Prior to the hiatus of SiouxWIRE back in 2010, I had a list of artists whose work lingered in my list of subjects to feature. One in particular, Guy Batey, inspired me greatly with his "portraits of the objects" in his series The Melancholy of Objects which highlights his ability to evoke so much character from objects (and places) to the point that I feel like laughing out loud. To me, many of his images have a narrative quality pregnant with metaphor yet subtle enough to linger in the sublime. He very graciously spared me some time to answer a few questions.
Describe your equipment and your favourite camera/lens combination and explain why you choose to use this setup.
My colour work with The Melancholy of Objects and A Fragile Hold was all taken with a Rolleiflex T with Fuji Pro400H film.
The black and white 35mm of the on-going Memento series is taken mostly with a Olympus OM-1, usually with a 28mm lens and Kodak Tri-X.
I always thought I could never see photographically in B&W, even though I've always admired other people’s B&W work enormously. But I began to realise a couple of years ago I didn't always want or need the descriptive resolution of medium format, and I wanted to force myself to see differently. So the B&W 35mm is a way of reducing this extraneous information, and concentrating on the mood and atmosphere of what I'm seeing – not the details.
I also wanted to concentrate far more on the quality of light itself as an active part of the photo – and B&W film is astonishing for the way it can cope with both extreme density and contrast and also delicacy of light. Colour for me was neutral and descriptive; informative, not expressive. I always preferred to work in quite low flat light, without direct sunshine or harsh shadows, whereas with B&W I can now use much higher levels of light and contrast.
The Rolleiflex had a still static quality; while the OM with a wide angle is much more dynamic. The wide angle lens is a way of connecting things – this thing with that thing, or this thing and that place. It can link things literally and metaphorically; whereas the Rolleiflex tended to isolate and fix.
What is your typical workflow and which part of the process do you find most difficult and which do you find most enjoyable?
I've been working in Berlin for a couple of years now, and it’s an amazing place for the sheer density of memory and history – perfect for me. I do less aimless wandering than I did in London, and more planned trips these days, as I found I was just getting much better material from an organised focused trip.
At the moment, I'm looking for marks and tracks, memories and elegies, traces of human intervention and presence. I've always tried to depict human life by its absence, by the marks of its absence, and then trying to make this absence solid.
When I was a painter, I felt sometimes I was making the same painting over and over again – and I have the same continued obsession in photography with these linked oppositions and connections of absence and presence.
I don’t take a lot of shots – even with 35mm I’ll spend a lot of time working with the subject and trying to get it right – I don’t like endless editing and choosing between multiple shots. One of the many reasons I like film is that you can’t instantly see what you've done – you have to imagine it, so you can’t switch between taking and editing. You have to stay in the picture-taking mode, and only put on your editing head once you've developed the negatives.
I'm a pretty slow photographer too, and I've realised I just don’t work well with fast moving or time-based situations – I prefer to look carefully after the action or event.
Which photographer in the last 10 years inspired you?
Anders Petersen I love, though I could never work as up-close with others as he does – maybe that’s why I like what he does so much. So many others – Vanessa Winship, Jason Eskenazi, Joakim Eskildsen, Michael Ackerman – I seem to like photographers who focus on people, even though they almost never appear in my own work.
I have also been very influenced by the work of many of the East German photographers working in the ‘70s and ‘80s – Gundula Schulze Eldowy, Harald Hauswald, and Manfred Paul.
Which photograph or series of photos are you most proud? And which photograph would you mark out as a turning point in your development?
I think Piano was significant, because it was at that point I got the feeling something was trying to tell me to change. It was like – you can have this one, but no more. It took a couple of years before I found a new way of working, but I realised I just couldn't rely on serendipity for ever.
I think Chairs was significant, because it was my first B&W 35mm shot I liked, and even though it seemed at the time to be the same sort of object-based imagery as the Melancholy of Objects series, I thought there was something new going on.
What catches your eye, makes you press the shutter button, sparks your imagination when you're wandering with your camera?
It’s a feeling of recognition – something just jumps out at me, and demands to be taken. It’s a combination of a particular thing in a specific place in a certain light – all these things have to work together in one moment.
Guy Batey (Flickr)
All images used with the kind consent of Guy Batey - All images © Guy Batey 2013