ZOE: What drives your desire to create?

 

LUCY: It’s basically escapism. As a medium, photography as opposed to, say, painting, offers the freedom to create fantasy while still keeping a touch on reality. I’m not interested in capturing reality on its own, but I like the ability to keep a hook in it.

 

ZOE: That’s something I love about photography – being so reminiscent of reality, there’s a lot of freedom for trickery, it offers an alternative that looks familiar enough to completely change people’s perception of the things it presents.

 

LUCY: And the fun with it is, from its invention, the whole pretence of the medium is that it was designed to record reality, and for me there is just so much fun in manipulating that. Since the dawn of photography people have been manipulating it, so we all know that it can’t offer an entirely factual record, but having that hook… I don’t like using the word ‘fantasy’ – I always think there is probably a better word for it – but that’s essentially what my work is, and I’ve always been attracted to that side of it, I guess not really much deeper than that it’s just fun. Like why wouldn’t you? For me, why wouldn’t you just? We live in everyday life and everything around us is real and reality. With artwork, for me the only way is to escape and build a new world...

 

ZOE:  ... out of this one, carving a lasting access point, one of familiarity. I’m sure people, on seeing your woman on a boat, will be left with a lasting imprint, the boat in the real world, there’ll be the edges of this fantasy world pressing in, it allows the surreal to spread so much further, last longer, there’s an anchor.

 

LUCY: Yeah whereas, I suppose, with something like painting, there’s no edge, it’s just ongoing. The ‘otherworldness’ is the only place.

 

ZOE: What attracts you to film over digital? I always have this romanticised view of film over digital, capturing the moment, the physicality of it, as opposed to a clunky restructuring in pixels…

 

LUCY: It’s the same thing really. I think, for me, I understand how film works. It’s not that simple, but if you compare it with the technology of a digital camera, it is fairly straightforward. As a photographer you can understand the process, how the light captures on the film; whereas if you asked me to pick apart a digital camera and tell you what was what and explain the sensor, I wouldn’t have a clue, because it’s very, very complex. Understanding what’s going on, I feel like I connect more deeply with the whole process.

 

ZOE: There is a lot of depth in your work, not just physically but emotionally, in the gazes of your subjects especially. Do you try to create this or wait for it to happen?

 

LUCY: I think it does have to do with the waiting, in quite a literal sense. The way I work is slow, it’s not like ‘bang bang bang’. So, often, when I’m shooting, they’ve maybe been sat there for a while and not much has happened, so I think they’re probably more often than not in quite a calm, waiting state, which is probably quite a nice look to have.

 

ZOE: There’s a definite glint, it feels almost as though if I look hard enough, I might be able to see what they see – you know that there’s something going on in their middle distance that is quite interesting…

 

LUCY: I guess the people in my best work are people that I’ve chosen because there will be something about them, not necessarily just how they look, but if I’ve got a good rapport with them. I mean, I do give physical directions, I say exactly where to be because I always want to go for something a bit staged – not in a sort of posy-posy way – I like working with shapes. If I say to a model ‘just go for it’, often they’ll revert to default magaziney poses. So the look in their eyes, that’s an interesting question because it’s something I’m always trying to improve in myself – able to talk on an emotional level about how models should look at the camera, but then I think subconsciously that is something that draws me to a subject, the look they have already when working or posing because, as I said, my direction is very much physical – I’m rarely saying to people ‘oh, think about this’ although perhaps I should…

 

