London-based Irish photographer Gillian Hyland – one of many talented creatives coming to Offset April 5-7 – creates supernatural staged images inspired by her poetry.
Your work not only shows your skill and experience as a photographer, stylist and filmmaker, but also the emotion of a poet and writer. When did you first start photographing in this way and realise this was how you wanted to work from then on?
I first started shooting this way in 2013, but didn’t start to release the images until 2014; I have continued to explore narrative photography and developing ideas for shoots ever since. Over the years, this has produced a varied selection of photographs which have seen me travel to many locations to create them. When I started the series, it was very much inspired by my poetry and experiences; over time, that focus shifted to include observations on society and the emotional standpoint of others, this is especially seen in the series shot in Cuba, which is visited several times.
What have been the most surprising pictures you’ve created so far?
Probably some of my earlier work, “Whole In My Heart” and “Delusion”; the poems behind the photographs didn’t always lend themselves easily to images. I wasn’t sure how I could represent the emotion and story, but then as I went along the process, I found the right environment which helped inspire a composition that I felt was intriguing and captivating, and which I hoped would engage the audience in an emotional way.
What have been the most challenging to pull off?
There are different challenges – shooting in Cuba in the heat definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone; often locations fall through or there was some other unforeseen drama which needed to be tackled daily. One memory springs to mind of a shoot in the UK; I was shooting “The Unknown”, which has a woman on a boat in the middle of a lake. I had an assistant in the boat who had to keep positioning it in the right place – it would drift away on the water, so her job was to stay hidden while I photographed and then pop up and row the boat back to the right spot in between takes. It looked quite funny to witness this hidden figure emerge every so often and to row the boat and then disappear.
What’s your advice to anyone working in a creative industry about tapping into their creativity to make something new?
I think a good place to start is to look at the area you’re interested in and find work from someone else you love, then ask yourself, what is it about that photo/film/artist that appeals to you? Identify what you like so that you can aim on having that aspect in what you create. For me, I love cinematic lighting, rich colours, interesting settings and people; the photographers and filmmakers I admire all have this in their work, so I knew it was something I was keen to create in my own photography. Trust in your ideas – they can start out small, but if you spend time developing and researching them, they’ll grow, evolve and take form. Having good ideas is easy – making them is the tricky part.
Your photographs are inspired by your poetry and your book, Words in Sight, you’ve described as your most honest body of work so far. Were you nervous putting it out into the world, and what’s your advice to artists and writers about overcoming such fears?
Yes, I was very nervous – and am still not totally comfortable with it. When I started the photography series, I didn’t intend on sharing the poems behind the pictures; the words are the starting point – I don’t recreate my memories, I simply use them to help inspire a new narrative. It’s organic, and the pictures emerge after so many factors come together to shape them. The positive aspect is that people really relate to the poems, and the pictures; I share common emotions everyone has felt on some level, at some time in their life. It can be hard to be vulnerable, honest and expose yourself, but if you want to create something of meaning, then you’ll need to add your heart and soul to it. I have found the process liberating – it’s amazing to see how a simple poem written years ago ended up being the spark behind a beautiful photograph. I manage my fears in this way; I might be scared of sharing too much or rejection, but if I don’t follow through with my ideas, then I know my regret will be bigger than that fear. In the end, it was this that pushed me forward – I knew I had to try. I am often asked why I made something – there was no other reason other than I needed to create it for myself; I had an idea and I wanted to see where it went, so I started the process and kept going until it was finished.
What will you be speaking about at Offset?
I will be talking about my process, how I approach a project, and all the many elements that go into creating each photograph, and how eventually that has led me to filmmaking. I hope to inspire people to take a risk on themselves and their ideas, as you never know where they’ll lead you.
Is there someone else you’re looking forward to catching while there?
I’m looking forward to hearing Droga5 and Yuri Suzuki.
Are you looking forward to being back in Dublin and what will you be doing when not at Offset?
Yes, I love going back to Dublin; it’s where I grew up, so I’ll enjoy catching up with friends and family.
What’s next for you?
I have a solo show in London running until March 30 at the After Nyne Gallery. My work will be exhibited as part of a group show at Sol Art in Dublin, which will be running until April 1 (solart.ie), and I’m shipping artworks to Hong Kong for the Affordable Art Fair taking place there in May, where I’ll be exhibiting with Sol Art.
What are you working on next?
I am working on a new project which will be a combination of photographs and small film stories; it will revolve around real people, their lives and pets. I hope to be able to share some of it at the festival.
This month, I’ll be…
Seeing Barbican play Grief is the Thing with Feathers starring Cillian Murphy
Shooting my new project, I hope.
Watching On the Basis of Sex, the Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic starring Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer.
Listening to The Villagers.
Reading Educated by Tara Westover.
Admiring Dorothea Tanning’s surrealist paintings at the Tate Modern.
If time and money were no object, I’d love to go to Tokyo and spend a few months exploring Japan, learning more about the culture and shooting a new photo series.