The stressful appearances in front of juries and all-nighters that characterise the last days of student life are fast becoming distant memories for Belgium’s recent graduates. We asked eight photography grads from all over the country to share their final year projects with us, and today Sint-Lukas‘ Miles Fischler kicks off the series with her offbeat archive project, token.
Could you tell us what your graduation project is about?
I decided not to photograph but to re-appropriate archive photos. The title, token, refers to the choice I made to focus on combining several different meanings that one word can have. A token can be an indication, a sign or an expression of something else. It has the ability to represent visually what would otherwise remain intangible.
Where did you go looking for archive material?
In my family’s archive, and some of them come from personal photographs that I took during my gap year in Peru. While selecting the fragments, I mostly called upon intuition. There was always something about the way the gesture, the colours and the form were combined that intrigued me.
What’s particularly striking about token is the grainy feel of the images. Why did you decide to go for that atmosphere?
The grain is the result of scanning the original prints and slides as well as zooming in very strongly on a detail, which suddenly makes one colour consist of hundreds of different tints. What I find interesting, besides the visual aspect, is the associations people make when looking at these images. Some originate in the collective memory, whereas the same picture can appeal to one specific highly personal memory as well. It’s intriguing how such little information brings to mind such different meanings and contexts.
Why did you choose photography?
I’ve always loved observing how people interact. I started photographing when I was about 15 years old. My dad used to have this old 35mm camera that I borrowed. At first, I mostly photographed my friends and learned how to develop and print in the darkroom. I also did some video workshops at the time, but I eventually stopped.
What’s the magic of photography to you?
I feel compelled to photograph when there’s a certain order between light and colour, people and shapes. Sometimes, my eye gets caught by something and I just have to photograph it. At times like that I could slap myself for not having my camera with me. I’d like to experiment more with archive images and collages and further explore working around connections related to form and content.
Looking back at your college years, what piece of advice will stick with you and who gave it to you?
I had several teachers telling me that if you want a series to really work in the way you’ve intended it to, a formalistic approach by itself usually doesn’t cut it. The importance of having different layers of meaning in your work really shouldn’t be neglected.
On the other hand, I’ve got to say that I can get very cynical when the conceptualistic backdrop becomes too dominant. When you’re working with photography, the image should always stay the most important, not the explanation behind it, which to me is secondary. I try to keep my ideas very clear.
When you work as intuitively as I do, the image is often prior to the concept. I always feel like I’m restraining myself when I have a preconceived idea. It’s exactly that tunnel vision which makes me not photograph certain scenes and makes me regret it later. But of course, at a certain point you have to define what you really want.
It’s said that after graduating, the hard part is actually still ahead. What are your ambitions for the future?
I’m still not sure about what I want to do now, I especially wonder about the necessity of doing a Masters. I feel like by continuing my studies, I’m postponing the now what?! question. To be honest, now that I’ve graduated, I’m actually still as indecisive as when I was 18. I’m still convinced that I love photography, but that’s about it.
I just try to have faith in that all will end well, even if I don’t end up being a photographer professionally. We’ll see.
How do you feel about the concept of self-publishing and special editions, which seem to have become increasingly important elements of a show?
There is indeed a kind of pressure to get published, not specifically by making your own book, but the necessity to spread your name and work is real. There are so many young photographers out there and publishing is one of the few ways to stand out. Then again, with so many people making their own books and catalogues, the impact of it is relativised, too.
Is self-publishing/self-promotion the way forward for you, or are you more drawn to the more common gallery-route?
On first impulse, I would go for self-publishing, because every decision remains your own and you’re less likely to have to make compromises. Of course, being represented by a gallery can make things run a lot more smoothly and it can result in really interesting – or really frustrating – collaborations. I guess it’s a question of finding the right gallery owner.
I just don’t want to feel pressured to produce work that doesn’t come naturally, only for the sake of sales.
Which photographers have influenced you?
I know it sounds a bit cliché, but I love the American colour photographers from the seventies: Stephen Shore, William Eggleston and Saul Leiter. Belgian photographer Harry Gruyaert made wonderful photographs in that period as well. People often tell me my photos feel like they were made back then because of their colours.
I recently discovered Erik Kessels‘ In almost every picture series. I don’t know if it will really influence me, but just looking at the pictures gets me in a good mood. There’s a nice kind of humour in these books that never becomes mockery.
What do you do when you’re not thinking photography?
I’m thinking about doing a course in carpentry or ceramics. I used to love working with my hands, but I’ve always put it off. Apart from that, I ride my bike, make cocktails in a bar, watch movies, pet my cat and dream of traveling.