Imagine how bland the world would be without artists, says photographer Sam Fradley. His project A Handshake With A Martian saw him starting to question a whole load of constructs. And he’s set up The South West Collective to inform, educate and empower artists and communities. We spoke to him…
ArtsCulture: A Handshake With A Martian is your photographic journey on the trail of UFO spotters. How did the series come about?
Sam Fradley: I have always found the notions of ufos and life on other planets to be fascinating, but I found that it always inevitably relates back to the United States. I was particularly interested in British Ufology as it’s something that is hardly ever mentioned or really heard of. It came to the final project for my degree and it just felt like the right project to explore photographically and it went from there.
ArtsCulture: It sounds like it was a personal journey. What did you learn, if anything, during the process, about yourself, your photography, or even your way of working?
Sam Fradley: First and foremost, undertaking the project has led me to question the constructs of the society we live in. My expectations of the project and the people who research ufos conformed to society’s representation of them and ufos as a subject. I thought that the people would perhaps be strange, weird maybe even a bit mental, but that wasn’t the case at all. I actually found the polar opposite, that being that the arguments into extra-terrestrial activity was well rounded, based on factual information and almost always incorporated government documents.
I quickly realised that actually, these stories and events are very plausible as there is almost always credible evidence supporting the theories. In relation to the people themselves, they are all very professional, well-spoken and knowledgeable on a variety of topics. I found the arguments for extra-terrestrial activity to be compelling and in fact quite plausible.
Secondly, I have learnt that just because something doesn’t fit into society’s values or ideals it doesn’t mean to write it off. People will go to church to pray to a man they have never seen and worship gods that have no scientific or plausible explanation, but yet these ideals of life on other planets and intelligent life seems so far fetched, it’s bizarre that the subject is treated so negatively, especially when we barely understand our own existence.
I have learnt a lot about myself, my photography and the way I work. I have pushed myself to learn, explore and document a group, a narrative and story that is very hard to grasp. I put myself out of my comfort zone, met new people and heard new stories which are quite literally out of this world. I have discovered an overwhelming desire to explore the unknown. I want to question the bizarre side of our existence and species whether that be through ufos or other means by looking at things that don’t fit into the requirements or rush of everyday society. I feel this is now where the structure and narrative of my personal work will lay. It’s amazing how by undertaking work, you learn more about yourself in the process.
ArtsCulture: This sort of project brings together documentary, society as well as arresting imagery – how important is what you do? (We usually ask about the role of an artist in society – you can answer that if you prefer!)
Sam Fradley: I feel that what I do is important within society because I am documenting and visually showing people narratives they perhaps haven’t considered or heard of. As a photographer I feel that is my purpose to tell stories.
In 1000 years time people will look back at photography as a means of studying history from the epoch. I want to be a part of that legacy, an example of what humanity was like. However, I feel that artists in general have a responsibility to challenge the system we live in. We have to ask the questions that the everyday person wont. Without artists could you imagine how bland the world would be?!?
ArtsCulture: How would you describe your photographic style and who/ what inspires you?
Sam Fradley: My tutors from university; Oli Udy, Jessica Lennan and Tim Mills are the people who inspired me. They pushed me to be better, helped me progress and taught me pretty much everything I know. Everything I have done since the end of university to now I owe to them.
I don’t really get inspired by other photographers or the work they create because I don’t see the point. If you get inspired by work that’s already been made, I personally feel that it’s not your own ideas. I let those around me, who motivate me inspire me, I get inspired by other people’s energy.
My photographic style has really developed into this bizarre and extraordinary form of Documentary photography. It involves research, documentation and stories from real people. I would probably describe it as a more unique style of journalism or narrative story telling.
ArtsCulture: You’re a founder of The South West Collective. What is it, why did you start it, and what’s the response been?
Sam Fradley: The South West Collective is a vision to revolutionise the photography world. This industry is toxic and manipulative. That has to change. All of the infrastructure, the galleries and the publishers are all primarily based in London with a few exceptions. The Collective is designed to promote photography and art across the South West of England as well as selling a range of photographic products. My goals for the Collective are to one day have a gallery space; a home for photography and art in the South West.
Outside of Bristol or London, there isn’t even a single gallery in the Westcountry that focuses primarily on photography. I also want to change the way photography as a medium is used and perceived by the public. Rather than single images or the standard exhibition, the Collective will be using it as a tool to educate and empower a wide demographic of people as well as trying to do some good within our communities.
ArtsCulture: What variety of photographic styles and storytelling do you come across in the South West in particular?
Sam Fradley: The South West has an abundant wealth of talented photographers and artists who have created a range of fabulous works. I wouldn’t say that there is a particular style in general, but I would argue documentary or portraiture is currently the most prominent here, but of course this is under represented in the South West like with all art forms. We are fortunate and should be thankful for the excellent range of talent we have here and if possible; exploit it to benefit our communities.
ArtsCulture: There’s a South West Collective exhibition coming up, can you tell us any more about it?
Sam Fradley: Yes! We are delighted to announce that our opening and inaugural exhibition will take place in Torquay between May and July for six weeks. We are still in the planning stages, but I can confirm that we are turning a disused shop space into a fully functional pubic exhibition and educational space for a six-week period.
The theme of the exhibition will be “Visual Storytelling” and will focus on local and non-local artists who have created gripping and engaging photographic bodies of work. We want the exhibition to have as much community engagement as possible and will seek to be holding workshops, talks and visits from local schools as well as welcoming local organisations into the space.
This will be a first in Torbay and I truly believe it can be the start of something special in the South West. We will need all of the support that we can get!
ArtsCulture: Thanks Sam, looking forward to it! Check out more at The South West Collective site.
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