I don’t enter many photographic awards or competitions as I tend not to hold much interest in the format, don’t want to submit my best landscape/B&W shot to magazines, or have no interest in my work being judged by people who I don’t think have the relevant experience.
While I’m not opposed to having people share their opinions on my work – indeed I actively encourage it, there are far too many of these ‘events’, many of which seem to be cynical money making ventures set up to exploit naive photographers.
Once every so often however I will come across a competition which genuinely captures my attention, primarily by posing an interesting question or challenge. This happened earlier this year with the Renaissance Art Prize which asked the photographer to respond to a selection of quotations from Sontag and Barthes, about the nature of photography. I knew that even if I wasn’t short-listed it would cause me to think in a more considered way about my own practice, and that I could only benefit personally whatever the outcome from the judges.
I have just been short-listed in a similarly thought provoking competition, the Accademia Apulia Art Award 2010, hosted by Accademia Apulia – a London based organisation which encourages the promotion of cross cultural exchanges. The theme of this year’s competition is ‘Genius Loci‘ (the spirit of place), and how this is represented through images of cultural diversity.
For the last several years my own explorations into identity with the ‘Sonnets’ series of images have been concerned with how best to depict a spirit of place, how we as Scots represent ourselves as a people, or imagine ourselves to be represented. This process looked at a long visual and written heritage, and questioned some of our own myth making practices, especially in regards to the history of Scotland itself. I have however covered these issues in previous entries, and want to instead turn my attention to the issue of ‘cultural diversity’ in my work.
When I made the decision to embark on the Sonnets project I actively considered the role of the figure in the landscape. I experimented with different models, including my wife (amongst others) who were all happy to stand in for Henning, however I eventually decided that I wanted to maintain a certain element of repetition and continuity with the series, so instead returned to my original choice.
Internally I debated that for a contemporary photographic series I should use a variety of different people from all walks of life, of all colours and creeds, so that I could create an honest and representative depiction and celebration of the people who make up this country.
I quickly changed my mind however, as this approach has been done ad-nauseum. Instead, I opted for a more subtle usage of imagery, that didn’t call to mind the work of a National Geographic photographer, or a sub-standard United Colours of Benetton advert, because cultural diversity is not exclusively about race, and Europeans are equally culturally diverse.
The issues of culture and identity are complicated at the best of times, however I consciously decided not to put the onus on race, and tried my best to make the identity and many other characteristics of the figure ambiguous, leaving the viewer to concentrate on the location, or trying to interpret why he was there – to try and understand the image as a ‘fragment of a larger narrative’ as the author W.G Sebald would put it. I wanted the viewer – whatever their background, to place themselves in the image, using the figure as a surrogate. To an extent this has been successful, and I’ve received many correspondences in which people construct their own stories of what the figure is running from, or to – or what he is contemplating as he stands alone.
The imagery of the Sonnets series of course calls to mind the work of 18th and 19th century romantic European painting (and its modern day derivatives) from works such as ‘View of Loch Lomond’ by John Knox (pictured above) who painted scenes of a ‘mysterious’ and ‘sublime’ Scottish countryside populated with sparse figures, intended for a privileged audience. These images, much like those of Caspar David Friedrich, almost exclusively portray white, Northern European males, and are as interesting in their absences as to what does appear in the final image. In this respect I wanted to parody contemporary artworks as much as draw attention to this imbalance, however it’s a subtle point, and regardless of how the image is viewed, there are many possible interpretations on how to view the series.
I’m currently short-listed for the Accademia Apulia 2010 Art Award along with 25 other photographers for ‘Outstanding work’ with the 3 finalists being announced at the start of December.
You can learn more about the award and see the names of the other photographers here
From November the 6th until the 21st I took part in the Tulca Arts festival in Galway in Ireland. A selection of images from the Sonnets series went on display at the Galway Arts Centre.
Curated by Michelle Browne, the festival opening night was a great success, and my wife Louise and I enjoyed a few days exploring the local area, making trips south to the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher, areas of spectacular natural beauty. You can read more about this years TULCA Arts Festival here or read a review of the event in the Irish Times here.
In 2010 I first made contact with the Poet and Professor James McGonigal, who was both a colleague, and a close friend of ‘Makar’ (National Poet of Scotland) Edwin Morgan. By this stage in his 89th year, Edwin Morgan was now in a care home in Glasgow, and acting as an intermediary, Jim was happy to relay messages between myself and EM regarding projects I was working on which took inspiration from his work.
Jim told EM about my Sonnets project which owed its name to one of my favourite collections of his poetry ‘Sonnets from Scotland’, which was published in the year of my birth, 1984 – later I would sit with him and show him a selection of these images.
