Wednesday 30 September 2015

Interview with Robert Richardson

Artist Robert Richardson interviewed about his photography by Alexandros Plasatis

Robert Richardson

Robert Richardson is a visual artist who works across various media: typography, graphics, installations and video installations. In the last ten years, he has concentrated on exhibiting photography, although recently he has begun a series of Constructivist artworks. His work was included in Artists Postcards: A Compendium (edited by Jeremy Cooper, Reaktion Books, London). An exhibition based on this book has been showing at different UK galleries. He is also a poet, and co-edited, with William Pratt, Homage to Imagism (AMS Press, New York).

AP. Why do you take photographs?

RR. Taking photographs is now a part of me, and not something I can necessarily find reasons for doing. It’s linked to the act of looking and, even more basically, seeing. For me, there is something compulsive about it. I do a fair bit of travelling, and if I return from somewhere and do not have some good photographs then I feel disappointed. Through images, I am searching for enjoyment and meaning that I also want to share.

A recent photograph by Robert Richardson
AP. What’s the difference in the process of taking an art photograph and taking an “everyday” one?

RR. What might be thought of as an “art” photograph is quite wide ranging, which is to say there are a number of different photographies, for example fashion, landscape, architectural, photojournalism. In recent years, a conceptual approach to photography has become the one that seems to be favoured by commercial galleries. This is when, usually, the photographer creates an artwork by setting up an image, either in a studio or on location. In contrast, my photography is classed as street photography, which explains its self: it’s a form of documentary that is mostly, though not exclusively, centred on people (not necessarily always on the street. They might, for instance, be on a beach). In that respect it is close to photographs anyone might take in similar situations. The difference might be a greater commitment to photography as a means of expression through defined projects. There is also a more successful “hit” rate in terms of aesthetically pleasing compositions and an editorial ability to select the best photographs to be exhibited or published. Most people who take photographs achieve an occasional good one and even sometimes a great one, but to think of yourself as a photographer, you have to be more consistent than that: it must not be occasional, but often.

A recent photograph by Robert Richardson
AP. Does poetry and fiction influence your photography and vice versa?

RR. There is an overlap, but it’s not an agenda I’m particularly deliberate about. In photography there is sometimes a visual rhyming , when two (or more) shapes echo each other. This can also happen with colours. It is similar to the way words rhyme in poetry. Over the years, I’ve organized events linked to the Imagist poets. As their name suggests, a significant part of their poetics was the presentation, in words, of visual images. That’s a personal bridge between the verbal and the visual. With photography, though, I can deal directly with the visual cortex and bypass words. Words, although I love them, can be just too slow. Still images can also prompt fictions. We start to have ideas about who people might be, when actually we know nothing about them. Even when these ideas are slight and fleeting, they are, I suppose, fragments of fiction. Last summer I was in Brittany, and took a photograph of three people standing together. Even at the moment I took the photograph, I thought they looked like characters in some wonderful French comedy film.

AP. You take photos, you write poetry, you’ve written a novel that is yet to be published. Why do you do all that? What does art mean to you?

RR. Well, I suppose at its most obvious, it just means I am trying to express myself both visually and through words. As a design student, I was heavily influenced by the Bauhaus and in particular Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. He was a Hungarian professor at the Bauhaus, and both an artist and designer. He was also a great teacher and writer. I like that ethos of working in different media. I am very wary about easy answers to what art might mean to me. I suspect there are subconscious motivations that by definition I’m not aware of. I think art can embrace and create ambiguity, which other forms of expression tend to avoid, and it shouldn’t, I think, be propaganda.

AP. What sort of people do you think like your photography? How do you imagine them?

RR. People who respond to my photography probably like colours and imaginative compositions, and have an appreciation of the quirkiness and surrealism in everyday life. Those looking for a heavily stated political or social message are not going to find it. On the whole, I am trying to communicate a positive enjoyment of life, though sometimes there are more poignant and reflective images. I also hope that at least some of the work is edgy. I remain a fan of certain photographers and photography in general. I never want to stop being a fan of others, because that enthusiasm is also a motor for my own work.

Robert Richardson’s photography website

Two online slideshows

Robert Richardson is a member of the Biennale Austria group, and there is work by him on its website

There is also work at the Biennale Austria Sales Point

All photographs are copyright © Robert Richardson

About the interviewer
Alexandros Plasatis lives in Leicester and had short stories published in Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud (2012), Unthology 6 (2015), and Crystal Voices: Ten Years of Crystal Clear Creators (2015).

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