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DOMINIC ROUSE


[B. 1959] A contemporary digital photographer from England

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In conversation with Nicolaie Ardelean
Interview with PHOTO Romania
 
NA When and under what circumstances did you start to take photos?
DR I was fifteen years old and I had no idea what I was doing. In thirty years, all that has changed is my age.

NA How would you characterize your evolution from the beginning of your career up until now?
DR "A Napoleon without his army, an actor without his audience, is a nobody. The peculiarity of the poet, the man of imagination is that he doesn't need other people to express his dominance. The great writer or thinker isn't writing primarily for other people; he is exploring the world of his own being. The huntsman needs a fox to give the chase excitement; the philosospher pursues an abstract fox across the landscape of his own mind." (Colin Wilson, 'The Outsider' 1956)

When I began to use a camera, it was to record the world around me. Now, I use it to create my own. If you were to ask me who would be the most interesting man to know, I should answer "I will be." Perhaps you think me deranged but it is my belief that each human being is uniquely different and the search for our uniqueness is life's journey: its reward is the revelation of that facet of existence reserved exclusively for us.

Art is sometimes defined as the search for Truth and Beauty. Truth is a deeply personal concept and the search for it is pathless. It cannot be given form and any attempt to do so results in its demolition. Truth is unable to survive knowledge because knowledge is a desire of the intellect and the intellect is itself a conceit and thus deceptive.

An artist sets out to reveal the truth but he soon discovers that there is no such thing. We can only give our honest impressions of the lies which is the closest we have to a truth. An artist who is only interested in the truth will soon find himself unemployed. Language is the limit of our understanding; Art is not. I am addicted to Beauty unfortunately I am a habit that Beauty has managed to kick. Beauty is measured in degrees of deceit. The greater the Beauty the greater the deceit.

I find these realities a trifle unnerving so I have created a disturbing world in an effort to make this one appear a little more inviting.

NA What are your favorite themes?
DR Childhood and the denial of motherhood.

NA In what way do they express your artistic vision?
DR I don't know that they do.

NA Some of your images illustrate the work of famous writers or pay homage to celebrated painters. When have you discovered them?
DR Usually in second-hand bookshops when I least expected to.

NA Did they influence you somehow?
DR Great artists inspire other artists to creation. For that reason alone they have enduring worth.

NA Have you any favorite haunting quotation or thought belonging to these artists?
DR Examine the lives of the best and most fruitful men and peoples, and ask yourselves whether a tree, if it is to grow proudly into the sky, can do without bad weather and storms: whether unkindness and opposition from without, whether some sort of hatred, envy, obstinacy, mistrust, severity, greed and violence do not belong to the favouring circumstances without which a great increase, even in virtue, is hardly possible.
The poison which destroys the weaker nature strengthens the stronger - and he does not call it poison, either. (Friedrich Nietzsche 'The Gay Science' 1882)

The camera cannot compete with painting as long as it cannot be used in Heaven or Hell. (Edvard Munch 1863-1944)

Imagination is the instrument of self-knowledge. (Colin Wilson, 'The Outsider' 1956)

Life itself is an exile. The way home is not the way back. (Colin Wilson, 'The Outsider' 1956)

The greatest heights of self-expression - in poetry, music and painting - are achieved by men who are supemely alone. (Colin Wilson, 'The Outsider' 1956)

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. (Cyril Connolly writing in 'New Statesman' 25th February 1933)

Poetry is a picture. (Horace 65-8BC)

Each person has to work out his own salvation. No saviour can relieve us of that burden. (Jiddu Krishnamurti)

The search for Truth is pathless. (Jiddu Krishnamurti)
Morality is a sickness peculiar to humans, the good life is a refinement of the virtues of animals. (John Gray 'Straw Dogs' 2002)

A knowledge of photography is just as important as that of the alphabet. The illiterate of the future will be ignorant of the use of the camera and pen alike. (Laszlo Moholy-Nagy 1936)

All experiences nourish the artist and over time create in him a point of view that makes him different - makes his work uniquely his own. (Manuel Alvarez Bravo)

The original quality in any man of imagination is imagery. (G K Chesterton 1874-1936)

NA Apparently, they render a gloomy vision. Is there hope to be found beyond?
DR To the celebrate the final victory of democracy over christianity the principal architects of the triumph, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, jointly commissioned me to compose a prayer to be recited by the faithful at all official democratic gatherings. They did not get what they had hoped for; but then they never do.

The Fraud's Prayer

Our Father, who art our bretheren
Shallow is thy game
Thou king hast become
To the weak and the dumb
That pray for earth on heaven
Give us this day our daily dread
And forgive us not our trespasses
As we despise those that trespass against us
And lead us all into one damned nation
But deliver us from free will
Amen.

Hope beyond what?