I will be talking more about my experiences working with Edwin Morgan, and my first meeting, and subsequent portrait session with him (pictured above) in an article for Scottish Photographer’s Magazine later in the year.
During my long correspondences with Jim, I was both surprised and happy to learn that he was working on the first major biography of EM, which gave a rare insight into his upbringing, academic life, and later literary career on the world stage, not to mention his struggles as a gay man living in the west coast of Scotland.
Having studied a post-graduate to become a qualified archivist as he wrote the biography, I was able to work with some of Jim’s original source material as Glasgow University holds an extensive collection of the poet’s writings and correspondences, and was happy to see many of these appear in the book Beyond the Last Dragon.
I was honoured when Jim asked if he could use several of my images of EM, such as a portrait which adorns the cover, as well as include a few short entries in the book itself about my work with Eddie. Jim had this to say about Sonnets:
“A haunting series of Scottish landscapes with a single figure, not seeking to illustrate Edwin Morgan’s work in any sense but to respond to it in a different medium. Similar structural elements in each picture play the role of octave/sestet or rhyme in the sonnet form of which the poet was so fond.” McGonigal, Jim – Beyond the Last Dragon – Sandstone Press (pp.434-435)
You can pick up the book from amazon here. It’s a great read, very accessible, and one of the best biographies I’ve read of a literary figure. You can read a fascinating interview with Jim about his relationship with Edwin Morgan here.
On the 9th of July I was invited to the Italian Cultural Institute in London as a finalist for the Renaissance Art Prize. While I didn’t win the photography award (I came in second place), I did win the coveted Residency Atelier D’Artista, organized yearly by cultural association Toscana In, giving me a 10 day residency in Tuscany of May 2010. I’m very honored to recoeve the award, as the other short-listed artists produced some excellent entries this year. Here is a bit more about the Renaissance Art Prize:
Created by Sharpcut Visual Arts Project and held annually at the Italian Cultural Institute in London, the Renaissance Arts Prize is a photography and video art award open to artists of all nationalities based in Italy and the United Kingdom, and under 35 years of age.
The first two years of the Renaissance Arts Prize were dedicated to the Italian Renaissance and to the Futurist movement respectively. The last edition, Back to the Futurism: Art is a cerebral secretion capable of exact calibration?, was supported by Tate Modern, and was reviewed by Artforum, Artinfo, ArtKey, Exibart, Evening Standard and many other Italian and international publications and websites.
The Renaissance Arts Prize 2010 draws inspiration from a chapter of Susan Sontag’s famous essay On Photography and from the life of Italian artist Mario Giacomelli, a photographer whose most famous series were a visual response to the work of poets such as Giacomo Leopardi, Eugenio Montale, Edgar Lee Masters, and Emily Dickinson. Participants were invited to submit work in response to the theme of ‘The Heroism of Vision’ and to selected quotes by John Szarkowski, Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes.
Read more and see the work of the other artists at www.sharpcut.eu
My Sonnets project was celebrated in a daily motion by all parties in the Scottish Parliament on the 18th of March. You can read more here
*S3M-5986 MSP Irene Oldfather: Sonnets from Scotland—That the Parliament congratulates Irvine-based artist Alex Boyd for his Sonnets from Scotland exhibition, a photographic exploration of Scottish landscapes and their depiction; welcomes the exhibition to the Scottish Parliament between Tuesday 16 and Thursday 19 March; believes that the Scottish Parliament has an important role in highlighting and supporting the work of young and emerging artists, and therefore wishes Alex every success in his future endeavours.
I’m happy to announce that I’m one of the 2010 recipients of the Dewar Award. This award will allow me to complete my 1500 mile journey around Scotland, and complete my ‘Sonnets’ project. The journey begins this summer, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity given to me by the trustees!
About the Dewar Awards:
The Dewar Awards is given to artists under 30 who display “outstanding ability and potential” but do not have the means to finance their further development. Founded by the Scottish Executive in 2002 in memory of First Minister Donald Dewar, the award is intended to launch the careers of the next generation of Scottish talent.
You can read more about my win on the Dewar Award page here
SNP MSP Aileen Campbell took time to take in an exhibition of Scottish landscapes at the Scottish Parliament as Irvine photographer Alex Boyd’s work was included and she was impressed. Miss Campbell said; ” I am really pleased to see Alex Boyd had his exhibition displayed in the Scottish Parliament this week. It is really great to see Scottish artists get the opportunity to exhibit their work here in the parliament and I was pleased to add my name to the parliamentary motion recognising his work. The photographs are fantastic. They really capture the beautiful and dramatic landscapes of Scotland and I look forward to seeing more of Alex Boyd’s work in the future.”