by Joanne Coates
Today we’re featuring young photographer Joanne Coates and her body of work Liznojan. This project is a wonderful exploration of Englishness and the outskirts of this land, where Coates uses the action of walking to experience it.
It’s an intriguing amalgamation of documentary and fantasy, and the portraiture reveals some fascinating characters who appear to be straight out of fiction, making it seem like a place not in this country, or even this world. It’s a beautiful project, so read on to find out more!
My name is Joanne Coates, I’m a visual artist and photographer based in the United Kingdom. I’m from a rural area in the North of England. My practice is influenced by the surrounding nature, and a new way of experiencing the landscape. I’m currently travelling to Amsterdam for six weeks to work. At the moment I’m working on my series Liznojan and making plans to visit the remote Orkney islands to continue with a different body of work.
I’ve always held a fascination with the way images can hold a narrative; they speak of the side-lined, the outsiders, the outskirts themselves. It’s this that really always interested me. We look because often we aren’t sure what is happening just on the edges of the image. I think this quality drew me to photography – the margins. I first began really playing with photography at a young age, just obsessing over disposable cameras and experimenting with the results. A little further along the line I was studying fine art. Photography speaks visually in a language that, for me, can not be expressed in any other way, so it made sense for me to pursue this.
I was never really a realist. I’d always take these walks and drift off, which I guess is what I still do now, just with a camera. It was these daydreams and finding another world in the one which presents itself that always fascinated me. I would always tell stories and get completely lost within my own imagination.
I’ve very recently graduated, just this June! I first studied fine art before moving onto photography. I was always interested in the medium but liked the influences that other artists had on me and the way that it changed my thought trajectory. I’m still pretty fresh out of university. It was pretty daunting at first. I make most of my landscape works outside of London, and decided to head over to Amsterdam for work for a few weeks.
I feel London is increasingly becoming harder for artists to function in. I’m planning on moving to Leeds as my base, it makes more sense for me to be around the area that I make my work. There are so many interesting projects, spaces, artists and people who are turning their backs on London. It seemed the right choice for me.
Tell us about Liznojan.
The main concept was to provide an alternative to the grand narrative that we are provided with both as part of history and the everyday. I used to be really rigid and set strict boundaries when it came to my personal work. However, I feel photography is now at a stage where the act of taking a photo is not sacred. As an artist I try to find a way in which the ‘now’ can be reached visually, and how this act of experience can be expressed to the viewer in a tool that remarkably alters and holds time still. This is really about experiencing place and nature.
Liznojan means to learn whilst following a track. This series allows for a new experience with nature to take place through the activity of walking. It is both poetic and ambiguous in nature. Liznojan is a union between a mythical fiction and the English everyday, in order to create a sense of ambiguity and unease.
I began the project in 2014. It first started as an experiment, but I began to like the way in which I could work both in a free manner, but also use these moments as a tool to express my concerns over larger political and cultural concerns.
The project is shot all on film, though I don’t use a certain format or a certain film. I feel that what photography is about now, is more than using, for example, a medium format camera alone. The cameras are my tools, and some are better adapted for certain places than others. The large format can slow the walking experience down but that also has its merits. I use a variety of films too. I want the project to be in the moment, all about the experience.
There is still something about film that allows for an alchemic magic to occur. It increases the awareness of being in the moment. Within that experience there are no barriers. I feel a digital camera works in a very different manner. I just really love the magic and dream-like quality that comes when working with film.
Tell us about your inspirations.
Robert Macfarlane really became a favourite – one of my tutors recommended him, and he was everything I wanted to explore and more. He has this really fascinating connection and commentary with nature. I really feel that a new experience with nature is available for my generation.
Macfarlane talks about how the eeriness of the English countryside is a cultural and political response to our current fears. I think this fusing of the supernatural and the occult with nature and everyday Englishness is, as Macfarlane puts it, “…an attempt to account for the turbulence of England in the era of late capitalism. The supernatural and paranormal have always been means of figuring powers that cannot otherwise find visible expression. Contemporary anxieties and dissents are here being reassembled and re-presented as spectres, shadows or monsters.” I found this really mind blowing.
Another major influence is WG Sebald and The Rings of Saturn. Sebald really flipped my idea of what ‘place’ means, and of place as an experience.
Paul Graham’s work has also been a major visual influence on me for quite some time. I read his essay The Unreasonable Apple which talks about how it’s hard to define a certain type of photography within the art world, and the act of experience itself. It really helped me think about what I do and to understand that a poetical work can be free, and not restrained or defined by the restrictions of genres.
Recommend 3 artists who you think everyone should know.
I recently discovered the photographer Joe Lingeman and I love his work. Peter Fraser is a photographer who I find is still quite underrated. His works hugely influence my thinking towards the field of photography.
Yve Lomax is a writer, and her books have had the most influence over the way I consider what photography is itself and what it could be. I highly recommend Writing the Image. It’s almost a text that’s performative, and allows you to engage with theory in a new manner.
What’s next for you?
I’m exhibiting as part of the collective F8 in October as part of Photomonth in East London. I have two exhibitions that I’m currently working on, one in Scotland and one in Hull. Both the exhibitions will take place in the public space. I believe my work is made for the people and in a way with people and the landscape, so a gallery setting does not always translate the work in a way that I want. I’m excited by the Orkney project I have coming up, and to again have an intimate experience with the landscape.
Finally, what is your favourite photograph from this series and why?
My favourite photograph is the one of the caravan, which is in this really wild place. Each time I look at that image, I can really experience the odd sensation that occurs in such a place. It’s as though things aren’t quite right.