ZOE: By the sounds of it I don’t think you need to, I’m always interested in the combination of conscious and subconscious creativity. It’s quite insightful for me as well, I struggle with the panic element in portraiture, trying to control everything consciously, make sure the model is entertained and stimulated and comfortable, but I think my own unease probably drains them of all of those things…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LUCY: Yeah, such a big thing in portraiture is that panic factor. My friend gave me a good bit of advice: he said you have to always remember that, basically, all that matters in the end is getting a good picture, and no matter if someone is sat there bored all day, they’re not going to remember that bit – they’ll remember if the picture’s bad, so just really, really take as much time as you need and forget about that element of it because no one cares about that in the end. But something that’s been really useful for me... the girl I work with – the nude model that’s in, like, 95 percent of my work – is the same girl, a model called Cat. She’s great, but when we first met, she told me she does a lot of work with life models – with painters – so she’s used to standing still for hours, and when she said that, it gave me this huge sense of relief. I thought ‘oh brilliant’ because when we met, I was less experienced and that panic factor was a thing – it probably still is to an extent because it’s hard not to feel it when someone’s there waiting, and you’re in control: it is a factor. But once she said that, I just breathed a sigh of relief, and now the way I work with her, I know it doesn’t matter. If I need to look through the camera at her for 15 minutes and not say anything and not click, I know it doesn’t matter and that helped feed into my other work. And also, sounds weird but using a way slower viewer really helps with that because you’re not actually looking at them. With photography, you’re shooting portraits, you’re literally looking into someone’s eye, and it is difficult: you’re human beings, and it’s a big thing to look into each other’s eyes. So that eye-contact moment I have, there is a part of me that – especially with someone I don’t know – there’s a huge part of me that wants to just hurry up, which is ludicrous for a portrait photographer to say, but that’s one of the reasons I love working with these, because you are looking in their eye, but it’s not that simple, because to them, you’re just looking down. And I feel like it gives you this huge space and that sigh of relief I breathed when she [Cat] said, ‘Oh, don’t worry - I stand for hours.’ I’ve just breathed that ever since, and I try and keep that with me. I was shooting for The Skinny a couple of weeks ago and it was this musician who I think is becoming quite a big deal, and I was a bit nervous and I had that eye-contact thing, but then you just have to remember it doesn’t matter, and you have to get on with it. And you have to remember to have fun with it. I went to see – have you heard of Rich Hardcastle?

 

ZOE: Rich Hardcastle? That’s quite a name...

 

LUCY: He’s a photographer – he does portraits for comedians, he’s done amazing stuff of Ricky Gervais, who I’m a huge fan of. I love his [Hardcastle’s] work so much and emailed him saying, ‘Can I come and have a cup of tea with you? I’d just love to have a chat with you and show you my work’ and I went to London to see him, had an amazing day with him...

 

ZOE: Wow and he said yeah? That’s bloody brilliant.

 

LUCY: He was so nice. It was just great. And we talked for the whole day, went to the pub and had a pint...

 

LUCY: So he said – I was wittering on, panicking about god knows what, saying, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know what my work means and I’m worried about that, and sometimes I don’t know what I’m doing’ and he was like, ‘Look, if you’re born a creative type and you’ve got it within you to make a career out of being a creative, then it’s your duty to have fun with it. You have to, because otherwise it’s unfair. If that’s what you’re doing, you’re so lucky. You know, people who do jobs they hate all their lives – if you can be a creative, you have to have fun with it.’ So I try and remember that all the time.

 

ZOE: That’s really valuable, and brings me to a big question, to all artists really – you’ve kind of carved out your own... thing? It’s not even just your own style – it’s like, ‘These are the stories I have for you. And that’s it.’ Did you feel that solidly from the start or did you begin being a bit ‘Oh, I’ll try this and I’ll try this’?

 

LUCY: Well, basically, I discovered – when I finished uni in 2007, that’s when I discovered that I wanted to be a photographer, and I was doing fine art, so I knew it was creative photography I wanted to do, but then when I left I had it in my head, ‘Right, well I’ll be a photographer in my life.’ And I had no idea what bit to do. I spent a bit of time photographing snowboarders, and then from that I started photographing surfers, and then I thought maybe I want to be a sports photographer. That was abroad – and then I came back to England and started to build a business doing headshots, foolishly thinking that’d be quick easy money – nothing is quick easy money...

 

ZOE: Nothing is quick or easy. I’ve learned this very slowly, the hard way.

