Wes Hill in Conversation with Raimond de Weerdt
Silent Speech, Lismore Regional Gallery, 2014
Wes Hill: The works in Silent Speech are all digitally manipulated photographs that have a heavy emphasis on form. The chiaroscuro sense of light, which is often associated with gothic imagery, conjures fairy-tale-like associations, rich in allegory and reminiscent of directors such as Tim Burton or David Lynch, who draw upon the traditions of film noir. You made reference to film noir in some of your previous video work. What do you like about this style of representation?
Raimond de Weerdt: What I find interesting about film noir is that it is essentially a displaced European ‘look’, created by film industry people who escaped from Europe in the Second World War and settled in the US. Those early explorations of the darker, dystopian aspects of modernity have evolved into a mode of expression which is still with us today. The way film noir directors use light and camera angles to create visual tension and suspense fascinates me. A photograph is a single frame with no sound, no beginning and no end, and on a gallery wall it is in a kind of open proposition, so it is inevitable that the viewer has to complete the picture in their own mind. My photographs attempt to provide the viewer with a sense of incomplete mystery or suspense which they have to fill. They are constructed using digital means and I don’t want to hide that. For some reason there are still a lot of people who only regard photographic representation in terms of analogue purity, as if it were a measure of truth. My works are more about the push and pull between realism and fictional, dream-like states.
WH: Can you talk a bit more about those attitudes towards analogue photography? Are you referring to those who approach photography as a kind of inherently realistic medium?
RdW: Yes, there are still a number of photographers who need to make it explicit that their work is not digitally manipulated or Photoshopped, as if it were a problem. On a most basic level the actual act of taking a photograph is a manipulation in itself. The photographer always discriminates in terms of what will or won’t be in the frame. To me, digital photography creates images that are more honest because most people know that a digital photograph can be manipulated. From William Henry Fox Talbot’s ‘pencil of nature’ to current post-photographic practice, the fundaments of the photographic medium have always revolved around technological innovation and refinement. It is not about a magical transference of reality into ‘image’.
WH: Do the works in Silent Speech all stem from a particular setting or is location relatively unimportant? There does seem to be a definite tension between ‘site’ and ‘allegory’ in many of the works.
RdW: I photographed particular sites for this exhibition but I also utilised existing photographs from my archives. One mode informed the other. For instance, when I took the photograph of the guardhouse and began working on it, a number of photographs from my archive came to mind that had a similar kind of light and atmosphere. Constructing this exhibition was largely a process of discovery and re-discovery. I like the idea of the present informing the past. This is a unique characteristic of the digital image – it is never ‘finished’. Over the last five years or so I travelled a lot and took a large amount of photographs. But working with my photographic archives has shown me what my pictorial interests actually consist of. For me it’s a process of self-discovery, learning not to look for meaning in individual images but in the interrelationships between them, without being too attached to traditional ideas of authorship.
WH: What is your personal background and how do you think this has influenced your work? You mentioned before that you appreciated film noir’s European sensibilities. Are there other things about your practice that you think are specific to your Dutch origins?
RdW: It is inevitable that my personal background is somehow a part of the work that I’m making, but it is hard to say what this actually consists of. I did my undergraduate studies at the Sydney College of the Arts (SCA), and I remember the day a number of Mac computers were installed in the library there for the first time. In this sense I think my practice will always be tied to the transitional period from analogue to digital technology. I still did a huge amount of darkroom printing at SCA and I worked in a commercial studio in Amsterdam that utilised predominantly analogue technologies. Although I’m really happy to be working with digital images now I also feel privileged to have learnt the techniques of analogue photography.
WH: The works in Silent Speech remind me of Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014),which I’ve just seen. Some of your locations resemble models, and the people, including your self-portrait, look like mannequins. Can you talk a bit about the darker, almost pessimistic aspects of the series? Why are you preoccupied with evoking this sense of dread?
RdW: I’m interested in employing digital techniques – borrowed from the commercial world – in an exaggerated fashion. I’m also interested in exploring theatricality with these images, so perhaps this sense of drama is what you mean by ‘dread’. In the past, my work was somewhat quirky, bordering on humorous. Here I thought it was time to get a bit more serious – maybe even a bit too serious.