As Photobook Bristol 2015 fast approaches, we share our interviews with the participants of this year's eagerly awaited festival. This week - Anna Fox.
What was the first photobook you bought?
Martin Parr’s Bad Weather, signed!
Can you tell us at what point you discovered the book as an art-form to show your work? Was it while studying, or after?
It was after studying, in 1988 when I was finishing the project Work Stations (London Office Life 1987 – 88) we (Camerawork Gallery and I) applied for an Arts Council award to make the book and we got it. I always knew I wanted to make books but this was the first time that there was abudget to do it. My mother designed Work Stations (she was a graphic designer) and she was constantly trying to encourage me to be more inventive with the format of the book and what I did with the images – I was however dead set on making a book that fitted in with the photo books of the time.
Work Stations (1988)
What does the genre British Colour Documentary photography mean to you as a practitioner?
It is a genre I am part of, that was quite a tight group at the start, Parr, Graham, Reas, Seawright and me as key movers and then others like Bunny, Mitchell, Haughey and Moore also there. Now the use of colour is so broad that it is harder to think of it as a continuing movement – so I see it as something that happened in the 1980s and 90s.
What does the photobook really mean? Do you think of it as a vessel to embody what you are trying to say, or as a collection of surfaces that may be in linear form?
Neither really – it is in art form in itself, as is the exhibition – the form of the book could be thought of as an installation of the work – installation is understood as an art from and the photobook is the same – I consider the design and form of the book to be an integral part of the meaning of the work – the work can have different lives: in the book on the wall and on the net.
Can photobooks amplify an element of your work that you find more challenging to articulate through exhibition? What appeals and/or restricts?
Yes definitely the book and the exhibition are two totally different forms. The book is intimate and if you own a book you can spend everyday with it. For each project the meaning is different so for example in My Mothers Cupboards and My Fathers Words the small, delicate prayer book style design and form of the book contrasts heavily with its contents and the contrast is what makes the work scream.
Cockroach Diary (2000)
You are well known for your photobook ‘Cockroach Diary’...something specifically identifying a private form of book in its very title. I wonder how you discuss this approach with students, who often start with themselves and their lives as starting points?
With great care - it is often far more difficult to photograph aspects of your own life than it is to photograph other people’s lives. The main thing is that the work needs to be interesting to others and while you are making the work you need to be able to look at your own life in a different way, from a bit of a distance - this is difficult.
You have said you want to find ways of telling a story using photographs and text like a work of fiction…What fiction do you like to read yourself? Where do your ‘purely’ word influences come from?
Wow - so many so just a few to mention: Jane Austin, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Carson McCullers, JG Ballard, JD Salinger, Jenny Diski, Angela Carter - the list could go on forever.
As a photographer, it seems that you are often attracted to portraying behaviour where people are inclined to let-rip with alter-egos. Are you yourself in disguise?
Perhaps! What a nice idea. The photograph is a wonderful space in which we can play with fantasy … I have made a set of self portraits observing myself eating and drinking …. It was a way of observing myself as a stranger… I choose subjects for portraits who either enjoy performing or who are performing already. I am also interested in the interconnecting worlds of fantasy and reality.
Do you like a good photobook list – or not?
Not sure what this means - can you re phrase?
Finally - what photobook do you have on your bedside table?
I always have new books, or books I am working with, on my bedside table - at the moment there are 6! Karen Knorr's India Song, Ken Grant's Flock, Graham Clark The Portrait in Photography, Barthes Camera Lucida, Martin Parr Black Country Stories and Paul Seawright's Things Left Unsaid – as well new magazines Jean and Riposte. www.annafox.co.uk Biography: Born in 1961 Fox completed her degree in Photography at The West Surrey College of Art and Design in 1986. Influenced by British documentary tradition and US ‘New Colourists’ her first work Work Stations (published by and exhibited first at Camerawork, London 1988) observed with a critical eye London office culture in the mid Thatcher years. Later work documenting weekend war games, Friendly Fire, was exhibited in the exhibition Warworks at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Fox’s solo shows have been seen at The Photographer’s Gallery, London, The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago amongst others and her work has been included in numerous international group shows including - From Tarzan to Rambo at Tate Modern; Centre of the Creative Universe: Liverpool and the Avant Garde at Tate Liverpool and How We Are: Photographing Britain at Tate Britain. Numerous monographs of her work are in print and a major monograph Anna Fox Photographs 1983 – 2007 was published by Photoworks in 2007 edited by Val Williams. The first retrospective show of her work, Cockroach Diary and other Stories, opened at Impressions Gallery in summer 2008 and is now touring Europe. Anna Fox was shortlisted for the 2010 Deutsche Borse Photography Prize and the 2012 Pilar Citoler Prize. Her new project, Resort, commissioned by Pallant House Gallery opened June 2011 and is accompanied by a two volume publication Resort 1 and 2. Anna Fox is Professor of Photography at The University College for the Creative Arts in Farnham.