Hello, could you tell us a bit about your practice?
Up until very recently I would have described my practice as staunchly new media art, working to understand the social impact of new technologies upon myself and society. But about two years ago it took an analogue turn towards a much more expressive lens and image-based body of work. Recently the digital and analogue aspects of my practice have come back together in a new project that I will expand further below.
What are you exploring at the moment?
I’m currently developing a project under the title ‘Mare Orientale’. It is a large format salt print series of one our moon’s most stunning, hidden craters, ‘Mare Orientale’. I have been building towards this project for what I now realise has been years. It’s funny how you can connect the dots in hindsight.
I’ll explain it as briefly as I can.
I found a way to make use of satellite data to build an incredibly detailed, three dimensional model of the moon. I then created an array of virtual orthographic cameras inside this digital space to take shots of the crater that were so detailed I had to send them in sections to three separate render farms at once to be rendered. The next step in this process is to create giant, four foot wide negatives with these images to bring the work into the real world and print them on a very large scale as salt prints.
Salt printing is a photographic printing technique developed by Henry Fox Talbot in 1830. I have run a number of tests at A1 and the results are just stunning. They contain an incredibly immersive depth and detail that I could only have dreamt of finding in my work a few years ago.
But the work is not just about the technique or the quality of the render. The work comes from a personal place. It is an exploration of remoteness and distance. It is about being still and present enough to gain a better understanding of ourselves through an object that we all share, the moon. I may eventually get ‘over the moon’ (sorry). But the themes and methods I am currently developing feel exciting and robust enough to sustain me for a number of years to come.
Have you found there’s anything in particular that has influenced you over the years? What inspires you?
I guess I draw inspiration from multiple sources.
For years I would have a list I would check my ideas against. For example, did Rauschenberg already solve this one or did Nauman do it better, simpler and with less? And I guess that’s how I know I’m being influenced by an artist.
When I see a piece that I wish I had thought of first, that way I know it has gotten under my skin and I will investigate further and see what place they were coming from when they made it.
In my digital practice I am a fan of Simon Yuill’s Spring Alpha project. I also wish that I had made Nina Pope and Karen Guthrie’s ‘An Artists impression’. I’m also very into the work of Jennifer and Kevin Mccoy.
But in terms of photography and lens-based work, despite my own work being about pointing my gaze at distant objects, I take a lot of influence from the street style photographers. There is a discipline to walking the streets with your camera looking and waiting for unique moments that can really hone your practice. Street photography can be a problematic subject, but there is no doubt in my mind that it teaches you more in a day that you can learn in a month in your studio. So on that note, I’m also a fan of William Eggleston, Todd Hido and Joel Meyerowitz. It’s something I still do and the challenges of navigating the world with a camera without being invasive, trying to observe without judgement or exploitation but maintaining a sense of fascination has brought me back from the brink of creative blocks on a number of occasions.
Where do you work? Could you show us a picture of your working environment?
I have a studio in a building I share with a few other artists, at what we are calling Bank studios. It is in what was Natwest Bank, in North Shields. It is probably the best, most productive studio I have ever had. It is a working darkroom, there are no windows and it has running water and a sink! I wrote a bit about productivity in the studio here where I shared a lot about my studio layout.
What are you listening to or reading at the moment?
I have a few books on the go at the moment. I’m working my way through ‘Chemical Pictures’ by Quinn Jacobson as I’m building up my kit to experiment with the wet plate collodion process. I tend to read essays when I travel and have been dipping in to Joan Didion’s essay collection ‘The White Album’ when I’m on trains.
Music wise, I’m currently listening to Cluster’s first self titled album as it kind of fits our current stormy weather. Last week I listened to Khruangbin on a constant rotation because I realised that they are ace. And I’ve had a few Andrew Weatherall tracks on this week, his mixes were the sound track to my misspent youth. In my studio I tend to listen to lots of crackly old dub reggae for some reason!
Could you give us between ten and twenty words that define your practice?
My practice reflects my interest in hybrid digital and analogue material culture to explore remote and invisible spaces.
Where can people see your work?
Last year was an exhibition-heavy year. This year I’m more focused upon developing the work and techniques I have already mentioned and then maybe setting things in motion for a few big shows next year. But, you can check out my past projects on my website, dominicsmith.info.
I also began producing a photography zine last year as a way of charting my progress as my practice switched directions. I do this to remind myself that progress doesn’t have to be made in huge leaps but can be in small considered steps and experiments. You can pick them up here.
I have a busy Instagram feed here that I keep updated with darkroom experiments and I will be at The Stills Photo Market in Edinburgh on the 7th and 8th March if you are in the area and want to pop in for a chat.
I have also just launched a
Kickstarter campaign to fund the material costs of making ‘Mare Orientale’. You
can read about it HERE and also see
a short film of me working and talking about it in my studio.
Our last featured artist, Graham Patterson, asked “Do you think attending an academic institution is necessary for the development of an artist’s career? Especially nowadays, when financial constraints mean that it is no longer a viable option for many young people from a working class background.”
That is one heck of a question. My short slightly glib answer is ‘No, there are many paths that you can take to arrive at the same place’.
My longer answer is that it is a complicated thing. I can only truly speak from my own experience. I wasn’t an academic kid and was totally disengaged at school. Years later I found out that this was probably because of undiagnosed dyslexia (It is quite mild, but it still slowed me down enough to make a difference at the time). As a working class kid in a rough area this wasn’t picked up by any of the teachers, they were just trying to survive another day like the rest of us. But I did draw and paint compulsively, and as a result I winged it onto a foundation fine art course and then a fine art degree via my portfolio.
I found that the art school pedagogy suited me 100%. Having peers around all day, seeing what they were making in their studio and having a sense of ongoing dialogue in a safe environment was amazing.
I think some time around my second year I kind of ‘woke up’ to the idea that I actually had real potential to do something interesting with my life and I’ve never really stopped since.
I don’t know if I would have arrived at this conclusion by any other means, because this was the route I took. However, this was at a time when I didn’t have to worry about course fees. I seem to remember I even had a small grant in my first year, this was cut in following years as it was the start of the government’s interference in higher education.
I have been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right times all the way to completing a PhD but I doubt I could have done any of this in the current system, the financial constraints would have just been too overwhelming to the young, slightly lost working class lad I was. I think that this is a crying shame.
I think that there will be people who will go on to find their way regardless, but they will be in the minority. Art school studio pedagogy works in helping people find their potential. Maybe it’s time to get our heads together and set up a free art school, or at least a support network that gives kids who are going it alone some sort of un-intimidating support and feedback at a crucial point in their early development.
One last thing to add is that I have also had a career as a curator, setting up and managing some fairly substantial programmes over the years. Whenever I have created opportunities and have been part of the selection panels for commissions and exhibitions I could not give a monkeys what university you went to. I just care about the quality of the idea and the evidence from past work that you can achieve it.
I hope that helps!