Artist Interview : Charles Emerson
02 March 2013
‘Boch-isle E-tiff More’, is apparently the correct pronunciation for Charles Emerson’s Buachaille Etive Mòr series. Named after the mountain they depict, these photographs form an imposing set of images that document the same landscape as both it, and the photographer develop over time.
‘Ever since early childhood we holidayed at my grandparents in the West Highlands of Scotland. Each time we drove passed Buachaille Etive Mòr, my Dad would test me to see if I could name it.
The mountain has many happy associations and I still go to the cottage every year. I wanted to document passing the mountain on my journeys there and back. The mountain remains constant; it’s the conditions and my interpretation that changes with each trip.’
Preoccupations with nature and the effects of the elements run through Charles’ work, from his early still lifes through to his more recent Sky Studies. However, unlike his Buachaille Etive Mòr pictures, these other works take place under more controlled studio environments. Using water tanks, inks and even cotton wool, Charles creates rolling skies and dramatic floral compositions, constantly innovating and refining his practice.
‘The techniques I use vary greatly and evolve with each project, experimentation is key. I wanted to create scenes of apparent vastness and chaos on a tiny scale. To achieve this fully, I had to relinquish some creative control and give life to the work.’
The use of light and movement in Charles’ photographs means that they are often mistaken for paintings, so it is no surprise to discover the role that other painters have played in his development as an artist.
‘Painters are always a good starting point. Turner’s storm series was a huge influence on my sky studies. The way that Nature’s dominance of man is captured in his work always excites me. The flower series was strongly influenced by Dutch Vanitas paintings, which are heavily symbolic and often preoccupied with death.’
‘My father was an abstract impressionist painter and I always thought I’d follow in his footsteps. He died just after I graduated and his work has always been a part of me. My flower series felt like the closest I’d come to honouring him and his influence.’
Despite the fact that he fell into it almost by accident, making the decision to study photography at Falmouth College of Art on the recommendation of his Art Foundation tutor, it seems like an incredibly appropriate medium for Charles. Through it he is able to capture the momentum of his vision whilst paying homage to the tradition of Fine Art painters who had such an influence on him growing up. He is always pushing forward with his work but it doesn’t lose sight of its heritage. When I ask Charles which of his images is his favourite, he responds
‘Usually my latest. Being happy with a piece is the best feeling, unfortunately it’s often short lived, so you have to keep producing new work.’
Alongside his personal, exhibited photography series, Charles skills are also in demand for commercial briefs as he produces images for clients as varied as Microsoft, Toshiba and The Guardian. He commented on the interplay of these two different types of work,
‘I thoroughly enjoy both, without one the other wouldn’t be possible. I like the challenge of fulfilling a brief and working at a fast pace within a big team. By contrast, working alone in a dark studio is also challenging and fulfilling. They compliment each other and I divide my time as evenly as possible.’
Charles has garnered attention for both kinds of work that he produces and in 2011, he won a Sony Photography Prize for his piece in the Still Life category, which took his work to international exhibitions in Sao Paolo and New York. More recently he was picked out by the owner of the Affordable Art Fair, Will Ramsay, as one of his top ten emerging artists to look out for at this year’s Fair in Battersea.
With all this behind him, I asked Charles what he was looking to do next.
‘I was totally surprised and honoured to be in Will Ramsay’s top ten emerging artists. I’ve just returned from a trip to Lima where I’ve been experimenting with strong colour and multiple exposures on film, but also collecting digital images of urban details and environments.’
‘There’s a couple of exhibitions coming up and some interesting collaborations in the pipeline, as well as a move into my own studio I’m looking forward to having space to push my personal work further.’
Words by Celia Archer
Images courtesy of Charles Emerson / Antlers Gallery
For more of Charles’ work and purchasing information see:- www.antlersgallery.com/artist/charlesemerson