How did your artistic journey start, Sam?
My artistic journey started very early on, I would always paint, draw and do arts and crafts when I was really young, certainly too young to remember when it truly started. I do remember once getting in trouble for drawing on my walls when I was little after watching art attack or something. My photographic journey properly started during my last year of highschool, I took media and was forced to also take geology which I couldn’t do, so I complained and sort of forced myself into the photography class to go alongside media and I quickly learned that photography was the missing link in my artistic journey, I stopped painting when I was about 10 and now I can’t draw or paint, but cameras help me create art, so that was when it all clicked for me.
How did you arrive at the theme of your work?
Very recently I have to say, like, extremely recently. I was a street and reportage photographer for about 4 years, essentially my entire bachelors up-until the end of it. After that I wanted to distance myself from my University days and work, or at the very least my BA/Hons. I just didn’t feel like I was fairly represented or respected so of course I wanted to move past that, and because of that I’ve arrived at my current themes that I like to cover. This project of mine that you’re currently exhibiting is actually one that’s extremely simple but I’m rather proud of because its so drastically different. But my themes tend to stay the same, religion, authority, division, war, death, hatred, all the not-so-lovely things that sadly make us human.
Can you walk us through your creative process?
I’m very scatterbrained and eclectic, but also dreadfully boring. I may see something and that something makes me think of something totally unrelated, or I might see a title of a book or movie and that makes me picture something strange. Theres really no rhyme or reason. But once the idea is there, and I let it stew for a few days or weeks, and if it fits with a series I’m currently doing then I’ll start to think about the creative process of that idea. I’ll usually do rough sketches with basic colours, and from that I’ll start to think about the minutia such as specific shades and shapes of the subject(s). For my art series I always print chromogenic prints, which is to say the prints are made via chemicals instead of ink, then they are framed the exact same way. For more commercial stuff such as fashion, I usually use mood boards so the model and my assistants/team can see what I have in mind.
How has your practice changed over time?
I did street and reportage for so long, I thought I was going to be a great war photographer like Sir Don McCullin. I also experimented with fashion but ultimately grew disillusioned with it as most fashion photographers are glory hunters and don’t care to know about the extensive process of making garments. Now I focus more-so on visual art and portraiture, I want to create meaning in my images. However, I have also gotten back into fashion due to my mentor, a great fashion and advertisement photographer called James Lightbown, his style has inspired me to do it again, its very in your face and controversial, which I obviously love. On the practical side, I was fully digital, now I use both film and digital depending on my vision or what’s required, if I have to crop aggressively ill shoot film then drum scan, or if I want vibrant colours it’ll be Ektar 100, for clients, digital, my process has changed, and I think its for the better, I have far more options and forks on the road.
How do you overcome creative blocks?
I don’t really. It’s a really terrible thing to say and I know it isn’t great for other aspiring artists to hear, but I really don’t. I get depressed and go through burnout extremely often and easily, but during these blocks I usually still write down rough notes or draw quick sketches, or even save a photo I saw that interested me and hopefully by the time the block ends I at least have something to potentially show for it.
Who influences you? Which other artists work do you love?
Andres Serrano and Ron O’Donnell definitely. Those two are my absolute staples, I was actually a student of O’Donnell during my BA/Hons at Edinburgh Napier, he was so approachable and far less pretentious than all of the other lecturers yet his work was by far the most powerful and he’s world famous and highly celebrated. He made me feel safe and his work was just so emotional but goofy, it really stuck with me and has inspired this series indirectly, whilst inspiring a series I’m currently working on very directly. Serrano, on the other hand, is equally as powerful, I only learned more about him maybe last year but I’ve known of his work for years. He was one of the only people to call himself an artist who just so happens to use a camera, and he hates being called a photographer, someone so culturally significant saying what I’ve always felt has made me feel exceptionally validated. Platon is also another artist whom I admire, as well as my mentor James Lightbown.
What advice would you give to artists who are just starting out?
Learn the rules so you can break them. Following strict rules in something like art defeats the purpose of art itself, but at the same time you should definitely know the technical basics. Once you can compose correctly, start looking for creative ways to purposefully compose incorrectly. Also, please don’t let yourself get boxed in or categorised by large institutions, art is one of the only occupations that lets you be a complete individual and allows you to say or do anything, don’t let boring old men take that away from you, its your journey, your work, not theirs.
Is there anything else you would like people to know about your work or your experiences as an artist?
Keep an eye on me, I don’t have much work on my revamped portfolio now, but I have a plethora of ideas, some of which may get me killed, others will probably give you a good laugh.
See Sam’s work at our Summer Show, running at Six Foot Gallery until 6th July 2023.