Chloë Tibbatts studied photography at Birmingham City University in the School of Visual Communication. She graduated in 2019. We interviewed her about her work, about photography, about her studies and about the future.
How did your studies help you?
I found the deadlines and work checks particularly helpful as they gave me something to work towards and kept me motivated to produce work. The briefs themselves were fairly open which gave me space to explore my own ideas and continue researching themes I was particularly interested in. The course helped me discover new photographers which redirected my approach to practice and opened my eyes to a culture of photography I wasn’t fully aware of before.
What are you doing now?
The summer after graduating, I took part in the Dartmoor Summer School of Photography which was an artist residency I had been recommended by a visiting lecturer at BCU. It was a really interesting week that focused on our approach to creating and ran creative workshops. This was a little transformative for me because I had been feeling very unsure of myself after graduating. A workshop with Sian Davey helped me realise that I needed to slow down and look after myself more which I have been trying to do this year, albeit unsuccessfully! The week has also made me a little more playful when creating work and I hope that I can maintain this. I have started a new project that I think will form the basis of my MA. I also have a semi-official mentorship with Splash & Grab magazine and they set me up meetings with a few photo editors and creatives in London. This really helped me to not feel out the loop after leaving university. I have also been writing a couple of features for their website which has been a nice challenge. If I’m honest, I haven’t spent as much time on my work since graduating as I would have liked but I am hoping to pick up the pace again soon.
What or who influences your work?
I’ve been really influenced by photographers such as Chloe Dewe Mathews, Joel Sternfeld, Freya Najade, Sian Davey, Paul Gaffney, Alma Haser, Laura Hynd, Suzie Howell, Dafna Talmor and Esther Teichmann over the last three years. I seem to mostly look at female photographers and I am undecided whether this is coincidental or if I am attracted more to female energy in work. I also looked at artists such as Antti Laitinen and Andy Goldsworthy, Peter Doig and Turner. I was influenced by art movements too such as impressionism and expressionism. I think it is important to be influenced by as many things as possible and then see where you end up.
What is your approach to making work?
I like to think my approach to making work is quite playful and tactile, even with a lot of it being digital. I do a lot of manual manipulation and experimentation during a project even if a lot of it doesn’t look great or make the final cut. I think the process of working through a project is more important to me than the final result. I am really interested in art therapy and eco therapy, so it is all about the process. I don’t set myself any hard rules or restrictions. For example, I don’t like to say ‘I’m going to shoot all of this project on film’ because that creates stress and can become a problem financially which then stops the whole process being therapeutic. Materials are really important to me and I spend a lot of time thinking about what is appropriate.
Can you describe your work, how do you make your work?
Low Stock Levels is a personal project that explores a lot of things that were affecting me at that point, and it has become quite hard to track what it is really about even for myself. I like to think of it as a scrapbook of emotion. It looks at family, changing friendships and relationships, loss and loneliness. I think it’s really about being a young adult and the feelings of uncertainty that comes with it. The narrative itself is fragmented and is told through both the images and a series of poems that can be interpreted in different ways. Whilst the project was deeply personal, I have kept a lot of the details quite vague because I want people to be able to project their own experiences onto the work. I used a lot of different materials in this project although this can only really be seen in the portfolio not online. I printed on fabrics, created etchings with digital lasers, printed on gold, shot underwater, used digital and film, made transfers and made frames again using lead which sort of tied this project to my previous project Transforming Pain. I think the core to my work is trying to take something metaphysical and turn it into something tangible or visible.
What do you think is the future of image-making and photography?
I think right now there are a lot of sub-cultures forming in photography. I don’t think it is all going to move into VR and digital technology, although I am sure this will be huge. I think there is a huge push towards personal projects and analogue photography. The photobook culture is huge. A lot of work I see fits into these new, trendy genres and I’ll admit some of my work (with environmental themes and the use of poetry) probably fits in to it too. This means it can be hard to tell some photographers work apart at the moment, particularly with some documentary and editorial work. The styles can look a little overdone. But it’s also great because it’s really easy to find people that work the same way as you and it’s easy to build a community. I think going forward we’ll see a lot more collectives, a lot more pop-up shows and self-published work. Because let’s face it, most of us can’t really afford to do this on our own and there are so few avenues to make money from this kind of work. It is hard to predict with photography though because it’s relatively new to the art world and as a medium seems to be the fastest changing. We’ll just have to wait and see!
What do you think is the role of art?
For me, art helps me to see the world differently and sometimes to see myself differently. I guess the overall role of art is to share a message and that message can vary from something solemn or political to something purely humorous. Whatever the message, it will create some kind of emotional response, even if it varies from person to person. Art is a necessity within society and it is hard to picture a world without it.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
I honestly have no idea where I will be in 5 years time. I never planned beyond university and now I am struggling to settle on a career. I love curating and looking at other people’s work so I hope to be doing something like that. I want to have finished my MA by then and have some sort of stable income, hopefully from photography. I like the idea of teaching, particularly teaching in a university. I don’t really want to work on my own because I would miss the community element and I can’t see that making me happy. I just want to be comfortable and able to continue my own work on the side.
How do you see your work developing?
So far, all my work has been very personal. I hope as it develops that there will be a larger community or environmental element to my work. I want it to have a directly positive impact.
Do you have any advice for current students?
Do as many tutorials as possible, ask to meet and talk to photographers, show your work and consider the feedback. But remember that you don’t have to agree with all the feedback. Sometimes your work just won’t be in their taste but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. You have to stay true to yourself and take on board the advice or recommendations that you believe in otherwise you’ll lose interest in your own practice which will lead to poor work.
What is the most useful advice you have received?
To ask for help. Whether emotional or practical. It is surprising how welcoming the photographic community is and how keen they are to help if they can.