Stephen Gill on memory, character and home

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Seeing that his landmark retrospective from Bristol’s Arnolfini gallery ends this weekend, Gill shows on his prolific career

“I wonder if photographers have fragile memories, ” Stephen Gill muses. “They’re constantly downloading it [images in their minds]. Perhaps your own memory gets lazy, want using a calculator to do easy maths. I have so many projects and films that I’ve made that just make an excuse dormant and detached through my memory. ” Covered in a plush puffer coat with a fur-lined hood, Gill is speaking to me from the inside his car. He has simply dropped his kids out at school, and parked in the middle of an open, grassy field surrounded by evergreens. It really is early November, and the gray sheen of winter will be beginning to set in over Malmo, Sweden, where the artist relies.

Gill’s career has been prolific. In the last 30 years he has published 27 books, including The Pillar, which received the particular Rencontres d’Arles author photobook award in 2019. These are mostly published under his own imprint, Nobody Books , which he or she launched in 2005. Gill has exhibited all over the world, which includes at the National Portrait Photo gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Christophe Guye Gallerie, Sprengel Museum, Tate, The Photographers’ Gallery, Palais des Beaux Arts, and Haus der Kunst, to name a couple of. Now, a vast retrospective associated with Gill’s work, made in between 1996 and 2021, is definitely on show at the Arnolfini in Bristol , “where it all began”. The exhibition was two years in the making, and shuts this Sunday.  

He created a variety of series around East London, where he lived – including Hackney Wick (2003-2005), Hidden (2005-2006), and A Series of Discontentment (2007) – photographing found out ephemera, local people and the bustle of the weekly market. He or she also experimented with process. Intended for Hackney Flowers (2004-2007), for instance , he stuck smatterings of flowers and seeds gathered from the meadows and channel on top of images of everyday life.

In other series, he buried images in the floor to encourage decay, while submerging others in fish-pond water or energy drinks, enhancing the sense of place that is so prevalent in his work. “I sensed so inspired there, I just couldn’t stop, ” claims Gill, who also produced work out of littered wagering slips, ants, pigeons and other urban animals. “In a way, I got addicted to the visual chaos of the city. ”

From The Pillar 2015 – 2019 © Stephen Gill.

From The Pillar 2015 – 2019 © Stephen Gill.

Born in Bristol inside 1971, Gill has been helping to make, and communicating with, images from the young age. He was drawn to the outdoors, using lenses and microscopes to inspect the microorganisms he found in the undergrowth. Gill struggled academically, but easily grasped the technicalities of the camera. One of their early photographic collages shown at the Arnolfini is a self-portrait. Gill’s 12-year-old head is cut-and-pasted on top of a cauliflower body, a camera slung over his shoulder.

Further into the show, the ghostly self-portrait, made classic 14, shows an understanding associated with double exposure. “I learned to articulate myself visually quite early, ” this individual recalls. “I found it hard to read and grasp words even when they were spoken. Then, various things collided – a love of music, love associated with nature, having excess power, being hyper-sensitive and possessing a curious mind. ” He or she adds: “I think I discovered some kind of refuge in those people ‘worlds’ – it was amazing. Being a kid is endless. I still make plus respond to the world in the same way, or react on an instinct. ”

Following a foundation course in Bristol, Gill moved to London and secured an internship at Magnum Photos. He planned to stay just one season, but was so captivated from the city that he remained for the next two decades. Making money from shooting editorial portraits allowed him to focus on personal work, and this he did with vigour.

From Hackney Flowers 2005 – 2007 © Stephen Gill.

“As I grew older I got more confident to step back and back, and encourage the subject to keep making steps forward – to the point where I eventually just stepped out completely and let the subject direct me, and inform plus shape the work. That’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had with photography”

Stephen Gill

From Hackney Wick i b?rjan p? tv?tusentalet – 2005 © Stephen Gill.

Throughout their oeuvre, Gill has regularly found inspiration close to house. In his early 20s, he spent many years travelling to unfamiliar places to make visual diaries. The exhibition includes a collection of more classic, black-and-white documentary photographs he took within Poland, Russia and The japanese, among other places. But by the late 90s, “I realised that it’s all right here. It’s all outside the house, and it’s also the greatest challenge, ” he says. “To go somewhere unfamiliar, it is exotic, and easy to make pictures. That was a language I never really tapped into. If you possibly could latch onto your home atmosphere, it’s unbelievable, you just need to look and absorb. ”

In 2014, Gill moved to Sweden. London became overwhelming and it was time to create a change. “I had to keep the city in the end because I felt like it was going to finish off me off. I just didn’t stop. It was great for the work, but not great for my health. ” But it was also for love. His partner at the time was Swedish, and the country seemed like the right place to start a new chapter together.  

Gill’s home studio inside Malmo is surrounded by flat, rural farmland – a “blank canvas”. Character is in abundance. This modify in environment marked a place of evolution in Gill’s practice too, where the professional photographer started to step away from the camera and beckoned a collaboration with nature.

For Night Procession (2014-2017), he concealed his motion-sensing camera in a nearby forest, securing it to trees or simply laying it on a lawn. As darkness fell, the wilderness came alive. Deer, wild boar, owls, bugs and birds stepped in to the frame one by one. Gill orchestrated the conditions for the take, but ultimately relinquished control to his subjects.

A few years later, Gill set up a wooden pillar a couple of kilometres from his house, and fixed a motion-sensing camera to point directly at it. To their amazement, he found images of birds of all bread of dogs, serendipitously perched on the submit, preening, or in airline flight. By the end of the four years, he managed to capture a few 24 species of birds native to the area, which this individual later found out was house to 192 of the two hundred and fifty species of birds that are native to Sweden. This ended in his award-winning body associated with work, The Pillar (2015-2019).  

Through Night Procession 2014 — 2017 © Stephen Gill.

From Night Procession 2014 – 2017 © Stephen Gill.

In the exhibition, these lo-fi images are printed with vegetable ink onto handmade document. “I always think about whenever your intentions meet chance, ” he says. “I love that will middle collision point. I suppose that as I grew old I got more confident to step back and back, and motivate the subject to keep making measures forward – to the point where I eventually just stepped out completely and let the subject guide me, and notify and shape the work. That is probably the most fun I’ve ever had with photography. ”

In the two years he spent generating the show, Gill reflected on his life and career – decades spent playfully dismantling, unlearning and burning back the conventions associated with photography to walk their own path. When the show was finally installed, he remembers considering what each entire body of work represented inside hindsight. “There is so much embedded in the pictures that you simply don’t see, ” he says. Following the challenging period of creation, never mind the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit, the splitting up from his partner, as well as the persistent cycle of work commitments, Gill is considering a break from his practice. “I’m so grateful to photography, but I just have to rest, ” he explains. But while Gill decides whether he will step far from image-making completely, his function continues to reinvent and speak out loud with those experiencing it for the first time, years after it was made.

Izabela Radwanska Zhang

Starting out as an intern back in 2016, Izabela Radwanska Zhang is now the Editorial Director associated with British Journal of Digital photography in print and online. The girl words have appeared inside Disegno and Press Association. Prior to this, she completed a MA in Magazine Journalism at City College, London, and most recently, a Postgrad Certificate in Graphical Design at London University of Communication.

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