Tim Bowditch is a Guernsey-born artist, currently based in London. His work focusses on photography and film, and he recently curated the greenhouse exhibiton ‘Fowards, backwards and forwards again’.
Can you describe the concerns of your creative practice, including what ideas, themes and research sources influence and are present in your work?
TB: It’s a good question and it’s one that I dread every morning when I wake up to be honest because I don’t actually know what the main thread running through my work is.
I would say that when I was at University I was interested in ideas of Nationality and Community and most of my work was made around that and that spilled over into the project that I made for Guernsey.
But now I would say that if there was a theme in my work it would be the fact that I don’t work on my own anymore, for example in a recent project that I did with my brother Afghanistan Blueys where I didn’t even take any photographs; I gave him the camera, he made the work and I curated it.
Afghanistan Blueys; April-June 2011
I am currently working on a project with another photographer where the work is very rigid and rule based and this is attractive to me. I suppose I would class myself as more of a documentary photographer as well more than anything else, but as far as that goes I don’t have any political or social themes running through my work really.
You are interested in collaborating with people and you were talking about having quite rigid rules; do you think that these can be devices for increasing productivity?
Yes I think that you limit yourself with these factors and then go off and try and create within the boundaries. I have been collaborating with another photographer on a project that was super rule based where our cameras were strapped back to back camera A and B and they dictated to(?) each other. I don’t always do it but I often set myself little rules where I’ll get into a rhythm and my work is very repetitive and reciprocal, I suppose.
I think that it is good to have boundaries and work towards rules – it restricts you in the right way; it directs you probably more than it restricts you and it focusses you immediately.
As a person who was bought up in Guernsey, how has your relationship and perception of the Island changed since being based in the UK? And how has your artistic practice altered your relationship and understanding of the Island?
So obviously Guernsey is a tiny place and there comes a time when you want to leave and that’s when I went to Portsmouth to study. Portsmouth is similar in ways – it’s that baby step up to a bigger city like London where I currently live.
So I lived in Portsmouth for three years when I was studying and then I came back to the island for a month or two I think. I couldn’t hack it at all really; if you’re focussing on something like photography or whatever and you’re channelling everything into it and you come back and the island isn’t really set up for that in the same way or doesn’t recognise it in the same way, this can be frustrating. But that’s something you find in any small town.
I’ve got a real fondness for Guernsey now, much more so than I did four or five years ago probably. I love coming back and I love making work here actually – in many ways the island feels like an untapped resource, I’ve been really lucky to be able to work here. The last project I did here took three years so I’m not thinking of anything immediately but I have some ideas for projects I’d like to make in Guernsey certainly.
Why do you choose to use lens based media?
Well I got into photography when I was about sixteen I think through my uncle and I did it as an A-Level and it just seemed to work. I can’t really describe it but it was the way I was most comfortable making work because I was never particularly good at Art at school – I couldn’t draw or paint or do anything like that but for some reason I just sort of fell into it and started making pictures I was happy with straight away. I think it was the natural path for me.
How did you find the experience of curating ‘Forwards, Backwards and Forwards Again’ exhibition held at the greenhouse?
I would use the word curating pretty loosely. I definitely did curate it but it’s different because it had come off the back of the first year of this film project and it basically came about because I wanted to have a show which was going to be more of an archive show it was going to have videos and films made for this project, which would also include photographs clippings and just be more of an accessible archive show about the bathing pools. That didn’t come about because the space wasn’t free when I wanted it and so I spoke to Joanna Littlejohns and we both decided that I was going to have a screening of the film called Fire Dive down at the pool instead and try and get a swimming gala together, which we actually did and I invited artists over to make work directly in response to the screening.
The whole film was about these events that don’t happen anymore and the idea of getting people to document this was kind of a third tier. The curatorial aspect came out of that I suppose and so I invited the artists Sybella Perry, David Angus and Theo Niderost over. All of whom are actually friends of mine so that’s why I’m a little bit shy to say that it was curating because it was a bit more informal than you might normally expect.
‘Forwards, Backwards and Forwards Again’ was concerned with Guernsey’s social history and environment. Do you intend to develop any other projects that are concerned with the Island?
Yes, as I said earlier I would like to. I can’t think about anything for the immediate future because it was a long three years. There was an easy way into the ‘Fire Dive’ project because it had a personal connection for me as my mum used to swim in the pools and my gran used to be a pool attendant there. The whole idea came out over dinner one night where my mum told me a story about the Fire Dive that sounded slightly fabricated. Then I told the story to my friend Matthew de Kersaint Giraudeau who is a writer and from that, both of us put a proposal together and so that’s how that worked. In terms of future projects for the Island it would depend on what I’m looking to do really. I would like to shoot more of a straight documentary because that’s really my comfort zone and I haven’t really seen anything coming out of Guernsey in that way because the photography over here seems to be more on the commercial side. So yeah I’d like to get my teeth into a documentary project over here.
