An interview with current exhibitor Nicholas Smith

It was whilst at Central St Martin’s studying Fine Art that Nicholas became more active in the theoretical side of his practice, ‘rather than actually making anything’. Near the end of his degree and the following years he began working with photography as a medium in which to start consolidating many different ideas. He found that photography spoke in the right tone. Nicholas mentions a special relationship he found between photography and writing. His interest in the critical theory of photography led to a MA at the Royal College of Art – an institution well known for their photography theory.

Nicholas tells me that the current exhibition at Photofusion shows a summary of his work for the first time – and through this process of creating the show he feels the relationship between theory and practice is at it’s closest yet. In the exhibition he is playing around with systems of display and how these relate to hierarchy. Nicholas is interested in places of cultural display and thinks of the camera as such a place. He explains that it is in the relation between still and moving image photography finds this space: when the moving image is still – and when the still image is moving.

© Still from ‘Ancient Rhythms’, 2012

The development of moving image technologies in HD DSLRs has helped Nicholas find a tool to realise his work, it has really freed him up. Before this, the equipment for producing video was big and clunky. He likes the fact that he can shoot long durational shots without worrying too much about running out of time or money. He mentions how within these long segments of video that he tries to find the perfect fragment or fragments from which to work. What is he looking for? Something surprising in this space, moments where these places of ‘designated looking’ fulfil their role in a different way – in a way that makes the spaces become public, both on the level of spectatorship in the actual place and on the level of the visual in the images.

Nicholas also likes that he can sort of disappear when using the camera. DSLRs are so common today that if you bring one to a public space nobody takes notice, really. And if you are walking around with it in video mode it may seem as if the camera is not in use. This is how Nicholas creates the perspective of a third person.

When I ask Nicholas where he gets his inspiration from, he says that he is interested in two things (mainly): various types of materials, and artists. A material inspiring him especially at the moment is one-way glass – he finds the idea that someone might be looking at you on the other side without you noticing makes these bits of architecture a potent metaphor for what it means to be present in public. He also enthusiastically shows me his phone app which makes it harder for people to read what he is writing, this is also something that is linked to the idea of the image – ‘the technological image / symbol, maybe’…

© Still from ‘Modern Rhythms’, HD Video, 2012

Artists who inspire him (among others) are Ian Wallace (who problematizes the relation between painting and photography), Victor Burgin (who taught at what is now the University of Westminster 1973-1988) and Richard Serra, a minimalist sculptor. Public sculpture generally informs Smiths practice very much – ‘it’s the anonymity of it all, how they are very much about an interior institutional ideology but are on their own, outside, I wouldn’t say de-instutionalised by any means, but I would say that they can be anyones’. The art theorist perhaps influencing Nicholas the most is Andre? Malraux, a French historian who thought that great art removed from historical context can be rearranged (curated) in the mind according to aesthetic or philosophical qualities in some sort of an imaginary museum. The idea behind this is much how Nicholas thinks about his projects.

Nicholas hurries back to the Photofusion gallery where he is setting up his show. There is a difference, he explains, between preparing photography prints and moving picture for an exhibition in that once you have printed your photographs they are ready to be hung on the wall. Video art instead, he says, takes forever to set up on location.

Exhibition Dates
15 November – 6 December 2013

Gallery Event: Artist Talk & Tour
Saturday 30 November, 12pm

Nicholas Smith will be giving a talk and walking tour of the exhibition, accompanied by a guest curator, George Vasey, an independent curator and writer based in London.

To book please email [email protected] or call on 020 7738 5774.
Event is free (Members), £3.50 (Non-members)

Blog written by Mari Boman – Photofusion volunteer