Interview #28 - Harry Dunkerley

Harry Dunkerley is an artist and photographer from Bournemouth, England. His artwork which combines rich textures with intricate line work and graphical elements, often explores themes of place, belonging and human relationship with the natural world.

Tell us about yourself?

Hi, my name’s Harry and I am a conceptual and fine art photographer from the UK. The three things I love most in life are travelling, my wonderful family, and creating art any way that I can - music, photography, illustration - anything that allows me to connect with people and make sense of the world around me. With my photography I aim to portray to depict a moment of struggle or uncertainty on the cusp of resolution, using the medium of portraiture as a means of exploring one's own emotional states, memories and connections with the society in which we live.

What’s happening with you lately?

I’ve just moved down to the coast to begin my degree in Illustration at Arts University Bournemouth, which is really exciting. Being in a space with so many other like-minded creatives is something I’m really looking forward to - sharing ideas with one another and entering such a new environment is no doubt going to kickstart my creativity. Until my course starts I’ve been exploring the area and enjoying the last little bit of summer weather with ice creams on the beach!

What draws you into photography, specifically shooting portraits?

Photography to me is a remarkably performative art form - especially portraiture. I shoot as much for the experience of being outside with the camera, bringing to life these imagined narratives, as I do for the end result. In a way, it feels less like producing a piece of art and more like exploring, discovering, playing. With conceptual photography you’re taking the world in front of the lens and reshaping it into something new, condensing these familiar settings into static moments and imbuing them with a sense of mystery or wonder. It’s a form of escapism, really, of understanding the world by rearranging and framing it.

Do you remember your first ever shoot?

I think I picked up my first camera at the age of 7 or 8, but it was only a few years ago that I truly began to view photography as a means of expression and an art form in itself. Discovering the work of other portrait and fine art photographers online was a key factor in motivating me to think that much deeper about the medium. My first ‘shoot’ was probably about three years ago with a friend in my photography class - we headed out into a forest with bags full of tea candles and laid them all around him as if they were fireflies. Although I cringe at that photo now, I remember how pleased I was at the time, and how that feeling of achievement urged me to keep going.

How’s the photography scene over there in your perspective?

Now that I’m attending an arts university I feel as if there are a lot more opportunities to get involved in the wider photographic community than when I was at home. It definitely feels like there’s loads to explore in terms of arts and culture, lots of events and festivals to go to and so on. Apart from that, social media is obviously an incredible resource to connect with other photographers from so many different places, and that was a big thing in helping me develop and build a kind of online presence.

What are your challenges being a photographer?

Probably the majority of it comes from my own self-criticism - I do judge my work quite harshly, which is a good thing to do but you have to make sure it doesn’t inhibit your creative process. Of course the challenge of getting your name out there and maintaining an online following is a key aspect of building a career in any creative art, but I feel like that is more of an opportunity to develop than an obstacle to overcome. Working out your own visual style is another thing, but again, it’s all part of shooting and the satisfaction I get outweighs any of the difficulties that may arise.

How does the environment you’re living in influence your photography?

My work very much revolves around the natural world and our relationship to it as individuals. At home I’m so lucky to be able to walk out my back garden and have miles of unspoilt fields and forests to explore. The tranquility and solitude of those natural environments definitely works itself into my photographs, alongside other feelings, perhaps of melancholy or uncertainty - most human emotions seem to find their equivalent in nature. Besides this I’m very interested in politics, mental health, and the role of art and technology in our everyday lives. I sometimes feel that as a society we’re quite pessimistic by default, with so much exposure to media outlets, so I try to work a sense of optimism into my photos, even if they’re dealing with serious subjects.

Do you have certain aesthetics or method of shooting?

I would say my visual style typically includes quite a dark colour palette - blues, deep greens, greys - although that changes with the mood and the concept I’m trying to portray. At the moment I’m really into shooting wide angle, usually with a large depth of field. As much as I like shallower focus, I find that it can sometimes flatten a picture, especially if the surrounding environment is just as integral to the image’s meaning as the portrait itself. I’ve been told my photos also typically depict solitary figures, usually with the gaze directed away from the camera. What that symbolises I don’t know, but I’m sure there’s some hidden reason behind it somewhere!

Describe how do your approach your work?

So the first step for me is always putting pen to paper, sketching out a few basic ideas for each photo. Usually this is little more than a stick figure and vague scratchy outlines of props, but it helps me keep a record of ideas so I can come back to them when the time is right to go and shoot. Sometimes I’ll come back to a sketch a year later with the final element that completes the image, other times I’ll draw something out and go out and photograph it immediately.

For the shoot itself, I’ll usually just head out by myself with my camera gear and any props I might need. As I typically do self-portraits there’s little need to plan or arrange anything in advance. I do wonder what it looks like for passers-by to see me shooting - I will do almost anything to get a photograph! I’m sure when I get to doing larger shoots I will work in a more structured way, but at the moment I just go with the flow and see how things turn out there and then. Too much planning and I just won’t ever shoot anything!

