Nothing to See: A Photography Exhibition


I’m pleased to announce an impromptu exhibition at Stuart House in Liskeard

The purpose of the 2 day exhibition is to say thank you to my sitters and friends who helped me through the process of achieving my Licentiate with the Royal Photographic Society hopefully provide inspiration to other photographers

By showcasing the photographs that were assessed by the RPS, plus some additional ones that I considered for presentation but didn’t make the final cut, it will be a 2 day exhibition of some of my finest work to date.

DON’T MISS IT!

29th and 30th of September

Opens 0930 until 1530
Stuart House,
Barras St, Liskeard PL14 6AB
Admission price: FREE!

Art is Life

Art is Life:

This is without doubt one of the most important pieces I have taken to date. This image is simple but I hope it portrays to the viewer a powerful message

The sitter, a fabulous artist, has embraced the devastation of the diagnosis, through to the triumph of coming through to the other side and embracing what has been dealt and using it for inspiration, not only for herself, but by the very act of being photographed like this an inspiration for others…


The Shoot:

The concept fort this shoot happened weeks earlier over a coffee at our favourite hangout. A lot of ideas were thrown about, the sitter, Hannah and her friend Janine wanted portraits of themselves for their new Art website. At one stage the ladies must have thought me rude as I phased out and then all of a sudden exclaimed “I want to throw paint over you!”

Caroline: “You want me to do what?”

The day of the shoot arrived, and the set up was relatively easy. For the first time ever, I had an assistant, the wonderful Caroline. By the look on Caroline’s face she was perplexed by what I was pitching to her as an idea and what was about to happen.

We dismantled the ‘standard set up’ and started prepping for the big shoot. the very 1st thing we did was to wrap Caroline in plastic sheeting, stand her on a stool behind the backdrop and hand her a bottle of green paint.

We handed Janine a bowl of very watery green paint and said… “throw this at your mate” when we’re already…

We had a couple of practices without paint because I, we all knew we only had one shot at this.

I was as nervous, anxious and as tense as hell…

“Everyone go on three…” I said full in the confidence this was going to work… 1… 2… 3…

I started clicking, whilst simultaneously trying to get the ladies throwing and pouring in unison and also trying to direct Hannah to get the best pose.

One shot, one chance only…

As i was clicking, the horrible thought of “my equipment.. MY STUDIO!” crossed my mind, but it was too late. We were already up to our neck and down to our belly button in green paint.

Then as quickly as it had started, it was over.

The Floor was covered

Hannah was covered

but the studio, my equipment, had gotten away with it, relatively in tact.

Hannah lead by the hand by Janine to the bathroom to clean all the paint off, she was covered unable to open her eyes due to the sheer amount of paint that had been pored over her head. Once cleaned up we retired to the front of the studio, to have a cuppa. The adrenaline was still pumping through me… my hands still shaking caused by the speed and voraciousness of what we had all done.

As a photographer, no matter how experienced and skilled, there is always that horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach that it had all gone wrong…

Alternative Concept

I checked the camera; in the 5 minutes from saying “3” to stopping, 214 photos had been taken. Surely one of them had to be ok?..

Whilst my set up had me tethered to a laptop and in turn to a large screen, in order to let clients see the images, I thought it best to go through the images privately. The rawness of the subject matter tied in with seeing the ubiquitous ‘screwed up face shots’ would have left the sitter and the team probably feeling deflated, especially with the sitter so raw and exposed, it was best in my opinion to leave it a few days, to let the paint dry and the dust settle, process the images and then share them with the gang.

To my absolute delight Hannah loved the image, to which i now present to you.

For me this image captured every element of the brief. In my opinion, it is without doubt a powerful and evocotive image that i hope speaks of hope and determination plus whatever you may see in the image.

Thank you

Matt

Schrödinger’s E-mail…

It was like Schrödinger’s E-mail… my eyes were closed tightly as I pressed open. There was a pause before I opened my eyes to reveal the outcome, had all the hard work, time, effort, blood, sweat and confusion been worth it?

