Holly Graham Interview

'Cane', Holly Graham, 2014
‘Cane’,
Holly Graham,
2014

How does photography play a part in your practice?

I am interested in different forms of recording; methods of fixing fragments of the present; external ways of remembering. Photography is one of these forms, attempting to capture from an angle an instance in place and time. I have a particular interest in family photo albums; snapshots of day-to-day comings and goings, interactions, and offhand portraits.

I have often used images from my own family photo archive as starting points, cutting out figures, obscuring details, cropping and covering to create new narratives. The photograph is a document. It asserts itself as truth. I enjoy manipulating images to question their veracity.

I used to construct these collages as a starting point for paintings, but I soon found myself drawn to the immediacy of the photographic image itself. More recently my practice has become concerned with not only the still, but also the moving image, as well as with sound. The editing process is another form of collage; another way of cutting into and deconstructing recorded shrapnel.

What led you to reproducing/photocopying images as part of your work?

My initial use of photography was initiated by a need for a cheap and immediate copy with which I could experiment and try out initial ideas. I was making lots of collages at the time, using imagery from found singular found photographs, and the idea of cutting directly into a a singular photographic print seemed too abrupt and violent. Photocopies allowed me to take my time over multiple compositions.

In time, however, I also found I enjoyed the process and textural quality of the photocopy itself. Photocopying began to excite me. It still does. I almost feel that if a photocopier were my only piece of equipment for making work, I would be content.

'Untitled (Couple Lenticular)', Holly Graham, 25.7 x 29 x 2 cm, 2014
‘Untitled (Couple Lenticular)’,
Holly Graham,
25.7 x 29 x 2 cm,
2014

For my masters I specialised in Printmaking. The photocopy seems to me to embody the qualities of print that I find most stimulating; the idea of a copy or repetition that is never truly the same, that morphs and changes, much like our own memories.

Lay an image or text face down on a photocopier and press ‘copy’.

Then take up this new copy, lay it down in place of the old image, and repeat the action.

Then take up this new copy, lay it down in place of the old image, and repeat the action.

Then take up this new copy, lay it down in place of the old image, and repeat the action.

Then do it again.

And again.

Pushed to its limits the surface disappears entirely; text eaten up by the gradual fattening and merging of its own serifs, the ink creeping in on itself to progressively darken and flatten images. In this compression there are also new additions, new layers, textural contrasts between where the lip of paper, misplaced, meets and exposes the machine’s lid.

(extract from my contribution to Thinking Through Print – Perspectives From the Studio, pg 46.)

Who are the people depicted in your photographs?

The people in the puzzle boxes are individuals from photographs found mainly within my own family photo collection, few of which I have taken myself. Some of the individuals are relations or family friends, while others are unknown to me. This closeness to subject matter is something that I have struggled with. I find I tend to distance myself looking less at the person depicted as the individual themselves, and more as a character or actor within my compositions.

In more recent works, however, I have begun to address the individual more directly, building up portraits which are character specific; where the sitters, although perhaps still actors, play themselves.

'Dice Box', Holly Graham, 18.5 x 2.8 x 17.7 cm March 2011
‘Dice Box’,
Holly Graham,
18.5 x 2.8 x 17.7 cm
March 2011

What role does the viewer have in your art?

I want to present to the viewer a surface they can project their own readings onto. I want to highlight breaks and slippages within documents, be it photo, text, sound or moving image, and to create a space of playfulness where the viewer can reconstruct alternative narratives. I want to give them a space to make up their own story. For me the viewer is very important. In offering their readings of what is in front of them, they complete the work.

How are traditional games integral to your work?

I like to play. Games have multiple outcomes, often produced by multiple players. Puzzles in particular seem a direct way of addressing ideas of fragmentation and reformulation. My puzzles invite the viewer to engage playfully, reading multiple varying narratives into imagery.

What piece of art do you admire above all others?

A tricky one… I’m not sure of one piece, there’s a lot of art work that I really like. One of the artists I love is Joseph Cornell. His beautiful boxes have definitely fed into my own work. He thought about the box as a metaphor for the mind. He initially started making them as toys for his brother who was unwell. They were things of entertainment; playful but beautiful objects. He was incredibly prolific and all of those works were so varied. They create a seductive, contemplative spaces, and draw you into miniature worlds.

'Chatty Women Puzzle Box', Holly Graham, Box: 19.5 x 6 x 14.5, January 2011
‘Chatty Women Puzzle Box’,
Holly Graham,
Box: 19.5 x 6 x 14.5 cm,
January 2011

At what moment did you decide to pursue art as a profession?

I was and is an ongoing decision. I enjoyed it at school. I went on to do a foundation course, and then did my BA in Fine Art, which I really enjoyed. I suppose it was some point towards the end of that time that I decided to really give it a go as a profession. Art is not the most stable career path to follow, but I made a decision to make a real go of it, to pursue it in order to make making artwork work for me. So I did my masters and I’m continuing to try to find my feet in it as a professional career.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

One of my tutors from BA really encouraged to apply for a masters course directly after university. Although I think it can be good to take some time out in between studying at undergraduate and postgraduate level, I feel the momentum of continuing was really great for me and has ensured that I have continued to make work.

'Shudder' Holly Graham, 2014
‘Shudder’
Holly Graham,
2014

Has any art movement, in particular, inspired your style?

I am sure that anyone looking at my work can relate it to a number of other works, and other times: visually my play instructions recall Carl Andre’s photocopy poems; the games ascribe to dada-esque lack of rules, theres no correct way to play, no beginning or end; the puzzles discuss postmodern concerns of deconstructing a pre-written narratives. But all of these things and more are, I think, absorbed into my work without necessarily an actively conscious desire to do so. They are inevitably there, but I find it difficult to pin-point any one given influence.

Are you currently working on a new project?

I am working on a few different bits at the moment. One of my main focuses has been around gif images, which are popular within online social media spaces. I am interested in both the idea of hijacking and capturing content, of copying and re-editing; and also in the technical aspects of gif-making. I have been looking at photographs taken in quick succession and reanimating them into short, shuddering looped moving image pieces. The photograph is no more that a still that, if placed next to another photograph, can begin to move.

I feel that manipulating these images heightens the awareness of the fact that we are looking at stills that have been constructed to move; that even video, which often emulates time so seamlessly, is constructed from fragments. It encourages us to confront the visual journeys we are led on when watching moving image. At the moment I am considering what direction I would like this body of work to move in. I think I would like to make some more extended film works from these small gif pieces.

'A Joke' Holly Graham, 2014
‘A Joke’
Holly Graham,
2014
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