Alex Catt interview

English photographer Alex Catt invites us into forests and smugglers' caves.

 — i.

— i.

 — ii.

— ii.

 — iii.

— iii.

 — iv.

— iv.

 — v.

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i. from He headed inland 
ii. from Lost Along The Way
iii. from Moonshine
iv. from He headed inland
v. from Lost Along The Way

All photos © Alexander Catt 2010-2012

Where did you grow up?

My first years were in a very small village in the south of England called Alderholt, which happens to be reasonably close to my mother’s home now, in Ringwood. Ringwood is where I really grew up. Both of these villages are located on the border of the New Forest, which is a large forestry area in the south of England. It’s super nice here. I wasn’t best pleased with it as I grew up, as obviously it is quite out of the way, however now each time I visit home I find more and more places to explore and make work in.

When did you first become interested in photography?

I guess my first experiences stem from my early passion for BMX; I first got a camera to document the culture that my friends and I were involved in. After that it was mainly through school and then college that my passion for photography grew further. Learning basic history around photography and art in general really helped to inform my own practice as a photographer. It was after this that I really started to understand what it was that I was doing, or at least trying to do.

I understand you are about to graduate from Brighton University. How has studying photography affected your work? 

As I say, studying photography has really opened my eyes to the medium itself, in both a historical and critical sense. As well as this, at Brighton I have some really great tutors whose work I admire very much. These include Mark Power, Fergus Heron and Jim Cooke. Also, many of my fellow students’ work I have a lot of time for. I think it’s important to be around people who share the same passions as you – it encourages you to work as hard as you can.

What are you working on at the moment?

Unfortunately, I lost my father in early February this year. Prior to this, I had been meaning to make a body of work that subtly hinted towards aspects of his past and my situation coming to terms with his illness – he had been ill for a very long time. However, now I am both trying to make work around aspects of his past and also my own acceptance of what has happened. I grew up with my father and mother on a nursery growing plants, so of course nature and certain species of plants in particular now resonate with me greatly.

"It’s these subtle hints that you place inside your images that take the viewer to a certain place; their own experiences come into play…"

I've noticed your older work on Flickr is mostly digital, while your current work is predominantly shot on film. When and why did you make the switch to film, especially larger formats?

I suppose it happened as I grew fonder of the medium of photography itself. Film has a certain quality that digital just can’t replicate, however much you pay. My move from digital to medium format, and now recently to large format, has come slowly over time but I think the contemplative nature surrounding large format photography fits well with the images that I make. Looking at the ground glass underneath a dark cloth brings you into your own little world, a world which you create through the image which you frame. This mini world is yours but the way you frame it can quickly become suggestive to others. It’s these subtle hints that you place inside your images that take the viewer to a certain place; their own experiences come into play and they can raise questions, or assumptions, over what the point in the image is. Everyone sees the image in their own way – this for me is exciting.

Who are some photographers you admire?

Alec Soth has always been a favourite of mine. The way in which he sequences work is astounding – the littlest details make everything. Of course each image itself is strong, but the lyrical dimension that he forms by placing them in a certain order is one that is not only unique, but very inspiring.

Both your projects 'Moonshine' and 'He headed inland' focus on smuggling. What made you want to explore this subject?

Moonshine came first; it was my entrance into the world of smuggling. After that it just fascinated me to the extent that I needed to produce work in a wider area. The Moonshine work is all made within very specific places – two caves on the Dorset coastline, in which there is a rich history of smuggling in the late 18th century. From this I moved on to He headed inland, which accounts for the rest of the Dorset coastline and its surrounding areas. There are so many stories surrounding smuggling, so many mixed opinions on smugglers. Some almost romanticise the act whereas others, mainly in historical records, recite acts of brutal murders.

What is your process when starting a project?

I tend to work in two ways; I am either influenced very much by local history and places, or by simply travelling. They seem like such opposites but I either make work within a specific place, where I can delve into its history and get familiar with local historians to help me understand my subject and really get to know a place, or I will simply disappear for a couple of weeks, driving around Europe with no real destination or route, taking whatever turns I feel like and trying to really experience something. This of course leads me to some wonderful places – everything is there for you, and you just need to experience it. Many of my fondest memories are from these trips. You can feel like luck is not on your side and you are completely out of place, lost. Something will always happen and things will work out though – there is always hope, so
to speak.

"I will simply disappear for a couple of weeks, driving around Europe with no real destination or route..."

On your website your projects focus on landscapes, while your personal work seems to feature a lot of portraiture. Why is this?

I have found it hard to combine the two, to be completely honest. I have a couple of projects, which I have not posted anywhere, that seem to combine the two genres but it’s something I am working towards. As Alec Soth said, ‘Anyone can take a great picture. But very few people can put together a great collection of pictures. It is incredibly difficult to put these fragments together in a meaningful way. And this is my goal.’ Hopefully one day it will work out and I will feel things fit together well!

What are your plans for the future?

Now this question always scares me. Who knows I guess. It all seemed so distant... university has gone so fast and now I really need to think about what to do next. I will almost certainly
find myself travelling a fair amount while I make up my mind, and definitely continue to
make photographs.