Letting Time Pass… Slowly, Ever so Slowly…

In order to reach this point; the voyage I decided to undertake two years hence, had taken more than one circuitous route. The reasons for setting off on this existential photographic endeavor had changed mid passage; moving from the “I must prove them wrong” to the “I’m doing this for myself”. That moment of realization that this entire voyage was for my benefit and no one else’s that made the passage a much smother one, with calmer seas, fairer winds and a prevailing attitude of pride in my work, it propelled me forward towards opening the email from the Distinctions Team at the Royal Photographic Society .

It had been a long long trip. So many obstacles had been in my way. Trying to get everything ready, printed, mounted and delivered to the RPS in Bristol, in the midst of pandemics, lockdowns and chaos was the easy bit. It was the periods of self doubt, second guessing and over analyzation of the whole Licentiate process that caused numerous return visits to the doldrums.

The Sights of Bristol

There were times when I looked at the panel of photographs I was presenting and thought, “I need more; these aren’t good enough”, the over analyzation and panic was setting in. I had the horrible feeling I was setting myself up for a scuppering of Titanic proportions.

With Covid-19 ravaging the nation and lockdowns affecting everyone, how could I build and add to my body of work? I had booked an RPS Zoom One to One thinking I would be well prepared to share my final panel with whom ever I would be chatting but I really wasn’t. In my haste I went through my entire body of work, looking for something I could present, even as a half-arsed presentation, and I discovered, that some of my old stuff was actually quite presentable.

Having not looked at some of the photos for many many years, all the time from taking them to now, I had developed a more critical eye; and could, in my very limited way, appreciate their photographic merits (or not with the very early stuff) and look to my more recent work and muse more coherently upon their suitability for presentation.

Final Presentation

The Zoom One to One with the brilliant Sarah Dow, was without doubt one of the most useful and pivotal points in this entire process. The lifting of the fog and clarity of thought that Sarah gave me in our extensive chat forced me to rethink the whole project, my reasoning behind it and put this ships head on a new and more direct route to the final destination.

But the course of true [photography] never did run smooth and to say there were complications in regards to my assessment in June was an understatement.

I am to this day still unclear as to why I couldn’t be assessed the first time, and this will never be the forum by which to explore that route, but suffices to say, a couple of my images caused a great discussion to the extent that I couldn’t be assessed. It was with great relief that the Distinctions team at the RPS said they would defer the assessment by a month and somehow squeeze me in to an already full day

From that point on I just had to let time pass… slowly, ever so slowly… until the afternoon of the 21st July… and then that email from the RPS…

The reward…

The Road to a Licenciate Never Did Run Smooth…

What can I say about preparing for my licenciate assessment at the end of this month? It’s been a great distraction from the misery of the last year, but it has also been a tremendous eye opener in why I set out on this journey and how I perceive myself as a photographer.

What I have come to realise, that if you do want to undertake this journey, make sure you do it for the right reasons. I say this with great certainty in that as I started out with all the wrong reasons.

The last year and a half of delving down into the pixels of my work, has made me realise that despite the periods of doubt in my own ability, countered by the pride in seeing my body of work collected together, mounted and sitting on my living room floor (trying to pefect my hanging plan); irrespective of the outcome at the end of this month, the whole process has vastly improved me as a photographer and made me realise how much I really do love photography.

It’s made me super critical of my own work, which ultimately has lead to me in my opinion and choosing 10 of my most exciting and vibrant photos in my vast portfolio that I am proud to display at the RPS.

I have met, been to, and experienced a whole gamut of people, places and emotions with my camera in hand. 

To all of my subjects, to especially Hannah, Katie, Shaun, my family… I owe you a massive debt of gratitude for your patience and allowing me the privilege of photographing you.

I’ve been trolled and abused for some of my work, the people I’ve photographed and I’ve even had people want me to photograph them as a result but the entire adventure has been an enriching experience, one I never expected to get when I set off on this journey. 

Ultimately I’ve discovered that like my work or hate it,  photography and my love for it is a deeply personal (bordering on the spiritual) experience.

