Joe Pettet-Smith x Tim Palman
Interview Chain is a series from Loupe. The concept is simple; a photographer interviews another photographer of their choice, who in turn does the same, creating a string of conversations around contemporary photography.
I first became aware of Tim Palman’s work last year from a video on George Muncey’s hugely popular Youtube channel, titled How to Shoot Street Portraits with Tim Palman. I admired his confidence and directness when approaching passers-by, it’s a skill in itself and easy to overthink. The video stood because he was using the same camera that I use for portraits, a Pentax 67, but also because we’re of a similar age. Despite the time difference (Tim is based in Australia, I’m in the UK) we started chatting over Instagram last summer about how to make a website theme like Alec Soth’s, the zen like joys of removing dust from negatives for hours on end as well as more general photo related banter.
His self-published first book, Wellard has just started shipping worldwide, a complex work about his suburban not-quite-hometown of the same name in Perth, Australia. I was eager to hear more about the logistics of self-publishing and to dig a little deeper in to his work, this interview was my excuse to do so.
Joe Pettet-Smith: It’s fitting that the visual language you’ve used to talk about your dissatisfaction with the ‘Australian Dream’ references a style we often associate with American photography, specifically the New Topographics photographers. Do you draw any parallels between your lived experience of Perth’s suburban expansion with the concerns of those photographers?
Tim Palman: I absolutely think that there are strong parallels between the works of Robert Adams, Stephen Shore and co and what I’m trying to say with Wellard. These photographers have influenced the way I approach picture making immensely, and so I think I naturally found the parallels between the ideas I present in Wellard and those that the New Topographers were tackling. These similarities, and the fact I was using large and medium format film cameras then undoubtedly affected the aesthetic of the series, which refers back to that original Stephen Shore/Robert Adam style.
JPS: Is Wellard your way of trying to understand why, generally speaking, people idealise this way of living? Is it a rejection of the stability that is paired with it? Or is it more a reaction to your current domestic situation?
TP: In a way it was both. I was prompted to start thinking about private estates and ‘satellite’ suburbs because of my domestic situation. Before I ever lived in Wellard I had a bunch of rather skeptical preconceptions about Private Estates, which I always thought were as stale as they were utopian. I think when I began to make the work it was my way of negotiating these thoughts and in a way trying to find the humanity in the place.
JPS: The project combines portraits, landscapes and the occasional still life, what was your thinking behind swapping and changing between genres in this way?
TP: When it comes to documentary photography I have always admired work which is able to combine every photographic genre and still form a concise body of work which suggests a narrative. By asking a viewer to negotiate difference image types I’m asking them to consider meanings more than just aesthetics. It’s a way of having them draw conceptual similarities as opposed to compare aesthetic differences between images.
JPS: You’ve mentioned to me before how contemporary Australia at times lacks an authentic identity and so fetishizes other cultures. Could Wellard be your attempt at finding this lost identity?
TP: I’m not exactly trying to find an authentic identity as much as I’m trying to point out the big gaping hole that exists. Australia seems to lack an authentic cultural identity for a number of reasons, including our young age. As a result we do fetishize American culture quite a lot. For example, when the first Krispy Kreme shop opened here in Perth people were happy to wait hours and hours to try one. This was less about the donuts and more about trying to adopt a culture of Americanisation. In the subject matter of Wellard I saw this cultural hole depicted in an absence of character. The influence of the New Topopgraphics in this depiction of Australia in a funny way perfectly reflects this point.
JPS: Shooting on large and medium format cameras puts a certain distance between you and the subject. For instance, I’ve noticed nearly all of the portraits in Wellard are full length, taken from several meters away. What was the reason for doing this?
TP: The full length portrait is something that I just started doing naturally because of my influences. The contemporary photographers Rineke Dijkstra and Alec Soth are masters of it, and they have definitely affected my taste. There’s something about putting a subject in the centre of the frame, full length, which has an isolating effect. It seems to separate them from their surroundings, and it’s that sense of distance and separation I’m interesting in.
JPS: What would you say was your biggest learning curve making the book?
TP: I think the biggest learning curve was definitely the production and marketing of the actual book. There really is so much involved in the printing process which I had dived in headfirst into with the Kickstarter campaign. Marketing comes pretty naturally to me, I think growing up in the social media age helped that, but I’m constantly learning the best way to get my name, and the book, out there.
JPS: When you were in the initial planning and shooting stages of the project was the intention always to produce a book? Or did that come later?
TP: I actually started shooting the project for a major university assessment, so initially the goal was just ten images with a supporting explanation. While shooting that, however, it became clear that I could take it further, and a book was the natural goal. I’m definitely in the camp of thinking that books are the best way to view photography.
JPS: You chose to bypass traditional publishing houses and instead carried out a very successful Kickstarter campaign to make the book. As testing as it must have been did you enjoy producing a book in this way enough to go down the self-publishing route in the future?
TP: When it comes to my work I’m becoming more and more particular about how I want it presented. In this respect I enjoyed the responsibilities of organising every part of the self-publishing process, from the initial Kickstarter to the delivery packaging material. I would, however, be interested in working with a publisher, and I’m especially interested in the collaborative element of book publishing, more so than just the convenience of having someone else do everything for me. That said, I’d be happy to self-publish all over again.
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