We are delighted to announce that photographer Rich Cutler has joined the MAP6 collective!. Below is a brief interview where he discuses his photograhic practice, his latest project and his future plans.
Can you share with us your journey in photography - from your early inspirations to the format of your current practice?
I’ve always been interested in art, but my parents encouraged my other passion – science and technology – so I ended up at university studying chemistry. In the late 90s I felt like getting back into art so I bought a camera and some film. But I didn’t get on with photography at all: I hated waiting – days, sometimes weeks – before seeing my pictures, and when I did they never looked like I expected! I sold my camera...
A decade later and digital photography arrived. Buying a digital camera changed everything for me. First, I got immediate results. Second, the camera was expensive, so I felt I had to learn how to use it. I joined my local camera club, and got the hang of making pictures. A few years passed – and I was thinking about giving up photography: I could now take an OK picture, but what was the point? How many photos of sunsets and piers did I need, and why was I taking them? I then met someone doing a master’s degree in photography, and that was a revelation: I discovered that a photograph is a much more than just a picture. Despite having no art qualifications (well, apart from gold stars from the camera club) I applied for an MA in photography – and was accepted! I’ve since graduated, but my enthusiasm for photography still burns brightly.
What motivates and drives your current photographic practice?
What the MA taught me was not how to take photographs but why. A photograph is now the end of a process for me, not the start. A typical photographic project for me begins with an idle thought, and if it continues to pique my interest I wonder if it’s possible to explore the topic by taking photographs. Some meanders that have ended up as photographic projects are my musings on fast food, the pace of technological change and why we collect things. My next project is on exoplanets – planets orbiting distant stars!
If I had to formally summarise my practice, I guess I’d say I’m interested in symbolism, and photographing time, and relationships between the historical and the present, and between the sciences and the arts. Much of my work is still lifes – taken both on location and in the studio.
Talk to us a little about your most recent project.
That would be ‘Fleet’ – on a ‘lost’ river: London’s Fleet. After the Thames it was the city’s largest river. But as the centuries passed, Londoners used it as a drain – and the once clean waters became foul and putrid, and the channel silted up. Eventually, the Victorians diverted it underground into sewers. Today, excepting where it arises on Hampstead Heath, no open water remains, and there is no sign of the river above ground: the Fleet has been obliterated. A not untypical story; we have an uneasy relationship with nature, exploiting it for our – often short-term – needs.
My project ‘Fleet’ looks at the past and present of this river. As well as exploring the geography of the natural (and now erased) course of the Fleet through modern London, I’m interested in our relationship with and impact on the landscape – both natural and urban. As time passes, the urban environment changes beyond recognition by our hand. Yet, there are echoes from the past that bleed into the present.
I finished the project last year – after spending three years and hundreds of miles following the former course of the River Fleet. Walking where this river once flowed, I saw a familiar landscape that seemed also out of place and out of time; I saw funerary monuments to a dead river.
I’ve now finished taking photographs for ‘Fleet’, and am in the midst of editing the 150 or so images.
If you could work collaboratively with one photographer - living or dead - who would it be and why?
Todd Hido. Many of his photographs seem as if they belong to a dystopian road trip – an uncanny America seen only at twilight. People have described my photos as ‘gothic’, so I guess that’s his appeal! He also has a strong sense of narrative – which is also important to me: I like photographs to tell a story, in spite of it remaining largely unknowable since you see only one frame.
I’m going to be cheeky and mention a second photographer, as I can’t decide who to choose! Joan Fontcuberta. He’s always played with truth vs fiction – do we believe what we see in a photograph, or not? A hot topic today, with ‘alternative facts’ being used to legitimise lies. Fontcuberta also has a wicked sense of humour; despite dealing with serious subjects, he’s the only photographer who made me laugh out loud when I went to their exhibition!
What excites you about the future of photography?
Photographic practice – both art and mainstream – is moving away from its traditional presentation as framed photographs on a wall. We now have artists’ books, installations and video in place of or displayed alongside framed pictures. Photographers are becoming more experimental. This, I feel, adds to and enriches how we experience photographs.
As to the future of photography for me personally, I’m excited to have been invited to join MAP6 – and am very much looking forward to working with everyone in the collective.