Can you talk about your current/ most recent project?
Ok well there are a few things on the go at the moment. I’ve just launched a book about two months ago called Leaf Peeper and that was where I followed this elderly Japanese tourist around a temple in Kyoto in Japan for an hour and just photographed him.
My housemate has just finished at the RCA and he was on a residency for three months in Kyoto so I went to stay with him for a month and whilst I was there I was interested in visiting tourist sites. So I visited these temples and the last temple I visited I was tired of the American audio guides that you were given, largely because I had visited the temples back to back. So when I got there I saw this guy and he was dressed head to toe in brown with this brown little pork pie hat on and he really blended in with the trees and he was running around taking photos with this tiny camera. There is also this season in Japan called Momijigari, which is where tourists and people from Japan head down to the Kyoto area to see the fall and they head through the region and chase the fall. The fall was late this time (in November) so there weren’t actually any red leaves. This is why I called the project ‘Leaf Peeper’ because in the States this is a similar term for chasing the fall. And so I followed this man around the Temple and he never saw me, except for on two occasions where he apologised because he thought he was in my shot which he obviously was. So I shot that and got the negatives back when I was back in London and I thought they were cool, cute and funny, so I sent them to Matt to see if he liked it. From that, he wrote a short fiction which basically is this Leaf Peeper guy appearing in a dream and he meets him in a Kebab shop in Newcastle. It’s funny because Matt really warped the story but it inadvertently ties back because the Leaf Peeper has these little quips within the text where he is complaining about his sinuses and Matt has really bad sinuses, but it turns out that Asian people often have very bad sinuses because of their bone structure. So it just fitted. Matt didn’t even know that because he didn’t research it, and the text became about death and dying with the fall and it became quite a nice piece. This has been released as a book on Rokov Publishing which is a small label run by a friend of mine.
Trying not to be seduced by things is one of my main rules and so trying not to be seduced by this amazing temple and foregoing that experience and opportunity is interesting to me. I saw the temple and it was beautiful, but do I really need a picture of it? I had more fun making that project than maybe I would have done if I’d been scanning in negatives of this Villa that I could have just gone on Wikipedia and got anyway because a thousand people have taken the same photograph.
I’m also working on a project called Hind Land with a photographer called Nick Rochowski where we are driving around the M25 virtually using a few different mapping websites and dropping pins where you can still access under the motorway by foot. We visit these places in the day and construct a shot in our heads under these underpasses.
Hind Land, 2012
I have set a rule with this project: you can’t look out of these tunnels you have got to look in so you are looking at these dark places. This came about because Nick is an amazing Architectural Photographer but his usual work seemed almost too beautiful for this project; I wouldn’t say that I am anaesthetic but I try and not be seduced by those kinds of shots. Nick had been looking at the M25 in the past and had these shots that cut through the vistas and they’re beautiful photographs, but that’s not really enough for me. So this project came about because I was running a studio in Roman Road and Nick was renting a desk from me and there were twenty other photographers there – one of the guys there said maybe we should make work as a collective focussing on London and me and Nick were the only two people who really took it seriously and we are still working on this project. It was Nick who actually approached me with the idea and said that he wanted to make a project based on the M25 but embracing my rule based thinking. So we both got thinking and set a few rules, I said that I want to do it at night and in black and white as well, to remove that lush colour element that Nick had in his images before. So we have been visiting the tunnels in the winter and shooting at midnight in pitch black using a Promatic digital back which is a specific bit of kit normally used in surveying. The kit itself is pretty techie – it hasn’t got certain cut off filters and it doesn’t have infra-red or UV cut of filters, so it reads into both spectrums simultaneously; the sensitivity is immeasurable. The exposures are normally about an hour and what you get can look quite spectacular because there is infra-red and UV light refracting off of these concrete surfaces, so we have these alien/lunar looking landscapes. We are currently half way through this project and we are showing in a group show in Portugal at Casa Das Artes right now.
You have travelled quite widely in your practice. What was your favourite country and location to have visited?
I actually haven’t travelled that widely, I wish I had, but Japan definitely. It was amazing, although quite weird because I went to Japan to have a good time, but I always find that if you put too much pressure on things like that you become underwhelmed. For example, Tokyo I did not get on with at all; I went with my two house mates who were in the show here actually and we actually had a really grim time because the hostel we were staying in was the cheapest hostel in Tokyo and it was just stressful, although Kyoto was great.
This is almost true in my work in some sense: I employ rules so that I don’t try to force anything too much.