I have 3 of her prints hanging above the desk in my office, right where I can see them when I’m writing. One day, when I’m finally releasing novels, I hope that my covers will be be created by her. I’ve been following her work for years and so I reached out to her for this interview.
Q1. Can you tell us a bit about your work?
My style is mainly digital portrait photography, in particular self portraits that utilise influences of surrealism to create images that convey an emotional narrative.
My photographs often depict strange situations or include unnatural colours, so they seem out of this world; they are not based in reality. They are an expression of feeling and are set in the subconscious landscape of our mind.
Ghostly figures feature heavily in my photographs. They are faceless and anonymous so a viewer can insert themselves into the image. I try to avoid showing my face in most of my pictures because although the work is from me and about how I’m feeling, I don’t want to make the work all about me. I want the audience to feel that it’s about them and that they can be a part of the journey through my images. I’m a firm believer that representation matters; seeing that someone else feels as you do can be uplifting.
Photography is my tool to promote my wellbeing and talk about mental health. It’s also an escape from the world. When I’m making my photographs I typically spend a few hours outdoors in nature, in the quiet, on my own and I always return feeling less anxious and more grounded.
Q2. What is your work about?
I explore themes of mental health through surreal and creative self portraits. Using my own experiences as a source of inspiration, I attempt to externalise and transform my struggles with mental health into something tangible and relatable.
Many of my photographs are part of an ongoing self portrait project that aspires to raise awareness, start conversations and change perceptions around mental health.
I can’t change the ways mental health services are funded, or improve crisis services from my computer chair but I can normalise talking about these issues. Often I hear people frustratingly saying that we don’t need to talk about mental health anymore, we need more support and I agree, but many people are still suffering in silence, particularly men. Society and the patriarchy too often tells men to not show emotions, not to share their feelings and to be less affectionate with their friends. The phrase ‘man up’ is still thrown around and that’s just not helpful. So I think we have a way to go in terms of changing attitudes towards speaking about mental health.
Q3. Who is your work for/do you have a specific target audience?
My work is for everyone. I want it to be as accessible as possible, which is why I use text descriptions on my website and audio descriptions in exhibited work for blind or partially sighted audiences and closed captions for the D/deaf community.
It’s a purposeful action to not title most of my photographs so that an audience is encouraged to curate their own interpretation of what it’s expressing or what it’s about. I want my art to personally speak to as many people as possible, not just those with an arts degree.
The arts are massively classist as an institution. The spiralling cost of living, tuition fees and the ways in which our Westminster government is attempting to diminish the routes that working-class communities can access higher education mean that the next generation of big-name artists and exhibiting photographers will be the rich kids.
Those that possess the financial means to weather such conditions, work at unpaid internships and have the time and energy to volunteer to make those important art world connections will be the upper classes.
And that’s why grassroots art movements, events and festivals are a must and making work that fits all audiences is the moral responsibility of contemporary artists. Representation and inclusion matter.
Q4. Can you describe your type of work?
I suppose my style comes from two things: wanting to make art that anyone can unpick and understand and focus on the subject of mental health.
I remember reading somewhere that all that we are and what we create is a reflection of our experiences and all of the art we’ve experienced and seen. So I guess it’s easy to draw connections between my work and the surrealist movement, music album artwork and videos and contemporary photo art. These are the things I am interested in and consumed a lot of.
Q5. What inspires you?
My art is all about emotion and mental health, so I find anything that stirs a feeling or a reaction within myself inspiring. Being dyslexic, I’m interested in visuals, patterns and expression. Music, album artwork, music videos, films, theatre and dance help me come up with ideas.
The Welsh landscape is a big part of my work. The valleys, mountains and beaches I live near create a narrative that is often so enriched by their own histories, our relationships with the land and the aesthetics of the places, they end up giving me ideas about what to do with my art.
The landscape’s influence and the ways in which it can set a mood, has at times, evolved into it being a character that is part of my photographs alongside me or a model.
As such, I count myself lucky to have these stunning beaches, forests and mountains on my doorstep in Wales.
Q6. Do you listen to music while you edit?
Listening to music whilst I edit my work is a big part of my process. It’s the bit I enjoy as my mind and body relax and quieten down. I can indulge in listening to entire albums, which I feel as we’ve moved into the MP3 age, people don’t do so much. Modern living means we don’t often have the time to sit down and experience the journey an album can take you on when it’s played in its entirety.
I find that what genre I listen to has an interesting influence on what I produce, or at least the speed at which I work. If I know I’m going to be working on a complicated big composite piece, I’ll opt for electro music: mainly drum and bass or witch-house. If it’s an average photograph with a few tweaks, I’ll usually put a playlist with a varied range from Deftones to Grimes, Chelsea Wolfe or Idles.
Recently I’ve mainly been listening to Gwenno, a Cornish and Welsh language singer, Lorn and IC3PEAK. Although I think that’s influenced by the move from the end of Summer into Autumn.
Q7. Do you have a favourite piece of your own work?
My favourite piece is a black and white digital image from a few years ago that featured a characteristic ghostly figure floating in a landscape.
I don’t often work in black and white these days and it has a sculptural element with its contrasted black grassy mountain and the pale cloudy sky above. I like its simplicity, it’s grainy texture.
I’d like to thank Lucy for agreeing to this interview and for her time. I wanted to do this because I’m such a huge fan of hers and I just want to share her work with as many people as I can.
If you’d like to check out Lucy’s work, you’ll find all of her social media links below, as well as her website and Etsy store. I hope you love her work as much as I do.
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