Shutter Hub were at Format International Photography Festival Portfolio Review this year, as sponsors of the Shutter Hub Prize, and delivering Professional Development sessions as part of the Portfolio Review. It was also a great chance to meet some emerging photographers and find out more about their work. As a result we’ve been running a series of interviews and features with those artists. This time we speak to Alexandra Lethbridge about her approach to photography, winning the Clifton Cameras Prize, the problems facing emerging photographers, and her hopes for the future…
Who are you?
My name is Alexandra Lethbridge. I recently graduated from the University of Brighton with a Masters in Photography and before that, I studied at the International Center of Photography in New York. Within my own work, I’m interested in the relationship between fiction and reality and the resulting narratives that can be created in their combination. My work tends to be fairly experimental which includes the use of found and archival imagery as well as alternative ways of making images such as the use of scanners and physical layering.
Tell us a bit about the work/series of works you submitted at this year’s FORMAT Festival.
I submitted a body of work called The Meteorite Hunter, which is my most recent series. To give you a brief overview of the project, The Meteorite Hunter is a fictional archive about Meteorites and the places they come from. I became interested in presenting the collection of this fictional hunter, both in terms of what was disregarded and what was valued and presenting them equally. The origins of any of the objects in the work are revealed in pull out sections at the front and back of the book.
Your work seems to often be based on the natural world, shown in an unfamiliar way – how do you choose your subjects and how to present them?
Generally, when I’m interested in a subject, I have an idea about how I want to present it. My work tends to be very experimental so I have a starting point and from there it can go in many different directions but I have an instinct on an initial place to begin. Often, my subject matter is really just a vehicle to express certain ideas that run throughout my work.
A quick look on your website shows that your book ‘The Meteorite Hunter’ is available in a number of differently specified editions (all of which look like they’d be wonderful objects to own in themselves). How important is the physical reproduction of your work as an object to you, and how do you think that influences its meaning?
The reproduction of the work as an object in it’s own right is hugely important. In the way that I make images, it’s very physical – most are done by hand rather than on the computer – and it all plays back to this notion of the object or ‘objectness’ of a thing.
Within my work, I’m aiming to create a fictional realm, something that asks you to suspend your disbelief momentarily. The object in this context acts as evidence, something tangible. It gives it roots almost. The book, in it’s production, became an ‘object’ which cemented the ideas behind the work into a physical form. That was very important in its realisation.
How did you first get in to photography?
I’ve wanted to be a photographer since I was in college and since then, it’s been clear that was what I was working towards. I’ve always worked in a more visual way and my interest in photography came through studying Graphic Design. From there, it was a natural progression, the more I knew about photography, the more I wanted to know.
What inspires you?
Reality and Fiction is something that’s always interested me. I love the idea of Myths and Folklore as well as things like Science Fiction. The mixture of fiction and reality and the narrative that opens up when you’re not sure what it is your looking at is a very interesting notion to me. I make work off these ideas and use different subject matter to express those concepts. I also love reading and car boot sales as sources of inspiration.
How did you feel about winning the award?
It’s always very humbling to win an award and especially this one in particular as the quality and breadth of work at the portfolio review was so high, it means a lot to be selected. I’ve been lucky enough to win a few awards recently, one of which was the Danny Wilson Memorial Award in connection with Metro Imaging and Brighton Photo Fringe, and they really do open a lot of opportunities, from the people you get to the meet, to the prize itself. Winning an award like this, where the prize helps in the production of new work, is so vital as it allows me to keep moving forward and sustain my practice.
How do you feel about Portfolio Reviews in general, and how easy is it to have someone else critique your work?
This portfolio review was my first and I have to say after going through the process, I feel very positively about the experience. Going into it, I had nerves about having so many industry professionals critiquing my work, but I felt confident in the work I had and that pushed me to do it. It’s such an invaluable experience to be able to make connections with people you may not be able to reach otherwise. For me, it was a great way to build relationships and also to get the work out there and get people talking about it. I would highly recommend doing them, although only if you feel you’re at the right stage in your career.
What do you think are the main challenges facing emerging photographers now?
I would say the hardest challenge to overcome – from my own experience – is making work and trying to move forward with limited funding and feedback. Having people to share and bounce ideas around with is vital to keeping your ideas fresh and that can be difficult to find once your outside of an academic environment. The other issue is how to keep funding your work and balancing your time between time spent making money and time spent making work.
What are your hopes for the future, and for yourself?
I would like to keep making more work! I’ve really enjoyed the book making process with this project so I’d like to make more books and explore that further. Other than that, I’m excited to follow up this project with my next series and see where that takes me.
Alexandra Lethbridge will be giving a talk at the opening weekend of Fotografia Europea in Reggio Emilia on May 17th, and she is planning new exhibitions as we write (further updates will follow!).