Finding Focus: Interview with Laura Hindmarsh

We caught up with artist Laura Hindmarsh, the recipient of the inaugural Double Exposure residency at PhotoAccess and Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres, for a glimpse into the life of an artist-in-residence.

01Image: Laura Hindmarsh on location (Lake George, NSW), shooting a 16mm film work during her Double Exposure residency, April 2016. Photo by Robert Agostino.

Laura, you work across drawing, video performance and analogue film- what interested you in the Double Exposure residency?

My practice has always been interdisciplinary but more often than not the outcome would be executed as a digital video project. Then in 2014 I had the opportunity to work with 16mm film and instantly took to the materiality of working with analogue. I now continue to use both, working between mediums as the concept and budget allows but I am yet to have the opportunity to really hone my basic darkroom skills or question what it means to work with analogue film in a digital age. Hence the Double Exposure residency appealed to me as the perfect opportunity to be in residence with a contemporary art organisation specialising in photo media for a period of research and experimentation. The fact that this residency is in Canberra and has an exhibition outcome was a bonus as it is also an opportunity for me to reconnect back to an Australian art community and audience after being based overseas for two years.

You are currently just over half way through your nine-month Double Exposure residency. How have you used your time so far?

As I am living abroad I decided to break my residency into two halves – initially researching, experimenting with techniques and gathering content while in Canberra, followed by a period of time developing the work in my studio before I return to Australia in November for the exhibition.

My time in Canberra earlier this year was more productive than I had anticipated. I spent six weeks between my studio at The Loft at the lovely Gorman Arts Centre and the PhotoAccess darkroom. I wanted to make the most of the resources and space that was available to me in Canberra, both in the darkroom and studio but also from resources at the Australian National University and National Library as well as the National Film and Sound Archives. As the project started to take shape I was out scouting for sites, climbing fences and shooting film in-situ.

02.LAHindmarsh_Finding-Focus-production-stillImage: Laura Hindmarsh production still (Lake George, NSW), March 2016.

On returning to London I lost the luxury of time and headspace that I had in Canberra so things have since been progressing a little slower. I fortunately have a studio with a makeshift darkroom where I can print but it’s often hard to get there so I also set up a little space in the basement of our share-house so I could develop in the evenings.

On the other hand the plus side of being in London is the strong community of experimental filmmakers meaning I have access to 16mm equipment to print and edit the film, as well as the opportunity to show and receive feedback on a work print.

You identify as a Tasmanian-based artist, who is currently living in London, and who spent a month in Canberra in March as part of the Double Exposure residency- do you find that your practice changes depending on where you are living and working? 

Absolutely and although it is always a challenge to reassess what you make and how you do it I find myself constantly seeking new environments to set new parameters and drive my work. I have been fortunate enough to have previously undertaken residencies in Sydney, Vienna, Paris, London and Japan and each time it has been impossible to predict what the process and outcome will be. It can be stressful but it is also exciting to allow new situations and people you come into contact with influence your practice. For example Canberra is also the home of filmmaker and archivist Louise Curham so travelling there has begun the ball rolling on a new collaboration and I doubt I would have started experimenting with alternative printing if PhotoAccess didn’t have such a knowledgeable Education Officer as Robert Agostino.

Although I grew up in Western Australia it was in Tasmania that I really started to pour my energy into my artistic practice and hence I feel like that is my home base despite where I might currently be located. I would like to describe myself as being based between Australia and London but obviously that is logistically challenging! For now London is a good location for me to travel and work in Europe but I do take every chance I can to head back home to Australia to work. As I mentioned being based in London is difficult given the constant work/life battle that goes with living in a big city, so I find residencies a useful way to structure my practice and make time for experimentation, development and production.

03Image: Paper negative of Laura Hindmarsh at PhotoAccess, March 2016. A paper negative is made simply by replacing film with photographic paper. The resulting images are quick and rough with a lovely soft-focus quality about them.

What ideas and techniques have you been exploring during the Double Exposure residency, and has your proposed residency project changed or evolved in any unexpected ways?

Initially I began researching early photographic and moving image techniques and in particular technical failures that meant the image was recorded somewhat incorrectly, inverted or impermanent. From this I started to get my head around the various processes and variables of analogue photography, from capturing the image by controlling exposure and focus, to the inversion of light values to go from negative to positive, and then the chemical development and fixing of the image. As the project developed I also began to question how the understanding of digital photography, video and imagery still conforms to analogue formats and how normative epistemologies emerge from technological precursors. Ironically the various recapturing, mediation and circulation of images digitally is more fleeting, less permanent and harder to recall.

