Interview: Shane Lynam
Hello and welcome back to Epilogue. We apologise for our absence over the past year, expect things to be more regular from here on out.
We’re kicking things off again with an interview with photographer, Shane Lynam.
Shane Lynam is a photographer based in Dublin, Ireland. His most recent project entitled ‘Fifty High Seasons’ won the Gallery of Photography’s Solas Ireland Award in November 2015 which included exhibitions at the Gallery of Photography in Dublin and at Fotohof Gallery in Salzburg. Fifty High Seasons was part of Circulations Festival in Paris in March 2016.
He has recently funded a book of this work which is still available to purchase via kickstarter.
E: Many of your projects seem to be based around areas in France, why were you drawn to these areas in particular and do you feel that your perspective as an outsider influences the work that you produce?
SL: I have always been interested in public life in France and how important discourse is there. Everything is debated and challenged and big ideas play a central role. Although this level of discourse doesn’t necessarily yield better results, the ambition behind it can still be admired. Both Contours and Fifty High Seasons look at spaces that are the result of national urban planning projects that reflect the politics and ideology of that era. I am interested in how the ideas behind these projects have fared over time and how the spaces look today.
I have lived in France on and off for seven years in total so although I am an outsider, I have a certain amount of an understanding of the nuances of French society. Most recently, I lived in Paris from 2006 to 2012, and it was during that time that I began to make project work. Around the same period I was frequently taking the train to Perpignan in the south where my parents have a small holiday apartment. My first two projects were made close to these two locations. It may seem obvious, but making work in a place where you have easy regular access helps a a lot when you are starting as you are guaranteed to be there for a certain amount of time every year. Although this won’t ensure that you’ll make strong work it will make it easier and more likely.
I would like to think that my outsider status allows me to see things that locals might not while the references that I’ve built up while living there mean that I’m not coming to it completely new.
E: Tourism appears to be an ongoing theme within your work, why is this a particular area of interest for you?
SL: Fifty High Seasons is the first project where I look at tourism and although it’s a consideration, it’s by no means the primary concern. What ties Fifty High Seasons and Contours together is a concern with state decisions regarding infrastructure, how those decisions have shaped the way the space is organised and whether those decisions have proven to be good ones. I’m more interested in the project behind the creation of the resorts. Tourism happens to be an easier subject to photograph and helps to bring attention to the subject.
E: There is a common thread throughout your work; the way that people interact with their surroundings. Was there a conscious decision that you made or was it something that was more organic?
SL: More organic — I started out by shooting a lot of empty architecture or urban spaces and gradually began to introduce people into the shots over time. A lot of the time I’ll wait for someone to enter the shot but I’ll end up using the empty shot instead. It’s tough to fit the person without upsetting the dynamic of what makes the image interesting. I try to use the person as just another element of the composition, like a wall or a tree and try not to think too much about who I’m shooting. This will only become important at the editing stage.
E: When beginning a new body of work is there usually something that will trigger an overall idea?
SL: Not really. I shoot in and around an area until something sticks. That idea of looking for the stuff that sticks or the trigger is an interesting part of the process. It’s something that I’ve been making work about lately. I’m trying to shoot more freely and ignore the pressure of finding something explicit to make work about, instead going from idea to idea and collecting photos as I go along. What I’ve found is that from the nothingness, something can emerge through the editing process. I’m interested in this idea of creating something out of nothing. The resulting work is much more ambiguous and harder to pin down but this aspect adds value.
E: How important is it for you to look to other avenues for inspiration besides photography? If so what or who inspires you?
SL: I am interested in the artistic choices musicians make over a thirty to forty year career and how they keep their sound fresh. The most ambiguous, risk taking musical career progression generally ensures the best results and the more chance of longevity. I remember playing Bowie’s new songs the weekend before he died and not knowing what to make of it. Still making work that is interesting enough to keep the attention of the listener/viewer and fresh enough that you feel somehow challenged seems to be the most meaningful approach and something that can be inspiring when making long term choices about how you would like your career to progress.
E: You say your work “seeks to create a fictional narrative inspired by history or current affairs, to question or inform reality” How do you find yourself crafting this narrative? Do you know where you want to go with it from the start or does it tend to develop over time?
SL: This made more sense a few years ago when I was making my first project, Contours. It refers particularly to how I tried to play with how the space is considered by the media. With my work today, I think there’s a still an overall concern with the built environment and the decisions that shape it, but the fictional element is less essential. Even with my newer project Inner Field, buildings play an important role. Buildings are an interesting expression of ourselves. They seem to encapsulate so much of the human condition and our concerns, hopes and beliefs. In my recent work it’s less about the building in a literal sense but as a backdrop referencing the layers of history.
E: Do you have any advice for anyone studying photography?
SL: Don’t necessarily give up your day job. It’s hard to make meaningful work while trying to perform in a work environment, but it is possible.
- Shoot as much as possible for the first few years. Every day, if you can. Research and reading are important but if you’re not out there improving your craft, you might have the greatest idea ever but you won’t be able to execute it in an interesting way.
- Look at new work as much as possible when you’re starting out.
- Live a little without your camera when you finish college before making work. Starting out in your early twenties is difficult in an unsure industry. I think it’s better to start making work when you are a little older and you have maybe lowered your life expectations :). The uncertainty of an art photography career is not for the faint-hearted, I can’t imagine facing into in my early 20’s as an art photographer.
- Everyone is a photographer but not everyone has dedicated three or four years of study and whatever amount of years you’ve been practising. This sets you apart. Value yourself and what you have invested into the work.
E: Any final words?
SL: The work is all that matters over the long term. The rest — the awards, features, editorial work, even the books — is just secondary.