words Zarah Cheng
All images are from Gavin's portfolio.
Where are you from?
Belfast. It’s a repressed, religious-right hell hole, that’s full of potential.
Describe your photography in 3 words.
Tense, deft, reassuringly honest (adverbs don't count, right?)
How do you typically construct narratives and concepts for your images?
I don't worry about narrative too much. My images are an execution of instinct. I like to walk an uncanny line, presenting scenes that are at once entirely believable, yet disruptive and with a surreal element.
Photography suits me as a medium because it is both fast and controllable. I am able to manipulate the sitter and the technicalities to make my statement. A still image is unique in this respect .
Even in some of your more satirical photographs, there is definitely a darker undertone in your work. Would you say this is signature to your aesthetic style?
Absolutely. Its not something I'm conscious of, but that confirms its authenticity. Ultimately, I want to transmit honesty in my work - there will be some dark threads.
‘Y’ OR ‘ER’ is a visually stunning short film you shot about photography. Can you tell us more about the work’s title, and why you wanted to discuss the merits and demerits of photography as an art form?
This piece began as a cathartic rant, which was then “slick-i-fied” by my good friend Jim Crone, who shot the video. On one hand it is a statement of intent, something for me to refer to on good days and bad. On the other it is a searing excoriation of the “photographic” hoi polloi.
If one’s approach is to “take” pictures then you will eternally produce underwhelming work. The masters know that truly iconic imagery is at least “made”, more like “given” but never, ever “taken”.
You told LPD that Helmut Newton inspired your start in photography. What is it about his take on femininity that resonated with you the most?
Newton’s work celebrates everything that fascinates me about how women experience the world. His nudes challenge the idea of nakedness equaling vulnerability. His ability to represent his sitters as strong and wholly at one with their environment is without equal. Newton’s images drop the viewer into a world, of which he is the puppet master. I LOVE that. He is the blueprint, the yardstick and the reason I do what I do.
As a fashion photographer, what are some boundaries that you’re hoping to push?
As a genre, fashion photography is a sleeping giant. The present generation of photographers have by light years, the best technical equipment ever, yet their vision is bereft.
Helmut Newton said of his time at French Vogue, “The film was limited, but the creativity was not.” This maxim has been flipped on its head. Terabytes of referential nonsense flow from DSLR’s ad nauseum. For all their style biting of masters like Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin, Merit & Marcus may as well have a Canon office copy machine, than any kind of digital camera or prime lens.
My work seeks to both respect and destroy that of those who have gone before me, to capture the zeitgeist and prick holes in the lies people tell themselves, and that I tell myself.
You wrote a really interesting piece on Terry Richardson’s digression as an artist. What would you say about art that shocks for the sake of shocking?
When a piece of art’s gratuitousness is more obvious than its artistic merit, it cannot, in my view, be considered art. At this point it becomes an “expression of a predicament” to borrow a line from Christopher Isherwood.
All art is a self-portrait in a world where, because of social media, everyone is a publisher. I have great pity for those who feel the need to produce this kind of “work”, but we are all on our own journey.
We have 24 hours in Belfast. What are some of the things we must do during that time?
Get in a taxi, drive to the airport, catch a plane to anywhere else. But seriously, it’s a great place to eat. Seafood, steak, Belfast punches above its weight culinary-wise. Beyond that, refer to my opening statement.
What creeps you out the most?
One day, my mother will be dead, and I will be lost.