 

LUCY: So forget that [laughs]. So then I was lost, and I started to make some quite interesting work, where I had a dark room, and I was shooting portraits – just candid stuff of my friends and then working afterwards on the prints, which was quite interesting, but just doing all sorts. And I thought, ‘Oh, I’m so lost.’ So I went and did an MA in photography, and there and then I discovered this sort of surreal portraiture that I like doing, because I discovered painters such as René Magritte, photographers such as Gjon Mili, who does crazy light-torch things, and Rodney Smith – he’s one of my all-time favourite photographers – he works with fashion and portraiture and his pictures are beautifully simple, but odd. It’s what I aspire to – that type of work. And that’s when I discovered this surreal portraiture work and I was like, ‘That’s what I need to be doing!’, and then as I was doing this headshot business – well, trying it – I realised through and through that you cannot build a business in anything that you don’t absolutely love, and then I thought if I want to be an artist and make money as an artist, that’s gonna take years – it’s not something you can just do...

 

ZOE: ...or decide tomorrow.

 

LUCY: Because it’s like a life plan. So I knew that that was part of me, but I also knew that I would need to make a living as a photographer, and I thought rather than just go for the quicker thing, which was maybe be a commercial photographer, or do the photography that a lot of people want, which is, digital and polished, I thought if I can – as slow as it is and as long as it takes me – if I can build a portraiture business, so there’s no difference really between my fine art stuff that I shoot for myself and something I shoot for a client... and that was a decision I made. And it’s really difficult. But I know from every client I have, there are people who want that. And as slow as it is, that’s basically what I’m doing with my life, so I made the decision to build a portrait business. That meant that every shoot I did I would be happy with. Because I just knew I wouldn’t be happy creating work for people that I wasn’t that into.

 

ZOE: Mmm, because you can’t help but pour everything of yourself into anything you create, and it’s like pouring it all into this alien bucket that you don’t really know...

 

LUCY: Exactly, and in terms of being an artist, there are loads of other routes – quite a popular one is to be a teacher in art, and then build your art business up by the side, but I do really enjoy doing shoots for clients, and I enjoy sharing my work, and I don’t know that I would be that satisfied just being an artist, because it’s very solitary, even though you’re working with models and make-up artists, but the actual making of the work is very...

 

ZOE: Insular?

 

LUCY: Yeah, exactly, whereas I really enjoy working with clients, and the way my business is going, I’d say eight times out of ten it’s musicians who approach me, because there’s something about my work and musicians needing a creative portrait – something about that that seems to connect the two. So that’s probably where I will start trying to push my work, and that’s probably where I see myself going.

 

ZOE: It is difficult, and it’s a massive commitment, just to keep that in your own mind must strengthen both the work you do and yourself. Because you’re like, ‘Well no, this is what I want to do, and this is what I’m going to do.’ There’s a focus, and everything just builds around that. And patience, because nothing does happen overnight.

 

LUCY: Yeah, yeah. Because there are days when I think, ‘Argh, what’s the point!?’ When I don’t have a client in a few weeks, or nothing’s really happening, and as we were saying, it’s quite solitary, and there’s no one to sit and tell you, ‘You’re doing the right thing, you’re on the right path and you’ll get there.’ There’s no one to tell you that – you have to tell yourself that. So sometimes it’s worrying, but you just get on with it and remember that, you know, life is long – in a good way – and...

 

ZOE: [laughs] Yeah, life takes ages. 

 

LUCY: If you carve out a career in something you want to be doing, you’re still going to be working at the age of seventy, eighty.

 

ZOE: And really happily. And be able to have honed it over and over.

 

LUCY: Exactly. So to start a business at like 26, and at 30 be like, ‘Argh, why hasn’t it all happened yet?’ is pretty ludicrous when you think about it.

 

 

 

 

Lucy Ridges

& Zoë McLean

© 2019 Cōnfingō Magazine

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