There are numerous forums and writings with advice, what you should AND shouldn’t do when going for a distinction, and I know there is ultimately a game to play in order to achieve a positive result, but for me, after almost 2 years of preparation, looking at my final pieces of work… this isn’t for the assessors, this work, this body of love, is for me… and if you remember that your work is for your own personal fulfilment, the happier you will be.

(Whilst my interaction on the official RPS distinctions group forum have been very limited, I have been absorbing the feedback, the joy and love from all in the appreciation of our art form and I thank all the participants in that forum for that.)

I’m not the only one going for the “L” but good luck to those going for it, keep going for those who didn’t quite get it, do it for those dwelling on it and well done for this who got it… I’ll see you all on the other side 😀

Keep clicking and que sera, sera
Matt

Inspiration

What does the act of trying to regain artistic inspiration look like?: It looks like 2 bottles of wine, and half a bottle of whiskey…

Inspiration the artist’s friend and oh! how it eludes the artist. Whether is be periodically or, as in my case, is a total evaporation of the liquid gold that is the inspired photograph.

It is that age old question, an artist faces… “why does inspiration elude me and where the hell did it go?”

So many times before, there has always been something to fire up the old creative neurones. But when you want to challenge yourself creatively, allow the energy to flow, sometimes the heat of that determination can evaporate, nay, crystallise your ideas so that any light that may pass through them becomes distorted and obscures the bigger picture..

Without a muse, without a cause, the ideas you develop as an artist can seen contrite, cliched, without form. And as you wander down the path of artistic endeavour, the inspiration for the ‘perfect idea’ stays at the garden gate… hell it sometimes travels in completely in the other direction, and if you push yourself harder to be creative, can even accelerate away from you, leaving you lost and living a beige creative existence.

When it comes to portrait photography, exploring the human condition, (because that is essentially what it is about) without inspiration is perhaps the most difficult place to be as an artist. Yes there are many stories out there to tell, there are many people who need their stories telling, but without inspiration… without that creative spark… were the hell do you go from here?

They say art, and an artist’s creativity is driven by existential angst and anguish. If i want to propel myself forward as an artist then i must find must find my state of disquietude…

Despite the world falling apart, despite the lockdowns, despite the pain and suffering being experienced around the world, I can find nothing to inspire me… and maybe that’s why my inspiration is gone, that maybe is the key. People don’t want to focus on the negative anymore… taking ‘that photograph‘ is too easy, and everyone else seems to be doing it anyway. Maybe my empathy has been saturated to such an extent that other peoples suffering has made me immune to people in general. Its clear that to get out of this creative existential funk, I need to stop focusing on what is in front of (me) us all and look deeper into the souls of people to find the joy that the human spirit will always find in times of adversity…

Photographing hope… photographing joy… taking photography back to basics to capture real life. That is what photography was intended for. But instead of focusing on the current negatives that all pervade society, I need to delve deeper and find the joy to inspire, to give hope and spread love… in a pandemic that’s where inspiration lies in providing hope…

Below is the last photo I took in 2020…

Christmas Morning 2020 © Matt Thornhill

Here’s to 2021…

Film Making, Another String to my Bow

It takes a tremendous amount of people, hard work and planning to create a film. Its more than just pointing a camera at something, pressing record and hoping for the best. The amount of research, writing, planning and communication needed with people is time consuming and extensive, and that’s even before you call action.

But once you have finished pre-production, shooting, editing and then distribution, its fingers crossed time. There is always that hope that enough people see what you’ve made and then hope they like it, and you hope enough people get to hear the story or message you want to portray to make what you do worth while.

I’ve been involved in making short films for over 10 years now. I have been In front and behind the camera on and off, but since 2016 my film making journey has begun to accelerate. I sit here in anticipation of the 19th Cornwall Film Festival, where for the first time, something I have directed has been shortlisted. (in fairness it’s the first time I’ve ever submitted anything to a film festival)

The Cornwall Film Festival showcases some of the best South West film-making talent, bringing worthy film-makers to national attention. My film was one of hundreds submitted and falls in to their category of ‘the most innovative and adventurous work from filmmakers who display a stylistic boldness, strength of form, and the ambition to use the medium in a way that resists cliché’. Its a ego trip… and i’ll take it.