NA Which is the most representative picture you have ever taken? Do you have a special memory related to this or to other pictures?
DR I don't think I can claim to have made a 'representative picture yet. However, 'Ecce Homo' has been well received and might withstand some scrutiny.

The working title for this image was 'Life is slow dying' a line taken from English poet Philip Larkin's 1961 poem 'Nothing to be said'. The background is a stairwell in 'Office S-21', the Khmer Rouge's principal torture and interrogation facility in Phnom Penh, Cambodia from 1975-79. The 'confessional' grille is actually a concrete window which illuminates those unpleasant steps. The barbed wire running towards the camera on the left of the picture was installed by camp guards to prevent further "escapes" after the only man to avoid the grisly death guaranteed to all inmates, did so by committing suicide; throwing himself from the second floor balcony on his way to interrogation. In its four years of existence only seven prisoners survived its horrors.

The skull blended onto the figure was photographed in one of the 'Killing Fields' where thousands of similar reminders of Pol Pot's genocidal reign are still to be found. When his regime was finally dislodged by the North Vietnamese in 1979 he escaped to Thailand where he was given protection by western agencies who made efforts to return him to power which were, mercifully, unsuccessful. Politics is the new religion and religion is merely the poltics of another world which promises to be an improvement on this one.

'Ecce homo' were the words uttered by Pilate to the crowd when Christ was presented to them after His flogging. They mean 'Behold, the man' and are an insult to His Divinity and fully intended as such. To compare what is divine with what we are, can only be insulting.

The image is meant to be a portrait of humanity, and our enduring lack of it.

NA How would you define your style?
DR I wouldn't. I leave that to those qualified to do so. I will only say that my work is as much mine as I can make it.

NA Please describe for us your particular technical approach.
DR I shoot the various elements on transparency material and then scan them. Once in the computer, I blend them together in an attempt to form what I hope is a seamless result. This latter process can take anything from several weeks to several years. I am in no hurry. As far as I am aware it is not a race.

Once the file is ready it is written to black and white negative material from which toned silver gelatin prints are made but I am currently in the process of making large platinum-palladium prints which I hope will be better suited to holding the subtleties of tone that I try to put into my shadow areas.

NA Is there a photographer whose work had an influence on you?
DR When I first showed my work in The States the comment was often made that I must have been influenced by Jerry Uelsmann. I am ashamed to say that I had never heard of him although I think I would have seen some of his work as posters on bed-sit walls.

Joel-Peter Witkin is another whose work, apparently, mine emulates but if you asked me who are my favourite photographers I would answer Josef Koudelka and Robert Parke-Harrison but I don't get out much.

NA Why do you mostly prefer black and white photos?
DR We see in colour but we feel in shades of grey. Colour is everything, black and white is more.

NA What kind of camera and lenses are you using?
DR In the main I shoot on medium format transparency material using a Bronica SQA. As much as possible I like to use my standard 80mm lens but if space is tight I have a 40mm wide-angle lens. Very occasionally I use a 150mm or 200mm lens.

NA What do you think are the perspectives of a photographer in our days?
DR I don't fully understand this question but as a generalisation I would say that there should be as many perspectives as there are photographers.

NA Can one make a living out of photography or you can look at it as just a hobby?
DR I do make a living from photographic endeavours and have done so for all of my working life. It is depressing to note however, that one's best work is not that which generates an income.

I do not consider photography a hobby. It is by far the most important, enjoyable and rewarding aspect of my existence. If I have managed to retain any sanity it is because of its therapeutic nature. Making Art forces one to contemplate the spiritual; it is the closest one can get to God without actually having to be good.

NA Where is the border between artistic and commercial activity?
DR The artist's death.

NA How can you combine these two?
DR By reincarnating the artist..... as a banker.

NA How important is personal marketing in the success of a photographer and what are the best methods to employ?
DR You are asking the wrong person about personal marketing.

The most succesful photographers are rarely the best. Usually they are men and women who blend an average talent with a burning desire for recognition. I propose that a photographer's fame is directly proportional to the popularity of what he photographs, not on how he photographs. If you are asking me how to become a well-known photographer my advice is to go and photograph well-known people or tall buildings.

When I was a gullible young lad, the top three photographers in England had this much in common; one was born into royalty, another married a princess and the other had delusions of it. It is interesting to note that England has yet to produce a world class fine art photographer, with the possible exception of Bill Brandt (whose surname suggests he was not entirely English). Indeed, in England, most of what passes for art is no such thing. It is a ruse invented by the talentless to avoid manual labour which is, of course, an art in itself. Success, if you desire it, is opportunity multiplied by luck. Desire is surplus to existence. Popularity does not attract as I see little advantage in being the darling of ignorance.

Nicolaie Ardelean is the editor of Romania's PHOTO MAGAZINE in which this interview appeared in September 2006.

 
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