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Liz Harrington – Featured Artist of the Month

Liz is a photographic artist and one of the most recent fellows at the Fenners Building in Letchworth. Initially graduating with a degree in Geography from UCL in 1995, Liz went on to work in the events industry before returning to education, gaining a first class BA (Hons) Photography from Westminster University in 2013. In July 2017 she became a fellow of Digswell Arts.

1) How would you describe your current practice (e.g. materials, techniques, themes, key questions, approach)?

I work with analogue and alternative photographic processes and camera-less techniques. Many of these processes – such as cyanotypes and salt prints – are some of the earliest photographic techniques and I look to combine these historic methods with contemporary ways of working. The nature of these processes means that my work is often experimental and results in unique, one-off prints.

My work to date has explored themes of transience and impermanence, and traces of the past. Although I am often drawn to buildings and surfaces as subject matter, recently I have been returning to my geographical roots and using the natural landscape and environment as a source – sometimes quite literally immersing photographic materials in them. Repetition, minimalism and abstraction also feature in my work.

The materiality and physicality of the photograph as an object is as important to me as the actual image, and in many ways my practice is as much about printmaking as it is about photography. This also led to an interest in book making and the production of handmade artist books as a way of presenting my work.

2) What are you working on at the moment (forthcoming exhibitions, events, workshops etc)?

I am currently researching and developing ideas for a new project, focussing on trees as a symbol of change, renewal and beauty. As part of this I am experimenting with different papers, the use of liquid emulsion (allowing me to work with a wider range of materials) and toning of prints to help further enhance my printing skills.

I have also recently gained access to photograph the former, decaying Shredded Wheat factory in Welwyn Garden City, which is going through a period of change as a result of the proposed redevelopment of the site. I have been fortunate to have visited several times now, and hope to return, with view to creating a body of work in time for the 100-year celebrations of Welwyn Garden City in 2020.

Later in the year I will participate in our Open Studios where I will show some of this work in progress.

3) What are your plans for the coming year?

Over the coming months I hope to set up a small, dedicated darkroom at the Fenners Building (available for all fellows to access), which will provide a more professional darkroom space for me to work in and enable experimentation with other alternative processes.

As the weather improves I plan to go back to some camera-less work I started to develop last summer on the Norfolk coast, using the sea, sand and natural landscape to create abstract cyanotype images. I will also continue with the production of chlorophyll prints (printing on leaves), which can require days or weeks of exposure in the sun to produce a print.

This year will therefore continue to be a period of experimentation, research and development of my new projects. I am also currently very interested in Japanese aesthetics, in particular concepts of Wabi-sabi (impermanence and imperfection) and shibui (simplicity) and plan to research these concepts further to see how they might help inform my work.

4) What is the question you get asked most about your work and how do you answer it?

Often people seem surprised that I still want to use film, or I get confused looks when I mention use of camera-less techniques.

I love the slower process and physical qualities of working with film, the craft of the making, the sense of the unknown and the ‘magic’ of the darkroom as the image finally appears in front of you – for me these qualities (and associated imperfections) are far more beautiful and special than producing their digital equivalent.

With regards to camera-less techniques and whether they are really photographic – this goes back to the very essence of photography, which is its ability to capture and fix light (or rather shadows) onto the surface of a light sensitive material. Whilst not producing a photograph as such in the strictest sense, due to its lack of reproducibility, it is certainly closely related.

5) What or who inspired you to be an artist and why?

I’m not sure that there is any one thing or person but my interest in photography has been with me since my early teens when I was lucky enough to own my first SLR camera. Over the years I have been part of various photographic groups, attended workshops, met a whole host of inspiring and interesting photographers and artists, read books and writings and seen some amazing work which collectively – along with encouragement from family and peers – has inspired me to develop my practice.

6) Which artist do you most admire and why?

I’m struggling to pick one artist as there are many I admire and all for different reasons; from some of the early pioneers of photography such as Henry Fox Talbot, John Herschel, Eadweard Muybridge, Anna Atkins to conceptual artists such as Sol Lewitt and John Baldessari, the book works of pop artist Ed Ruscha, and photography of Hiroshi Sugimoto, Susan Derges, Heidi Specker, Stephen Gill…the list goes on.

At the moment though, I particularly love the work of Japanese photographers Masao Yamamoto and Miho Kajioka, Korean photographer Junglin Lee and Spanish duo Albarrán Cabrera for their materiality, presence and pure beauty.

7) How has your relationship with Digswell Arts Trust strengthened your practice as an artist?

Working as an artist can be quite isolating so being part of a supportive community of artists can help motivate and encourage you, as well as enable the sharing of ideas and influences from across a wide range of disciplines. My studio allows me the space to experiment, test ideas and work quietly – something I’ve never had before – and even in the short time I’ve been here I really feel the benefit. The Trust has also been supportive of my proposal to set up a dedicated darkroom, through the provision of space and some funding, and once this is in place it will have a significant impact on the development of my practice.

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