Lucy Bentham

Lucy Bentham (UK) primarily works with analogue photography, not limiting her work to a particular category or style. The majority of her work is conceptually driven, revolving around personal themes, seeking a sense of belonging, and reflecting on life’s transitions. Influenced by the world around her, she often comments on the personal significance of ostensibly mundane circumstances to form a narrative as an observer and occasional participant. She has a BA in Photography from the University of the West of England and an MA in Photography and the book from the University of Plymouth.

Lucy shares her project Escape Theory: The Experiment.

‘Escape Theory: The Experiment’ is a project undertaken as a response to my previous project ‘Escape Theory: Sublime’, for which I took a deeply personal approach to exploring the role of the female artist existing within, yet desiring to escape from, the domestic space. ‘Escape Theory: Sublime’ focused on a number of escapes into the landscape during a search for a sublimity I struggle to find in everyday life.

In this project I have explored the characters I employ to make domesticity bearable, as well as sexuality, the feminine, metaphors of personality fragments, anxiety, neglect and decay.

When did your interest in photography begin and what is your background in photography?

My interest in photography began with a love of ‘just taking pictures’. I suppose it was an uneducated desire to document my environment and family and friends without questioning whether it would be interesting for anyone else to look at or not. The photos were for personal use; for memory and archive. Then one of my first forays into being more creative with the medium was when I experimented with making self-portraits as different characters – something I have unintentionally revisited for this project.

I have a BA Photography from UWE and an MA Photography and the book from Plymouth University. The projects I made during these courses were very much theory driven; based on photographic theory or psychologies or myth., for example. My work is primarily photographic but is also often accompanied by some form of writing. I also curate photography exhibitions which is a brilliant, practical, break from being overly introspective when working on photographic projects.

Your work is rooted in conceptual photography, often combining image and text to look at domesticity and ideas of escapism. What is it that has drawn you to these themes across your work?

From the time I picked up a camera with project intent I really wanted to be a documentary photographer. I’d see my peers making projects with beautiful portraits and interesting scenes from reality, telling these incredibly moving or fascinating stories about whatever they had studied and I so wanted to do the same, as did most of my tutors, but I found it natural to research and think about a subject until my head exploded, constantly conceptualising something that could eventually represent all of this information. So my work has continued down the path of being heavily thought based, empirical, usually introspective, and research driven…and I still really want to make documentary work! The escapism theme has been intentionally present in my work since 2015, with domesticity joining it in 2016. I work with a lot of binaries, which became clear was reflective of my personality, so I also began to consciously explore these dualities around 2015. The idea of the escape was a good enough subject to base the first escape project on, but I also wanted to know the prompt for the escape; hence the following project to ‘Escape Theory: Sublime’ being ‘Escape Theory: The Experiment’. My combination of writing with photographs is based on research I carried out when considering the affects of each media on the viewer – what can be said in words is much more specific than the ambiguity of the photograph and much can be said in image that cannot be accurately connoted through text, so I often combine the two by way of divulging clearer information.

The theme of mountains as a metaphor for escapism is present in your work. What is it about landscape that is so powerful for you in representation the feeling or longing of escape?

I began my journey into looking at escapism inadvertently after starting a project ‘Escape Theory: Sublime’ with a very rational, academic, choice of subject I thought would keep me occupied for quite a while: the aesthetic theory of the Sublime based on traditional concepts from Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant in the eighteenth century, which are deeply based around landscape. My peers commented that the work I was making, which mostly comprised of me heading alone into the landscape searching for the sublime, felt more like an escape from something rather than a search and that was the real starting point of the project. This was the point that the academic rationality partly went out the window and I began being introspective and much more empirical in my approach to making the work. Having consciously been in and out of the landscape for about six months at that point, I had already very much connected with the notion of the power of the mountain, their seemingly infinite ages, strength and ability to overcome my tiny human anxieties, so they remain symbolic in much of my work, whether collections of small rocks or the experience of hiking up a mountain. The metaphor of the mountain is almost always about climbing a mountain, starting at the bottom and eventually reaching the top and I wanted to be literal in my approach by literally climbing the mountains in place of other achievements I wasn’t experiencing at the time.

Your artist books, particularly for Escape Theory look beautiful. What is it that attracted you to creating a book of the project? Do you have any advice for people considering self publishing or moving into the book format?

Thank you. Throughout most of my photographic practice I have always considered the photograph as belonging in a book or on a gallery wall but they are two entirely different ways of reading a narrative and experiencing the work and, depending on the project, I usually prefer the idea of a viewer being able to view the work alone, quietly. A book also gives more control to the creator who can be more prescriptive of a narrative and flow of reading. For the Escape Theory artist book I wanted to present the heavily experimental process I took with the medium throughout the project in book form, so the artist book is made out of unique prints and ephemera from these experiments: pieces of super 8 film, 5×4 negatives, photograms, mini zines, and a variety of paper stocks.

My advice to anyone considering self-publishing or moving into book format would be to do it for the love of the book, because a book is what you really want your project to be. Books that are collections of images from a project that is better suited to a wall are catalogues. Once you have decided on your book format, consider the narrative and let other people help with the edit. Listen to what they see when they read the sequencing. Consider the size, style, and layouts. When you are certain you’re finished, make dummies, lots of dummies, then a small edition or print on demand through pre-orders.

I lay back as the water turns pink and this millennial is shrouded in a tone that denies her the arrogance to think that she is. That she can. That she will.

And I open to you but you just presume that I nag and I gripe; there’s no more room for these feminist rights.

Lights. Long nights. Fights with thoughts buried in my soul and I’m cold. Not from the chill but the lack of will. I’m shut. I’m shattered. Possession is nine tenths and that’s all that matters.

The woman doth protest too much. Regrets too much. Regresses and confesses and is not at her best too much.

I’m blue, not pink like they say. And soon I’ll be grey and exposed and battered and bruised. Never mind used. Never mind working my way up because I’m down. No longer is the crown in sight, not far from my height. But far, far away in a land that never existed.

I missed it. I risked it. We tried it. We hid it from those around us. Our powers confound us. Compress us. Until completely engorged with the weight of our fates. We implode. We explode to the stars that are not as far as theirs.

But we try.

​And we never give up.

Where do you draw inspiration from for your projects?

Most of my inspiration comes from a lot of overthinking about the most mundane of subjects, especially day-to-day life instances that usually get glossed over. I’m a fan of the ordinary and not a fan of things being made into something considered ‘better’ – I appreciate the ordinary. Visually, I usually have a bank of ideas in my mind I’m not sure how to make tangible then I’ll see something that triggers that set of images into action e.g. a colour or style of typeface, or someone’s outfit, or I’ll eavesdrop on a conversation on the bus. It all gets written down or subconsciously absorbed then usually transformed into something unrelated in a project.

How do you see your practice developing and what are you working on now/next?

I’m keen to develop my curatorial practice alongside personal photographic projects. I’ve got a shortlist of some pretty lengthy photographic projects I’d love to get started on properly and I’m trying to turn one of these into a PhD (but I need a studentship!). I always say this, and it is usually difficult to escape from, but I would like this shortlist of projects to come to fruition because they are mostly not introspective.
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