IN CONVERSATION WITH RYAN DODD
British photographer Ryan Dodd's working practise incorporates quietly observing the world. He tries not to impose his presence as a photographer, aiming to allow the moment to unfold in front of him and for the meaning of the image to emerge from the act of looking and recording. Ryan shares with us a series of photographs from an ongoing project about 'lived' spaces, designed to pose questions to the viewer...What happens on these streets? What happens inside these homes? In these banal scenes, Ryan focuses on the small details that are present in the everyday lives of the unseen inhabitants.
Tell us a bit more about yourself. How did you become interested in photography?
I was born in the South of England, where I still live. Photography wasn’t the first medium I engaged with creatively, I actually have a background as a graphic artist. Nearly 10 years ago I had a graphic novel published. At some point I found that drawing was too slow and could no longer do what I wanted. So I pretty much quit doing that. I picked up a camera one day and decided why not, what could there be to lose in trying it? I liked the way it felt to take photographs so I’ve continued it ever since. I still do sketches sometimes but it’s extremely sporadic.
Do you have a favourite quote/lyric/saying that especially resonates with you?
I’ve been a fan of Slavoj Žižek for a while. Admittedly some of his writing is borderline impenetrable. But unlike a lot of academics of his standing he has a very cheeky sense of humour which makes him much more relatable and entertaining to listen too. I’ve liked the notion that ideology guides or constrains so much of our thinking and Žižek has a pretty humorous allegory for this.
“I already am eating from the trash can all the time. The name of this trash can is ideology. The material force of ideology makes me not see what I am effectively eating.” - Slavoj Žižek
Žižek mentions this in an analysis of John Carpenter’s ‘They Live’, which just so happens to be one of my favourite movie directors and films from my teen years. It’s in this same piece of analysis that Žižek talks about “pure ideology”. Which is probably what he is most known for in terms of internet memes.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I draw my inspiration from what I discover out in the field.
What has been the best advice you have ever received in photography?
I went to meet with a mentor at the Aspex Gallery to discuss my work. It was suggested to me that I take a look at William Eggleston and Martin Parr’s photography. I had come across their work before but had never owned any of their books. I started to seriously invest in photography books after that. I had studied for a Bachelor degree in Web Science at the University of Southampton before, and it was suggested in this same meeting that I go on to pursue a Master’s degree in Photography. That is what I’m currently studying.
What is it that you enjoy about 'banal' photography? What happens when you walk the streets with your camera? Explain your technique? Have you ever had a negative encounter?
I take inspiration from the spaces and objects I encounter when I am out taking photographs. Essentially I spot something that I want to investigate further with the camera. If the area is busy I’ll walk around the block until it isn’t. Sometimes the area is fenced off and I have to find some way to get creative about getting the photograph. Or I’ll come back and explore the same area taking a slightly different route. Quietly observing and waiting for something to reveal itself to me is at the heart of my process.
I can recall a somewhat funny negative encounter. I was photographing an aerial on top of the roof of a house. I thought the way the wispy clouds in the sky framed this object was kind of interesting. Anyway, the owner of the house didn’t take kindly to me standing there taking photographs, and opened a window up ready to shout at me. I explained that I was an artist and that I was just capturing the thing on their roof against the sky, and they actually seemed quite pleased after that.
What is it like photographing on the streets of England? Do you have any favourite spots in England or overseas to go photographing?
I am interested in the urban places where most people live. I find that there is a kind of energy to those areas that draws me in. In England, these city spaces can look similar, but I find there’s a lot to observe if you take your time. Right now I’m finding plenty to interest me locally.
What do you want to express through your photography? And what are some of the elements you always try to include in your photographs?
I like the idea that something can be revealed through a photograph that otherwise you wouldn’t have thought of or even noticed. Where possible I like to incorporate chance and the accidental into my work.
Do you have any favourite artists/photographers? Who do you think has mostly influenced your style?
Eggleston’s work helped give a feeling that what I was doing in photographing mundane, everyday scenes had some purpose behind it, even If I couldn’t understand what exactly that was. I look outside of photography as well, some of my favourite artists are Emil Nolde, Pieter Bruegel, Maurice Utrillo, and Tom Roberts.
Are there any books that you have read that have inspired your creativity and that you would like to recommend to us?
As is probably the case with a lot of artists, I’m always biased as to what I have last read. Recently I picked up Ron Jude’s ‘Nausea’. It’s based on Jean-Paul Sartre’s book of the same name. I’m interested in Jude’s work as he is a contemporary of Eggleston. I also find the notion of interpreting a philosophical text in a visual way, as Jude has done, to be fascinating.
Does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography? What camera do you use? Do you have a preferred lens/focal length?
My approach relies on the technological limits of the camera not restricting my ability to respond spontaneously. So the camera will inevitably get in the way at times, and of course light conditions are always a factor.
I have used a rather outdated Pentax K-x DSLR that I find can add in some rather interesting grain and grittiness to some photographs. But I’ve also had the chance to use a Nikon D3400, a Fujifilm XF100, and a Canon EOS 5DS. An 18-55mm, or 24-70mm lens has been my favourite for the ability to quickly switch between different compositional possibilities. There is also something to be said to restricting yourself by using a fixed 23mm lens as was the case with the Fujifilm I used.
When you go out photographing, do you have a concept in mind of what you want to shoot, or do you let the images just 'come to you', or is it both?
I sometimes go out with a plan, having thought about some aspect of a photograph I have taken or seen, or some idea that I want to be able to convey using the medium. But once I’m out in the field, no matter what my plan was, something else always presents itself to me and I have to go with it.
What are some of your goals as an artist? Where do you see yourself or hope to see yourself in five years?
Refining a body of work in the banal genre and of course exhibiting it in solo shows and eventually putting together a photography book of my own. When it comes to the specifics of how to reach these goals, I don’t tend to think as far into the future as five years. I feel it’s a distraction to think beyond exactly what I’m trying to do right now.
Are there any special projects you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about?
I’m right in the middle of putting together a body of work in the banal genre, building it, refining it. I’m hoping to find the right space for it once it’s finished but there is still a little way to go.
“When I am not out photographing, I (like to)…
I’m constantly thinking about ideas. I’ve had the opportunity to engage with some of these ideas in my Master’s degree. I also enjoy walking and daydreaming. In my down time I enjoy watching slightly outdated cheesy TV dramas like ‘Lost Girl’."