What’s your post-processing like?

Although I typically use Photoshop to construct my images, I try to keep complex editing to a minimum. One key component of my process is stitching together several photographs to artificially expand the frame. Earlier on in my photographic journey I tended to use Photoshop as the primary means of communicating a message to the viewer, however these days I try to use it as a vehicle to enhance other elements of a piece, such as colour and composition. I find that when you allow the post processing to become the main focus of the image, the true meaning of the piece becomes diluted. Learning to portray a concept through the manipulation of light entering the camera, rather than the manipulation of pixels on a screen, has been one of the most important things in allowing me to develop my craft.

Do you have preferences for choosing subjects or models?

I’d like to start working with models for my photographs, as up until now I’ve mostly focused on self-portraiture, which understandably results in the images taking on at least a partially autobiographical nature. On the one hand doing things myself is easier because I know exactly what I’m trying to achieve, but I’d like to push out of that comfort zone and work with other people who will bring their own views and their creativity to the process.

Any other works or photographers that you follow?

I could list hundreds! One of my all-time favourite photographers is Gregory Crewdson - his masterful use of lighting and attention to detail is something I greatly admire, as well as the overarching sense of detachment and obscurity he is able to weave into such familiar settings. Another body of work that I keep coming back to is Evgenia Arbugaeva’s ‘Weatherman’. It’s about a lone meteorologist working deep in the Russian Arctic, miles from civilisation. The photographs are so evocative and convey such a powerful narrative, and I just find them utterly captivating. And of course I follow loads of fellow photographers and artists on places like Flickr and Facebook, all of whom consistently inspire me to continue creating and sharing.

Do you value quality or quantity?

Quality, undoubtedly. However, I’ve found that the most important component in ensuring high quality is making sure you create as often and as regularly as possible. The two go hand in hand, I think - without discipline, the quality of your output will inevitably drop.

In what ways that camera gears or cellphone apps matter to you in producing the work?

I wouldn't consider myself a gear head, no way. As long as I have a decent camera that does what I need it to as quickly and as easily as possible then I’m not too fussy! Of course when I’m shooting fine art work or for a particular purpose I’ll use an SLR, but I love that we have access to such a wide range of options in terms of apps and phone cameras, as each provides a different opportunity to create.

Do you earn enough as a photographer?

At the moment I’m mostly doing photography as a hobby - I earn more through my illustration work which I sell online as well as at local galleries and craft shows. I’m working towards a career in the creative arts - whether that’s as a photographer, illustrator, fine artist or combination of all of these I’m not sure yet!

Who do you think are the audience of your work?

I think a large portion of my audience are fellow photographers and photography enthusiasts, which is nice because it allows us all to support each other’s work and help each other progress. Naturally as a young photographer I think the themes I’m exploring are probably also somewhat more focused towards the experiences of my own generation, but I’d hope that there is an element of universality to my photos as well. I don’t really think too much about my ‘audience’ because you can sometimes get bogged down in trying to cater for a particular demographic, which takes you away from why you’re creating in the first place.

How much you think people will value your work? 

I would be really humbled if people were inspired to overcome obstacles in their own life as a result of my photographs, or to engage with a particular topic. Ultimately I think we make art in an effort to communicate and connect, and if I can achieve that even with one person then that means a lot. Of course, my photos are very personal as well so my primary purpose isn’t for popularity. I shoot for myself first and if others appreciate my work or relate to it then that makes it all the more worthwhile.

How do you cope in getting the attention through social media or word of mouth?

I think it’s just a case of putting yourself out there. I’m still young and quite early on in my photographic journey so I try not to focus too much on numbers or statistics - there’s plenty of time for that. The key thing I think is to be proactive and take all the opportunities that arise - keep building relationships and get involved in the photographic community that already exists on places like Instagram and Flickr. I’m always amazed at how wonderfully supportive people are and ultimately that is far more important than sheer numbers.

Any music that you listen to lately? Books that you read? Movies that you just watched recently?

I think I have about six different books on the go at the moment! I’ve been reading Murakami’s ‘The Wind Up Bird Chronicle’ recently, which is so wonderfully imaginative and surreal, and has provided me with a lot of inspiration for artwork. Hunting out new music has long been a love of mine - two vastly different artists I’ve been listening to lately are Gallant and The Japanese House. Each has a mesmerising ability to create atmosphere and evoke deep emotions in the listener, which I’ve been inspired to translate into my own photographic work.

Anything that keeps you excited in the future?

I have a long list of photo ideas to work my way through, which is always exciting. Having just moved to an entirely new place with so many new people to meet and a whole degree to get stuck into, I don’t think I’ll be running out of inspiration any time soon! I’m really enthusiastic about what the next few years will bring.

Any last words?

Find something you’re passionate about and that you want to say to the world, and do it. It doesn’t matter what everyone else is saying - your opinion is important and it deserves to be shared. And thank you for the interview. I have enjoyed it!

You can find more of Harry’s work and illustration below:

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