Current exhibitor interview: Tessa Bunney

I usually meet people to interview them for my blog. This time, because Tessa currently lives in Laos and her two week visit to London coincided with my own travels to Spain I sent her questions per email. I was disappointed because I was especially interested in her experiences in Finland, my home country. Here is what Tessa told me:

“I have taken photos around where I live and on family holidays since I was a young child and later went along to the local camera club with my Dad. I decided whilst I was still at school that I wanted to be a photographer although I really had no idea what that meant until I went on to study photography at Farnham.

© Tessa Bunney, from the project Järvenjää/Lakeice, 2010/12

For me, photography has always been an excuse to be somewhere, to meet interesting people and find out about things I might be interested in or passionate about. Today I am much more concerned with how I can share these issues with other people. My project ideas come from many, many different places – recently they have been inspired by maps, Radio 4 and random exploring but also trying to keep an open mind to what is going on around me and respond to that. In general though I am very interested in different landscapes and how they are shaped by human activity.

Since I was a child I have always wanted to travel and explore around both my own doorstep and other countries – it never seems enough to just read about something, I need to see if for myself. Recently I have had the opportunity to travel overseas much more than in my early career – for around 12 years I just mainly photographed the rural communities in particular hill farming around where I live in North Yorkshire. Then I began looking for new challenges and different landscapes to explore.

© Tessa Bunney, Vuorilampi, from the project Järvenjää/Lakeice, 2010

I love Finland very much and have travelled there previously (before this project) to work with the Sami reindeer herders in the far north, I find the freedom of working there refreshing and the people welcoming. For the Open Water Swimming project I was invited to take part in a Connections North residency exchange programme in Jyvaskyla by North Yorkshire organisation, Chrysalis Arts, along with three other North Yorkshire Artists. We raised money as a group from Arts Council England but worked independently on our own projects although there were times when we were in Finland together. Four Finnish artists then returned the following year to North Yorkshire and later we all exhibited our work together in the UK and Finland.

Exploring, particularly on foot, is often a necessary part of my working process but I guess I am not really that great at wandering around with no particular focus so I always had in mind that I would focus on one aspect eventually. The ice swimming clubs with saunas are only open at certain times so I could plan ahead to visit them and in between continued travelling by local bus to various lakes around the cities hoping to see people using them. Without a particular focus I found it really hard to just go out and wander especially when it was so cold! The previous week it had been so, so cold that no-one had been ice-swimming or out on the lake at all – so I was also very lucky.

Both the ice swimmers in Finland and the SSC swimmers were very friendly and welcoming. In Finland, Anna-Leena, the gallery assistant was an ice-swimmer so the original invitation was from her but I also went to different places on my own just with a translated letter just in case people didn’t speak English which apart from some of the older women, they did – I always asked first and only one person refused to be photographed. Of course, it was much easier in London because you can chat freely to people and explain your intentions.

© Tessa Bunney, from the series ‘On the Board’, 2011-12

I am not actually a very good swimmer myself so I didn’t try ice-swimming or swimming in the Serpentine lake, however in the summer I did join the women in Finland for a sauna and lake swim which was way cold and challenging enough! Personally, I find it very difficult as a photographer to take part and photograph something so I think I was more of an outsider trying to understand the passion. In my non-photography life I spend a lot of time however at all sorts of swimming places with my husband and son who love it – if you can’t beat them join them!!

My interest in open water swimming goes back to my interest in different landscapes and how we use them for ourselves, in this case for leisure. In Finland it was very fascinating to see how the landscape was transformed in the winter, because I also visited during the summer when of course the lakes were used as well for fishing, boating and swimming! After a long dark winter they were so happy to be out enjoying the snow and the light.”

Interview by Mari Boman, Photofusion volunteer

To here more from Tessa about these two projects in the exhibition, and as well about the work she is currently working on in Laos, come along to her artist talk this Thursday…

Artist Talk & Tour
Thursday 6 February

19.00 in the Photofusion Gallery
£3.50 (free for Photofusion Members)

[email protected]
020 7738 5774