Interview: Paul Fletcher
Luca Curci talks with Paul Fletcher, one of the winners of PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE MONTH – MARCH 2021.
Formerly an architect my photography began in the winter of 2014 as a self taught hobby. Since then photography has become the nexus of all my personal and professional experience. For more than 6 years I’ve repeatedly walked and encountered my local environment. I observe, engage and develop an ongoing relationship with places that I come to know through a lens. Interacting with and interpreting how people live and engage with the built environment. Informed by a 30 year career in architecture, collaboration and innovation. My work today is driven by an insatiable curiosity in people and how societies function. Fully awoken through battles with mental health and now the global coronavirus pandemic. Today I am full-time photographer and emergent artist. I am a fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce and the Schumacher Institute. In 2020 I became a patron of The Photographers’ Gallery.
Luca Curci – What is art for you?
Paul Fletcher – Art is what keeps us connected to our humanity, both those who practice it and those who appreciate it. Art is probably the only medium left for the expression of the human condition, in all its splendid manifestations. Art is celebratory. Art reveals unseen beauty. Art is protest. Art is voice for the unheard. Art is vital to our wellbeing and thriving as a species. For me personally art first and foremost has been a way to survive a life threatening health condition. That unlocked something deeper. Something driven by intuition and curiosity: To bear witness. To express. To expose. That is what art is for me today.
LC – What are you currently working on?
PF – Last year I revisited the work I did 2016-2018. During the period I was in constant battle with severe depression, peppered with moments of hypomanic excitement. A camera became a talisman that I held onto. It somehow gave me confidence to not surrender when in crisis and eventually afforded me the courage to venture out of my home. As I look back at the work made over that period I can see that what I was capturing was a reflection of my own mental wellbeing. From depression in solitude to my reemergence, acknowledging and accepting my illness and finding the confidence to call myself a photographer. I am at the early stages of developing this body of work into a photobook, which I have titled ‘Emergence’. Two current projects I’m at the early stages of developing are very local to where I live in London. ‘Mouth to Mouth’ explores a major power transmission line running east to west, from Barking Creek to the mouth of the River Lea, both tributaries to The River Thames. I’m fascinated with where the pylons are placed and how they connect with the land, the community and life happening beneath and around them. Whilst working on ‘Mouth to Mouth’ a new project began. Flowing in the opposite direction ‘West Consumes East’ explores the insidious approach of property development. Looming like a glacier of concrete and steel, hell bent on destroying the homes of generations of true east end Londoners. All in the name of ideological gentrification and property investment greed. I’m waiting for coronavirus to allow me to begin interviews and photographic studies of the people who live in the area. Details of this work can be seen on my website. I am also preparing for a Masters degree (Photography and Urban Studies) which I hope to start later this year.
LC – Which is the role the artist plays in the society? And the contemporary art?
PF – Prior to illness I had spent 25 years working as an architect, striving to ‘solve’ issues of social inequality. Today I am no longer an architect. I see my work as an artist and ongoing participation (with the urban environment) as one of clarifying, revealing and conferring importance to societal issues. Issues that are often blurred and lost in the development and creation of todays built environments. Through photography I endeavour to show that which was useful from the past in contrast with that which was less useful. In the hope that my work might contribute to what is needed now. As issues of inequality in 21st century society continue to worsen contemporary art is more and more vital. Art just might play a key role in saving us all from capitalism…
LC – Where do you find your inspiration?
PF – For more than six years I’ve repeatedly walked and encountered my local environment. I observe, engage and develop an ongoing relationship with places that I come to know through a lens. Interacting with and interpreting how people live and engage with the built environment. My work is informed by and inspiration resultant of an insatiable curiosity in people and how societies function. The urban photowalk is now core to my practice. London and other cities, nationally and internationally. The photowalk is a mindful exercise for me, opening my mind and curious eye to inspiration through happenstance.
LC – What is the most challenging part about creating your artworks?
PF – That I’m at the very start of my artistic practice at the age of 52. I’ve only been shooting regularly since 2016. It was only a year ago that I began to identify as an artist. Everything I’ve achieved so far has resulted from intuitive experimentation. Right now the challenge I see is how to best transfer my skill and passion from a 25 year architectural career into one of an artist. To build upon that without compromising what I’ve intuitively unlocked within myself. I realise I cannot achieve that without guidance, debate and critical review. This is why I’m planning to start a Masters degree later this year.
LC – What is your creative process like?
PF – I do not think I create, rather I immerse and become a place and its people. Endeavouring and hoping to capture what it and they feel. Not what I feel. This is why I believe my art is about giving a voice to the unheard, I hope to act as conduit and amplifier. I do very little post-processing or manipulation of the photographs I make.