'It's like listening to a piece of music'
Interview by Tom Livingstone
Artist: Alistair Noble
Series Title: ‘Island Observatory’
Photography Courses completed: 12-Month Mentorship Program
When you look at artist Alistair Noble’s photo project Island Observatory, it’s clear a lot of time and effort went into developing its narrative.
Over the course of a year, he visited a large traffic island in Sydney’s north, where an observatory once stood a century ago – but the location has now been largely overtaken by nature.
Through layering different textures, Alistair's photos move away from tradition and he found a unique way to portray the natural sounds of the location in his visual work – toying with juxtaposition and different elements to extend the audience’s experience.
“I don’t think of narrative as any kind of straight line. This book loops around itself, and within itself. I think you need to flip back and forth in it several times,” Alistair says.
“It’s also like listening to a piece of music, which sometimes makes you think about something else at the same time… a memory, or a line of sight to the future.”
With his background as a musician and academic, Alistair finds visual and aural imagination “to be closely connected”.
“Sound is very important to me - I often think of music in visual terms (how it ‘looks’ in my mind), and also reflect on visual arts by asking myself ‘how does it sound?’” he says.
“I used to think that there was little concrete relationship between my visual work and my other work in music. This project has made me reassess.”
Wanting to learn more about photography, find a creative distraction from stresses in his everyday life and meet others working in the field, Alistair got in touch with Paul McDonald about Contact Sheet’s 12-Month Mentorship Program.
“For me there were two highlights - one was getting to know Paul and the other mentors working on the program. All terrific people, tremendously knowledgeable and very generous with their insight,” he says.
“The other was getting to know the others in the group. It turned out to be an incredible bunch of artists, I am very much in awe of the talent of these colleagues.”
Alistair says Paul and his team of expert mentors were supportive and kind, commending their ability to challenge the mentees, their idea development and creative process.
“The great learning moments were when I could see from Paul’s expression that he wasn’t impressed with something,” Alistair says.
“For example, one day he said he really didn’t like an image that was my favourite in the set - this kind of challenge is so valuable, because it encourages us to rethink and re-analyse.”
Alistair says any artist struggling to express themselves creatively should “treat everything as a work in progress as long as you can, trust your instinct and don’t be afraid to rethink and revise”.
A big benefit the mentorship program had for Alistair was the interaction and communication it provided with likeminded creatives.
“Seeking out a group of friends or mentors to talk with and work with is very important. A lot of the work we do as artists - in any medium - is rather lonely,” he says.
"A great deal of the process takes place inside our own head, or in quiet hours alone. To balance this, I recommend developing a structure of interaction and communication with other people, where you can feel safe to discuss things you’re working on.”
To read Alistair's full interview, click here
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