We first featured the work of Australian photographer Rhiannon Hopley a few weeks back – featuring images from Rhiannon’s ‘Discovering Locations’ series. We wanted to know a bit more about Rhiannon and her work and so we invited her back for an interview alongside which we are running images from a new ongoing series called ‘Letters from a Stranger’. Enjoy…
Tell us a little bit about yourself and why photography is important to you as a creative medium. What was it that first sparked your interest in photography?
I’m a Sydney-based Australian photographic artist, much of my work focuses on creating images that bring forth the allure and the other-worldliness of twilight and darkness. I was first drawn to the creative process of photography while at a creative art high school. I remember falling in love with the darkroom processes. I would spend around 30 plus hours a fortnight outside of class time in the school’s darkroom, developing and experimenting with my work.
A large part of your photographic work looks at how abandoned urban landscapes echo some of the darker human emotions – is that a fair representation? What drew you to this subject matter?
I have always had a fascination with old buildings and quaint houses. From quite a young age, I remember being drawn to the strangeness of abandoned buildings; there was always a story, a presence that remained with them. This feeling has stayed with me and, in exploring these lost landscapes, they evoke questions of the past and our present relationship with these sites of memory – I try to draw attention to the peaceful beauty of the stories these places hold in my photographs. I do feel they correlate with our emotional selves, mirroring feelings of isolation, grief, love and loss through absence and stillness. These kinds of locations often become discarded, sometimes left to deteriorate, overlooked as ugly in a world continually thriving to attain ‘new and sleek’. It’s a symbol of our approach to our environment and ways of living a disposable existence.
Who or what are your main sources of inspiration for your work?
I have a cinematic approach to my work influenced by photographer Bill Henson who had an impact on my night photography when I first discovered his work back in High School. Todd Hido’s work has been a more recent influence after being introduced to his work by a mentor who saw a similarity of style, especially drawing on his ‘homes at night’ series and some of his landscapes.
The emotions in Francesca Woodman’s photographs and Sylvia Plath’s poetry have also inspired my work. Woodman would also use old and dilapidated buildings as locations for many of her photographs to capture a visual representation of her emotional turmoil and depression; emotional issues Sylvia Plath also struggled with in her writing. The way in which Plath uses words to unleash and explore, resonates with the stories conveyed in my photographs; she held a space between sorrow and hope, creating something beautiful and bittersweet.
Tell us about the series, ‘Letters from a Stranger’, that we are featuring here; what do you want people to take away when viewing this series?
Letters from a Stranger, stems from my curiosity and observation of street photography and interactions with strangers. I grew up outside a big city, where it was normal to smile and say hello to a stranger you passed on the street, which just doesn’t happen anymore. I still find myself going to say hello or smile as I pass someone, often they not only don’t notice you, but they are so lost on their phone they might bump into you with much less than a glance or apology.
Because of technology, we are becoming increasing less in the moment, outside of our virtual worlds we interact less with friends and strangers. Letters from a Stranger comes from the desire to reconnect with others, crafting small glimpses into someone else life. The series is black and white, reminiscent of the past and nostalgia, creating an abstracted narrative of a stranger’s life. Collectively the works hold a resemblance to finding a box of old postcards and letters between lost lovers.
You have been invited to participate in an artist residency in France over the next few months; how did this come about and do you already have some thoughts about the work you would like to produce while there?
I was selected for the residency at the start of this year after applying with a selection of works from my Discovering Locations series. The residency is in North-Eastern France at the Chateaux Orquevaux, I’ll be heading over for September and October. France has been one of my top places that I have wanted to visit after studying the history of photography. While I am there I’ll be continuing work on my Discovering Location series and will use the time to focus on my practice, collaborate with other resident artists and allow the area and estate to inspire me. I’ll also be spending some time in Berlin working with local artists, exploring the city, its history and art scene. I’m thrilled to be taking my practice overseas to explore other cites and regions to focus solely on my work.
What are your longer-term plans with your art? Do you have any new or ongoing projects that you can tell us about?
This year is looking very busy for me with a number of things going on behind the scenes that I don’t want to reveal just yet. Though what I can tell you about, I am curating a group exhibition which has been really fun and I’m looking forward to seeing it come together in June, I’ll also have some of my work heading to DENFair in Melbourne around the same time. After my residency I’ll be off to shoot a wedding in the Queensland rainforest, then down to Victoria for a month long solo exhibition. Next year, I’ll be working towards another exhibition to showcase the work created while in France and moving back into some more film photography again – I miss the darkroom and that hands-on process. I’ve got a few rolls of bulk film and lots of ideas swimming around for using these in a new series.
See more of Rhiannon’s work at:
To help support the artists residency, Rhiannon has set up a funding page through the Australian Cultural Fund. Please check it out here and help support emerging artists if you can!
Also make sure to check out Rhiannon’s last feature, ‘Discovering Locations” here.
All images copyright Rhiannon Hopley.