I started with 120mm stills film in a Mamiya camera and developing standard silver gelatin prints in the darkroom but I soon became much more interested in the negatives themselves which read like filmstrips and hence started contact printing rather than using the enlarger. Given the incredible weather and light conditions in Canberra that I had been craving coming from a British winter I also wanted to get out of the darkroom which lead me to begin experimenting with salt prints which are exposed in sunlight.

The light conditions in Australia also really made me adapt my way of working with 16mm film. The negative stock I had bought with me was far too sensitive to shoot outdoors so I purchased some very slow print stock and began to experiment with cross processing. I stumbled across the location of Lake George whilst driving along the Federal Hwy to Sydney and was instantly taken with it as a site. Initially it was its sheer expanse and flatness that compelled me, appearing like a natural stage, but the more I researched it and spoke to people about its history and mythology the more it resonated as a site for my project.

04.LAHindmarsh_Finding-Focus-stillImage: Laura Hindmarsh, Finding Focus, 16mm film still (Lake George, NSW), 2016.

I guess an unexpected development, was how returning to Australia after living overseas made me reconsider not only my relationship with the Australian light and landscape but also my position with Australian cultural identity. Fittingly the National Gallery of Australia had a Tom Roberts exhibition on when I was there and soon enough I found myself out in the heat and light taking photos of the Australian landscape. I guess I was trying to find my own way of understanding and representing the familiar but also peculiarity of the rural landscape. I grew up in a British migrant family living in the suburbs so my association with this landscape is tenuous to say the least, but perhaps this is what compelled me. A need to immerse myself in it, to understand it and then to challenge the historic conventions of the Australian archetype, which I find to be heavily gendered.

As well as working toward your solo exhibition at PhotoAccess in November you are also planning on participating in a public program at Gorman Arts Centre- can you tell us more about that?

I normally shy away from solo gallery exhibitions for two reasons. Firstly I like my work to have a live component, whether the work is generative, performed in some way or activated by the viewer. Hence one-night events or evolving exhibition formats suit this way of working better. And secondly I prefer group shows as a way to situate my work alongside peers for content and context. I’m certainly not a curator but I think setting up relationships between different artists work allows for a richer conversation rather than just hearing one individual voice.

In this instance I am presenting a solo show at PhotoAccess but also wish to use the opportunity to present a public program at Gorman Arts Centre as a chance to present some live work alongside artists who I believe are working in the same vein. Some of these artists I have shared studios with and know their work well, others have been long time influences, and some I have just come across this year. As the Gorman Arts Centre public program is a one-night event I am hoping to include some live performance work alongside analogue film and digital video projection. It’s still very much a work in progress but I will say it is very much an extension of my exhibition at PhotoAccess looking at female artists self imaging in the landscape.

05.LAHindmarsh-filming_woman_with MirrorImage: Laura Hindmarsh, filming (wo)men with mirror a super 8 film performance created in collaboration with Teaching and Learning Cinema (Louise Curham and Lucas Ihlein), Canberra March 2016.

Are there any other projects you are working on at the moment?

This residency has been my main focus for the year but working with alternative photography has certainly sparked off lots of ideas for new projects that I am hoping to move onto next. This month I will be showing some of my films alongside my studio mates at Close Up Cinema in Shoreditch (London). There is also a collaboration with sound artist and composer Dylan Sheridan leading on from a residency we undertook in Japan last year which has been on the back-burner and we are hoping to pick up again soon. Also I just temporarily located to Tuscany to live and work at Villa Lena Art Foundation so lets see how life and light in Italy affects my practice.

06Image 6: Laura Hindmarsh at PhotoAccess, Manuka Arts Centre Canberra, March 2016.

Laura Hindmarsh’s solo exhibition will feature in the PhotoAccess Huw Davies Gallery (tall and long spaces) from 10-27 November 2016, opening 6pm Friday 11 November 2016. Date and time of the one night event of curated analogue film, video and performance work at the Ralph Wilson Theatre at Gorman Art Centre that Laura will participate in TBA.

The Double Exposure residency is produced in partnership with Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres, and funded by the ACT Government’s 2016 Arts Residencies ACT Program. The residency offers one mid-career artist living outside the ACT the opportunity to make and exhibit new work in Canberra in 2016. The Double Exposure residency exists to support experimental photomedia practice and aims to introduce one mid-career Australian artist to ACT audiences, and to contribute to public awareness of photomedia practice in a national and expanded art context.

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