Born and raised in Norway, young photographer Iggy Smalls is now based in Spain, having studied for her degree in photography in Florida, USA.
This week, it is her project GIB50 which we are sharing; the series — both wonderful to look at and essential to consider — looks at the land and people of Gibraltar, the British Overseas Territory. On top of Gibraltar’s own history and experience with referendums, the much-debated and dicussed land seems to now be in an unsure state since it was decided that the UK would leave the EU.
Smalls’ photographs reveal something which is a strange conundrum to most mainland Brits; a British land which is sunny, hot and almost completely surrounded by a beautiful golden coast! On a more serious note, her series is a focused look at this intriguing land — so connected to us and yet so unusual and unfamiliar — currently, like many, in an uncertain state with an uncertain future. Read on to find out more:
What’s your story?
The relationship I have with photography is mostly due to my family. Fortunately they have been supportive of my career choices and I am the first in my family to work full-time as a photographer — but my father, grandfather and great-grandfather were also hobbyist photographers.
My grandmother paints and collages. There is a room in her house filled with albums, neagtives and prints belonging to my late grandfather — her father — and it still smells of developer. My first camera was an instant, plastic camera which produced these thumb-sized polaroids. I must have been around nine to ten years old. Later on, I started shooting for the school papers and at seventeen I realised that if I could, I would like to keep doing this for the rest of my life.
What kind of art are you interested in?
Sculpture, painting, films and music… they all influence me all the time but contemporary image art is what inspires me to push and work on my own projects more. Taryn Simon’s An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, Amy Elkins’ Black is the Day, Black is the Night, Ying Ang’s Gold Coast and Chloe Dewe Mathews’ Shot At Dawn are a few artists and works I admire. I largely aspire to, one day, find the same multidimensional storytelling depth and unique points of view that these artists and their works have and portray.
Let’s talk about ‘
The idea of going to Gibraltar initially came to me in June 2016, after I had heard the news that the United Kingdom would leave the European Union. Gibraltar voted overwhelmingly to stay in the European Union, with 96% of Gibraltarians voting to remain from an 82% turnout.
From the Battle of Trafalgar to being evacuated and used as a British military base for World War II, Gibraltar has a deep history and breathaking landscapes. What will now happen to the British Overseas Territory which has long been a source of dispute between the governments of Spain and the United Kingdom?
While doing research and saving up throughout the year, at the time I also did not find any other photography work focusing on this and so this also became a motivation. September 2017 seemed like the best time for me to go because there was to be a celebration on September 10th — Gibraltar’s National Day and also the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum in which the inhabitants voted overwhelmingly in favour of remaining British.
Are there any moments you had while making the work which stick out?
The most memorable day was the celebration of Gibraltar’s National Day and 50th anniversary. In the morning, hundreds of people gathered on the main square dressed in red, white and the occasional blue singing The Beatles songs and generally just having a good time. Throughout the day people dispersed to the beaches and pubs, while there was a fair and concerts for the younger population. The celebration ended with fireworks and a breathtaking philharmonic concert at midnight — which I could hear from my hotel on the other side of the border!
The colouring and aesthetic of the work seems to be quite a strange hue. Was this something you always intended, or something that came after during your edit?
Yes and no. In order to make the work visually cohesive I made sure that the blue and turquoise hues stayed the same throughout. This goes for all of my projects. However, there was an extreme amount of smog from morning to night when I was there which affected the photographs. This might not be an all-year round occurrence in Gibraltar, but there is a significant amount of air and marine traffic there in addition to an oil refinery just across the bay in Spain.
You don’t have many direct, straight-up portraits which has been a somewhat typical feature of projects similar to this topic.
Most of the portraits I took were edited out in the end — they felt out of place in what became the final edit. I did keep some to show the outfits worn on the National Day as they were quite outstanding.
Portraits can be so striking but I am selective about putting them in my projects unless the work revolves around a specific person’s story, especially if the project and the portrait are only tied together by the geographical location or nationality. I may include more portraits in the future though, if the project evolves and it feels right.
What are you up to next?
I am working on getting funding to return to Gibraltar to continue this project, while working on my other personal projects in my spare time.
What’s on your recommended reading/watching/listening list?
Read: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Watch: BBC’s Planet Earth & Blue Planet
Listen: Back to the Crib by J Dilla
Finally, can you pinpoint one piece of art that has affected you?
An oil painting by my grandmother which is of my father as a teenager. It has been hanging in her living room for as long as I can remember. The distance, deadpan position, background (beige, rounded squares in different sizes) and attention to detail — it still moves me to this day.