Team Loupe is a series of interviews with the photographers behind Loupe.
Interview by Hui Hsien –
From photography to curation, London-based Travis Hodges finds inspiration amongst people. We grab him for a chat about PhotoForum, technology and his latest trip to Vietnam.
Ng Hui Hsien: You co-organise the monthly PhotoForum talks in London. What do you look out for when curating speakers?
Travis Hodges: PhotoForum had been running for a few years before I got involved, and I have been organising talks for five years. The photo community has changed a lot in that time, with photographers recognising the benefits of collaboration and community. I was inspired to get involved after visiting Brighton for a MiniClick talk. That event was revelation and so different from the stuffy lectures and presentations I was used to. I wanted PhotoForum to develop into a space for photographers to gather, socialise and inspire each other. Many of us work solo and lack a support network, so it’s important to connect with peers. Our speakers always have a story to tell, through the narrative of their projects and their journey in creating work. We look for photographers who have these stories to share, as the journey can be just as inspiring as the work itself. PhotoForum is not a lecture. It’s a space for sharing stories and discussion. An audience member, and LCC MA student, put it beautifully when he told me, “I go to university to be taught and PhotoForum to be inspired.”
HH: That does sound beautiful. You also curate Turning Point for Loupe. What was your turning point?
TH: It is inspiring to hear how others reach their turning point, whether that is overcoming an obstacle or finding inspiration. One such moment for me came when I photographed Alex for The Quantified Self and we were discussing the emotional aspect of his diabetes monitoring. His girlfriend accused him of becoming distant and distracted when he is calculating insulin levels and food, and this inspired me to photograph the moment of internal processing and thought. I had been struggling to visually tie the series together, but this gave me a moment to search for in each portrait sitting. The strong aesthetic tied the images together and added a layer of meaning.
HH: Speaking of The Quantified Self, you adopted a rather scientific approach to explore how people use technology to collect data about themselves. Why was this?
TH: A scientific approach seemed appropriate for this project, so I set some visual guidelines for myself. I wanted to introduce the audience to the variety of technology and data that people are using and monitoring but more importantly, I wanted to show the motivations of each person who dedicated time and energy to this level of self-study.
HH: Is there any technology that you are keen to explore for yourself right now?
TH: I am intrigued by new technology in 3D and 360 photography. Immersive storytelling is already becoming a fantastic tool for documentary storytellers and conflict photographers.
The main thing holding this back is audience acceptance, in a time when attention spans are shorter than ever, I think it will be hard to encourage viewers to invest the time it takes to be immersed in a story.
HH: Looking back, it has been more than 10 years since Dead Time. How do you feel about it now?
TH: Dead Time was my final project at university. It started from a chance encounter with a couple of young lads who approached me while I was shooting landscapes. ‘Hoodies’ was the term used by media to negatively portray all young people, so I decided to depict another side.
The work was street portraiture. I separated groups and shot very slowly to get past the posturing and posing to a more honest moment. Shooting at dusk with available light meant a slower process anyway and working with film meant that my subjects wouldn’t crowd around to see every shot. What surprised me was the audience’s reaction to the finished work. Many viewers still saw the threatening youth that they would cross the road to avoid confrontation with. The Observer Hodge Awards placed the work in a documentary field while the Jerwood Awards saw a fine art approach, likening the young people to 17th century Van Dyck’s swagger paintings.
I don’t think that this work would be possible now. I was much closer to the age of my subjects at the time and societies’ perception of photography has altered dramatically. The same teens now are most likely on social media and photographing each other constantly. Their understanding of how to present yourself has changed.
HH: What is it about portrait photography that draws you?
TH: It is an honour to be invited into people’s lives and I love the experience of learning from each person I photograph. Each person has something unique to share and I’m drawn to find that in each encounter. It is tempting to look back at the more exotic encounters, like, I recently found myself in a minefield photographing the clearance team and their mine-sniffing rats. It is the quiet stories which resonate most however.
A great example is when I photographed Andrew Stacey, a Cornish farmer, for my Brexit Cornwall series. We stopped at the farmhouse after what felt like hours of chores all over his farm and it was there that I shot the portrait that made the project. He sat down with his two-week-old son and told me about his work, responsibilities, fears and desire to work his farm without interference from bureaucrats. I arrived at his farm expecting to meet an ignorant ‘Leave’ voter but left with an appreciation of his struggles and respecting, if not agreeing with, his views.
HH: Has there been any point in your career where you feel frustrated about your practice?
TH: Creative block, lack of inspiration or motivation is something that we all struggle with and any artist who says they don’t is lying to themselves. I definitely had ‘second album’ syndrome trying to produce work immediately after Dead Time. It was an incredibly successful project for me and it took a long time to produce work that I felt lived up to that. I am not as hard on myself now. I trust my experience and probably have a thicker skin when it comes to criticism.
I recently wrote about creative block for Canon Europe. I talked about a simple exercise designed to push you out of a slump. I did the exercise on my recent trip to Vietnam and ended up making images that are in my final edit along with finding new threads to develop into stories.
HH: Tell us more about your Vietnam trip.
TH: I have just returned from shooting new work in Vietnam. I visited the country briefly in 2015 and immediately began to plan a longer trip. I worked on a number of linked stories focusing on the new generation of globalised Vietnamese youth. The work is still being edited.
HH: What images from any other photographer are on your mind right now?
TH: I returned to London to find a copy of Small Town Inertia by Jim Mortram on my doormat. I think that all young documentary photographers should study Jim’s work. It has such authenticity and heart that you can’t help but be moved and inspired by those he documents. In a time when images are becoming more and more disposable, it is work like this that will stand the test of time.
Luca Locatelli is another photographer at the top of his game. His stories on science and technology are beautifully shot and very well researched.
I am also inspired and motivated every month by the work shown at PhotoForum along with the experiences that our speakers share.