In 2019, I was asked by Liskeard Town Council to write a short film based upon their annual Liskeard Unlocked events. The theme that year was ‘People Power’ and the local Children’s theatre company, ‘Wham Bam’, was running a promenade play based on the little known Liskeard Child Miners Strike of 1872.

A short film shared the untold story 1872 giving a glimpse into the lives of Victorian children working in the mines around Liskeard and how their actions inspired modern day local children to take part in the Global School Strike for Climate Change and also helped shape the modern education that Children ‘enjoy’ today.

The film was an almost 100% Cornish affair, with the entire production team living in Cornwall, all but one of the cast being Cornwall based with the recording and editing being done in Cornwall, it couldn’t be shown anywhere else except for the 19th Cornwall Film Festival.

And I am enormously proud of the team that helped get this project over the line.

I am always looking for new stories to share, either on film or through photographs. If you have any suggestions please feel free to contact me and share your stories.

Portraiture, your own personal time machine…

In this age of the disposable moment, and in this age of everyone having a camera on their phone, the necessity to record everyday people in a ‘formal’ portraiture is important now, more than ever.

Formal portraiture has been around in one form or another for over 4000 years. Harking back to the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt; the need to record the likeness of the important people, the busy people, those who affected everyday life to give their likeness to the masses was important. Not only did it confer status upon the subject of the portrait, by doing something the ordinary folk could not do (having time to sit and have a portrait painted) but also allowed their sitees image to be shared.

The purpose of sharing a likeness said to the people ‘I’m your boss, I’m in charge’ but it also allowed the people knew who to blame in the event of a crop failure or seeing the leader who was sending them to war. These portraits meant everything and the manor in which the subject was pictured was highly important.

Spinning on to the time of Richard III, his portraits after the battle of Bosworth we doctored. The victors, Richard’s slayers, found the easiest way to dispel any notion of a heroic death through manipulation of his portraits. This manipulation to show the people and have them believe he was somehow cursed and that the new regime in all its glory would serve the people well. This is a classic example of the earliest form of Photoshop and is a clear example of the reading of a portrait to tell a story, both by Richard himself and then the Tudors after his death, trying to legitimize their rule.

Portraiture has never been about truth, its always been about portraying a message, whether it be ‘remember me’ through to ‘look how important I am’. But as time and attitudes have changed, formal portraiture, in this age of the selfie, is more important than ever.

A formal portrait still makes you stand out from the crowd, it still set you above the abundance of photos out there. A formal portrait is less likely to be disposed off and survive the ravages of time than say a holiday snap from Tenerife in 2008.

Mrs Cobb

A formal portrait sends your message through time, to your descendants, to historian’s and is of histrorical importance.

You may not realise it now, but the decision to have your portrait taken, has historical ramifications. People in the future will look at your picture, look at all the little differences between them and you across time. Your story will still be told, long after you’re gone. I cite my own personal example a portrait of my Great… Great… Great… Grandmother. Prompted by this photo I researched her and her family… turns out her father was in the Cavalry that made the final charge into the French lines at the Battle of Waterloo. If it hadn’t been for this portrait, I wouldn’t have discovered this story…

So if you’re umming and ahhing about whether to have your portrait taken… do it. Keep your story alive…

幸せな写真を作る (make happy photos)

Matt

A Foray into Blogging About Photography (and art)

“Why start blogging now?” I hear you cry, “that’s so 20th Century…”

I’ve started blogging now because I had an interesting discussion today with a client on a shoot about why documenting life, now, today… is more important than ever before.

This Blog will, I hope will share my ideas and thoughts on art, on photography and why I’m doing what I’m doing and the style I’m trying to create.

Its an opening discussion point as opposed to fact… question everything.

幸せな写真を作る (make happy photos)

Matt