Within the studio with Chloe Dewe Mathews

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Her labour-of-love seaside studio is not just a space for the purpose of photographic practice, but for conference, film-screening and so much more

Six years ago, Chloe Dewe Mathews decided to move to the British seaside city of St Leonards-on-Sea for three months. At least, that’s exactly what she told herself. “Once I moved, I never ever looked back – which was it, ” she recalls. Her studio sits on a tiny street tucked behind the main drag of the seafront. The unassuming blue garage doors belie the space inside of: a large, bright room having a high vaulted ceiling, comfy from the heat of the day, along with photographic prints lining the particular walls.  

This studio was a labour of adore; the derelict space was sold as land rather than as a building such was its state of disrepair. “It was just a kind of orifice, ” Dewe Mathews explains of the space which had previously been used for overnight car parking. “I was drawn to the proportions of the building, its shape, plus proximity to the sea. ” Transforming it into a liveable studio was a two-year task. “There was such enthusiasm around the idea of creating an area that I could work in for many years to come, ” Dewe Mathews recalls.

Educated at Camberwell College of Arts as well as the Ruskin School of Artwork, Dewe Mathews first worked in conceptual sculpture, set up and performance, before a long period in the film industry eventually led her to documented photography. “Having a fine art background made me comfortable in the studio situation, very keen to exhibit work instead of just seeing it in journals, ” she explains. This understanding – of the picture as a physical object rather than pixels on a screen – informed the need for a facility space, one that is perhaps not really immediately apparent in the context of a documentary photography practice.

“There’s a chaos around seeking to operate as a photographer which makes work out of their extra bedroom, ” Dewe Mathews says. Pre-studio, requests on her photographs required the labour- intensive rigmarole of opening sealed crates at a storage space on an industrial estate. “This was in an edge-of-town place, where there’s grit and sand whirling, and I am trying to drill open these massive crates to take among the pictures out, ” the lady recalls.

From a practical perspective, having a space to shop archives, and show prospective customers or exhibitors her work, is indispensable. And so has a blank wall to model up sections of a show in advance rather than designing it on the computer, where sizing or even spacing might not translate towards the installation. “All the details from the way work is sequenced, the sizes, the way text relates to image – those people relationships are crucial, and they make-up what the final work will become, ” she says.

Space to create

“A studio makes a different type of meeting among friends and colleagues, ” Dewe Mathews says, highlighting on the subtle, psychological experience of being in the space. “It’s totally different from going to the pub or to a cafe; there’s a very different atmosphere. Different conversations happen, different thoughts take place. ” In the winter she hosts film nights and, post-pandemic, the plan is to run talks plus workshops, as well as offering residencies. The studio as a place to gather, as a space to become shared with other artists.

The space has also allowed the photographer to separate her working lifetime from that of her life as a mother. “I’ve experienced so lucky to have carried out it before I had a child, ” she says. “So many people talk about how your identity is compromised, squashed; you start questioning your own earlier life, or your creativeness. To have a space that you can go back to that is just your room, where you have a sort of calm and a consistency, rather than this being a spare room in your own home: that’s invaluable for me.

“It’s a shame that we’re led to believe that having a facilities is a luxury, ” the lady continues. “But it’s partially because of the obscene cost of residence in this country that these days a studio is not something which every artist and photographer has. Go back 30 or even 40 years, many artists acquired great studio spaces in central London. ” 

Today, many artists cannot pay for to live in London at all, let alone have an extra studio room there. “It’s a shame that’s seen as surplus in order to requirement. Making photographs or even films, the actual shooting could take 1 per cent of the time. What makes up the rest of your working day, and what do you really do? It’s research, it’s preparation, it’s communicating with people. To possess a space to do that in is important. ”

Go with the circulation

The beach is a brief stroll from Dewe Mathews’ studio door, and she swims in the sea every day. The ritual allows her to see her surroundings, “having a flash to notice the colour of the skies, notice what the weather’s like”. On this particular July day time, there’s a stiff snap at the water’s edge, a hazy, potent kind of summer time sky, and the English Sales channel – often brown – is a mild granite putting surface.

“There is something [to the idea] that will water and swimming would be the perfect antidote to modern life. It’s that complete immersion and therefore separation from what exists on the other side, above the water; the chaos of existence. Whether it’s the stress and complexity of work, display time, or just an occupied mind. ”

It is striking how water has discovered its way into Dewe Mathews’ work. In Caspian, which Dewe Mathews started in 2010, the photographer looked into the region around the Caspian Ocean for five years. And in Thames Log she spent another five years analyzing different shades of human being interaction with the London river. “There’s great poetry and openness and ambiguity in the element itself, ” the girl says of water.

“So that lends itself to reflecting, or embodying human activities in various ways. ” That said, Dewe Mathews’ inclination towards water has been unconscious; a spring bubbling up beneath its own impetus. “It’s funny, isn’t it? ” she says. “You realise there are these currents running through. ”

Having the studio being an anchor – the set point where all the work and materials can be gathered – also affords an musician the freedom of experimentation and the possibility of change. “I don’t see my work as staying the same, ” states Dewe Mathews. “I want it to be free to move in whichever direction makes sense. So although I normally photograph somewhere else and then produce, edit or even think about the work here, Also i want to have the possibility of allowing it to grow. ”

In addition to photographs, Dewe Mathews helps make books, films and installs. In the future she hopes in order to evolve her practice additional. “I used to make sculpture, I used to do performances – who knows what I’ll perform? Who knows what will happen? I don’t want to just set up a space that’s only for the thing I am doing today; it’s regarding thinking more long- phrase. ”

Just like the sea looks different every morning, Dewe Mathews is available to change, to transformation. “I hope I stay in charge of a long time, ” she claims. And above our brains, seagulls arc then dip to the water’s edge.

Alice Zoo

Alice Tiergarten is a photographer and author based in London. She is thinking about the processes by which people construct meaning for on their own, often focussing on its expression in ritual, celebration, and recounted memory. The girl work has been exhibited in public areas institutions such as the National Family portrait Gallery, Royal Photographic Community, and Royal Albert Hall, and published in Uk Journal of Photography, FT Weekend Magazine, The New Yorker, and elsewhere.

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