by Daniel Regan
Featured today is portrait and fine art photographer Daniel Regan. Regan originally hails from Essex, moved to Brighton where he gained his BA in photography, and now lives in London where he completed his MA in photography at the renowned London College of Communication.
He discovered photography at a young age which he used personally as a therapeutic tool to manage a mental health condition. Now a working photographer as well as an arts facilitator, Regan’s focus is primarily on mental health and wellbeing.
We spoke to Regan about his older work Love of the Land, which – after two years – he has been looking back on and re-working. We love the process of looking at older work and finding new things; new stories, connections, inspirations… as we change and grow, as people and photographers, how we see our work and our understanding of it also changes.
Regan’s project caught our eye because of this, and we enjoyed speaking to him about his experience of looking back, as well as focusing on the concept of residencies.
(Excerpt from header image)
Originally from Boulder, Colorado, Lynn has been living in Asturias for the past 20 years with her husband Pepe. When she previously lived in New York City Lynn would regularly commute to northern Spain whilst working as an air stewardess for Pan Am and Delta Airlines.
Your featured work Love of the Land was made during a residency in Asturias, Spain. Before we get into it, why did you choose to a residency?
I had just finished my masters and was feeling quite overwhelmed and frustrated with the photographic process after the course. My MA work was very personal, examining my relationship to photography as a way to navigate a decade of mental health crises. After the MA I felt that I had to justify every single photograph I took, and it left me feeling emotionally exhausted.
Coincidentally I was in touch with someone that I used to work with. He and his partner had moved back to Asturias and were thinking of running a residency scheme in their small village. We bounced ideas around and were all interested in the contrast between city/rural life, and what brings people to rural life after living in cities. I spent three weeks there intensely photographing and interviewing people from the surrounding villages. The application process didn’t really exist — they asked if I would like to go and I said yes!
In hindsight, do you feel that the residency and the experiences you had were beneficial?
The residency really helped me to connect with why I fell in love with photography to begin with; to document the world around me. Asturias is a beautiful region of Spain and the residency provided me with the opportunity to reconnect with nature, while reflecting on the last two years of my MA and creating work instinctively. If I saw something beautiful I documented it without overthinking it. It was also a great exercise in working abroad, having a translator and meeting and shooting portraits of strangers.
Tell us a bit about Love of the Land.
Love of the Land is a mixture of landscapes and portraits with interview excerpts. Word spread quite quickly in the village and people seemed keen to talk to me and be photographed for the project. The main focus was talking to people about village life and what attracted them to live within the rural land. Lots of those people had moved from larger cities and made the choice to leave a life behind. I spent a lot of time talking with people about their life experiences and what the land means to them. The photographs of the landscapes are made on the journeys to and from their homes and in the surrounding area.
I was raised in quite a rural area but had always wanted to live in a city. I find country life beautiful and calming but only for short periods of time. I’m interested in what pushes people to move from the city to the village life. Are they just moving on, or running from something? I’m interested in people’s stories and connecting with them on an emotional level.
You mentioned that you felt like the project never came together, what made you decide to start working on it again now? 2 years has passed; do you see the work differently? Is it coming together more now than when you were making the work?
I was supposed to go back for another trip but it never came together, so I always felt that project was unfinished. I kind of shelved it, but then having some space and re-reading the interviews that I did with people and doing a bit of re-editing breathed life back into it. It reminded me of the wonderful people that invited me (a foreign stranger) into their homes, opening up to me and allowing me to photograph them. I think having the space from the project has enabled me to be more objective and see what does and doesn’t work.
Does this differ from your usual practice?
I suppose when I am working on a project I like it to be wrapped up and finished. However with my diaristic practice of making photographs, sometimes themes develop over years and I will start to put them into a collection after a while. For example I made a very small set of books called Lights after I realised I had been photographing slithers of light over a number of years. I do make a lot of work and sometimes it’s important to look back and see what was missed to begin with.
What is it about the human condition that draws you to study and photograph it?
I think it comes from my initial interest in photography. My relationship to photography is very personal and raw. I use it to interpret my emotional experiences and try to understand the world around me and how I place myself within it. That emotional relationship to photography extends outwards when I am working with others. I strive to create an emotional connection with my sitters when I’m making portraits. If I’m working on a project around wellbeing with people, I strive to use photography as a way to create emotional spaces that rely on visual language in lieu of the absence of words to describe experiences.
What’s inspiring you at the moment?
I’m mostly inspired by the world around me and the people that I meet. Particularly conversations that I have and the experiences that we all go through. I read a lot of articles around human psychology and wellbeing which are always giving me thoughts for projects. I’m quite a hypervigilant person, so being connected to the world and always having my eyes open for photographs is how I navigate daily life. Small details, odd things that often go unseen inspire me to keep looking in different and unusual ways.
I also recently went to Sophie Harris-Taylor’s show MTWTFSS and her use of light and emotional use of absence is really beautiful. The book of the work is stunning.
Finally, what are you up to next?
At the moment I’m working on a commission from QUAD for FORMAT festival, to be exhibited in March 2017. I’m working with my friend and artist Antonia Attwood exploring safe spaces: what constitutes a safe place for individuals in today’s fast-paced society? How do we construct physically safe spaces, or where do we go and what do we need to be soothed?
The work is a mixture of stills, videos and installations. The aim of the exhibition will be to create immersive experiences combining visuals and sound. The work also involves running some upcoming workshops with specific groups of people around the themes of safe spaces.
I’m also working on a project around suicide with the charity Maytree. I’ve been a volunteer at the charity — a suicide respite house — since April 2015. It’s a house in north London that offers a one-off five day stay for people experiencing suicidal thoughts and feelings. I’ve been really moved by not only the guests that I’ve met but the other volunteers who tirelessly offer up their time to help others.
The work consists of portraits of the volunteers alongside interviews about their own relationship to mental health and what brought them to volunteer at this unique space. Also images of the house and the remnants/traces that guests leave behind. I’m working with Maytree on producing an exhibition and book of the work, running community arts projects around mental health and hosting a one day symposium highlighting academic research into suicidality.
Daniel is exhibiting images from his ‘Lights’ series at Bethlem Gallery’s ‘Reclaiming Asylum’ exhibition which opens on September 21st. He is selling postcards from this series (10 for £10) in the run up to the show. Check them out in his shop.
Daniel also runs fragmentary.org which is a web platform interviewing and featuring photographers exploring mental health and wellbeing within their practice. As part of that he runs exhibitions, events and a monthly artist peer group for artists looking for feedback and development