Iain Maclachlan | Mentee in Focus
This week we talk to Iain Maclachlan who was mentored by our photography tutors Morganna & Stephanie in Melbourne. Iain has been learning photography for a number of years and decided to take the next step in his practice by signing up to a photography mentorship.
We spend 12 months with our mentees looking at all aspects of their photographic work. Through the monthly photo workshops we aim to develop a project whilst developing photographic skills. We asked Iain what he thought of this approach to photography education.
I came to the mentorship without a particular vision or project in mind so I was really looking to be guided through a process of self discovery. The monthly exercises I found very powerful as they built over time, some completed more successfully than others, but collectively creating a new approach to creativity that I can build on. Importantly, I felt the mentors spoke from personal experience about their own struggles, often sound intuitive advice and feedback, and gave a well balanced measure of encouragement and honest push when needed. They showed me what it takes to be an artist with the compassion that comes from the experience of doing the same themselves.
What was your motivation for enrolling on the mentorship program?
I have always felt attracted to creating beautiful images, and had increasingly turned to making photographs as a way of rebalancing away from a life dominated by a profession in analytics. However, after some early success, I felt a lack of knowledge about how to draw the creativity from within myself that I was happy with. I knew it would take more than one or two photography workshops and the Contact Sheet mentorship offered the depth and breadth of course that I knew I needed.
Do you remember the first photograph you created? If so tell us about it?
I remember my first experience with a camera was cautiously holding a Kodak box brownie at five years of age, being instructed by my parents to hold it level, not to shake it, and somehow look into a viewfinder made of polished metal, and see an image. It was all very confusing and beyond me so I concentrated on not dropping it. Somewhere in the copious boxes of Kodak slides taken by my father, there is an image of a motel, in its optimistic Ektachrome shades of California hues, with me beside the pool with that box. The first image I remember taking was on a school trip to Tasmania in the mid 1970s with a new Agfamatic spy camera. On one of the long road trips through the mountains, our bus driver pulled over to the side of the road, pausing to show us the view overlooking the greenest valley I had ever seen; a patchwork of fields framed by mountains, dark brooding rain clouds lit be a brilliant ray of late afternoon sun. My little Agfa captured the moment perfectly and I was in awe when the prints eventually returned from the chemist.
What does photography mean to you?
Photography is an ever present companion that shapes the way I see the world and express myself to others. I tend to think in pictures faster than I can write or verbalise and taking photographs is often a balance of intent and intuition. With landscape photography I find myself returning to the same places, each time teasing out more from within until I understand why the pull is there. When making a body of work, I have come to learn that my images guide me towards the final narrative as much as I guide them. Making images, writing about them, researching locations and editing is a dance around the edges of a void.
What influences / inspires your photography?
I am drawn to the art of landscape because it is a means to explore complex ideas about place, fears, and our collective experience.
When making portraits I respond to the subject’s own energy; but with a landscape the image draws from my own feelings, and that often means sitting with a deep sense of aloneness, or even void. In particular, I feel the frailty of our suburban daily life being lived in the most ancient of lands.
The Australian bush embodies a sense of haunting by past acts left unspoken and unreconciled; disease, drought, dust storms, fire, flood and other hardships endured; and the ever present feeling of how primal this land is. Marcus Clarke writes:
“Australia has rightly been named the Land of the Dawning. Wrapped in the midst of early morning her history looms vague and gigantic. The lonely horseman, riding between the moonlight and the day, sees vast shadows creeping across the shelterless and silent plains, hears strange noises in the primeval forests, where flourishes a vegetation long dead in other lands, and feels, despite his fortune, that the trim utilitarian civilisation which bred him shrinks into insignificance”.
I find inspiration from eclectic sources: Robert Adams shows me how to see beauty; Bill Henson’s shows how to consciously structure light, shade, and position of focal point to bring the formal composition of painting to his work; Ralph Gibson’s surrealism reminds me that the glimpsed image can be unnerving and powerful; and Sally Mann’s evocative intimate southern landscapes transcend time.
Tell us about the project you are currently working on.
My project explores the emotions of the haunted landscape. It attracts me as a subject due to my own childhood experience of dislocation from family and culture in a land of new beginnings for my parents, haunted by fears, secrets, and layers of history foreign to me. Using methods drawn from early 20th Century I create images that seek to pierce the veil of time and space, and invite an emotional experience to a mysterious narrative.
How have you developed your photography practise over the course of the mentorship? Have there been any challenges that you have faced?
The more I have progressed the less photographs I have taken, and the more I have turned back to my skills in research and writing as the essential foundations. Without the mentors seeing the shadows in my work that I was avoiding, and gently prodding me with insightful observations and suggestions to go deeper, I would have continued to avoid bringing my whole self to the table. The question of what I am photographing has turned into why and how I am photographing, and even whether I am photographing is becoming secondary to the narrative.
The greatest challenges are mental. It is not a comfortable process to face the inner demons of negativity but the tools provided on the mentorship do help. The demons will never be banished so the greatest challenge is finding the courage to keep going and have faith in the process.
What type of work are you available for?
I am available for commissioned portraits and collaboration with other creatives. I am also available for broader documentary and storytelling projects, especially when concerned with historical, environmental and social issues.