Every two years FORMAT selects a number of University of Derby photographic students for the FORMAT Graduate Award. Those artists selected are then included as part of our festival the following year! Today we begin a short series of interviews, starting with Simon Weldon.
Firstly, congratulations on the end of your degree and on the FORMAT Award! How does it feel to have finished your three year journey?
Thank you, it has been a pretty amazing way to round off the last three years at University! The final weeks before handing all the work in went too fast for my liking, but that’s just because I was having an amazing time being productive, and spending all my time with friends getting the work done. Actually finishing the work and handing it all in felt like a massive anti-climax – it was a bit like “so, that’s it?”. It was weird sensation. I’d still get up every morning after the hand in’s and keep working on something. I didn’t want the whole process of learning to end.
So, tell us about the project you exhibited at your degree show? How did it come to be and what were you exploring?
Rewind to my second year of University, I was undertaking a brief called “People, Places & Things”. At the time I was (and still am I guess) heavily influenced by the work of Bernd & Hilla Becher, Edward Burtynsky and Toby Smith. Smith’s contemporary works had lead him to photograph the majority of the large power stations in the UK at night and twilight. These places were therefore pretty much completely illuminated by the artificial lighting of the structures, which completely transformed the landscapes into something that seemed alive. It gave these places what seemed to me like a ‘personality’. I consequently started photographing from around the outskirts of Tunstead Quarry in Buxton at twilight, as despite persistent requests to be allowed on the site, no one seemed to know who could authorize me to come and take photographs. The photographs I produced at the time can be seen on my website titled Quarry No1.
Whilst taking the photographs at the Tunstead Quarry site, I stood alone on the edge of the largest quarry in the UK in the middle of winter; I got a real sense of the sublime. The sheer size of the thing felt like it was going to swallow me up. My imagination got carried away and I thought about what it would look like if I suddenly witnessed a blast. I left thinking about how good it could have been if I could only get into the site and achieve something like this. Time constraints with the project and the difficulty of dealing with Tarmac as mentioned previously lead me to lay the idea to rest until it came to my final year, and the final semester.
Upon planning for my final project, I visualized how I wanted the final ‘product’ to look on the wall during the Degree Show Exhibition at the University. As I was undertaking Commercial Photography, I needed to promote myself with something particularly eye catching, something that would really draw a client in – but not sell myself short of my creative potential. A Quarry blast seemed the only thing that could fit. That would be the centerpiece of the project. Supporting the blast would be a series of portraits of the people who worked there. I took inspiration from Brian Griffin when I went to one of his lectures at the University, and talked with him for some while about my ideas regarding this side of the project.
I emailed Tarmac again in the Christmas break, to see if my idea for the year previously could be rekindled. I didn’t hear anything back at all, so I contacted a smaller Quarry, Ben Bennett Jr. if I could undertake a project on the people who worked there and possibly photograph a blast. They agreed to this and the majority of the project is focused around this quarry. However, Ben Bennett Jr. only blasted once a week. This proved to be a problem as time was running out. Out of the blue, an email came back from Tarmac in late April, explaining that I had been granted access to the site and that I could do anything that I wanted. I therefore took my opportunity and asked them if I could photograph a blast. Tarmac really saved the project for me, something I am still really grateful for!
What inspired/influenced you to delve into your subject?
I have always been interested in the visuals, and history of industry in this country. Living and growing up in the post-industrial city of Leeds, I have always felt connected with the cities and regions past. Everyone of my parents age and older had worked in some sort of manual trade. Now that all these industries had disappeared, I found it strange that I had no experience of this way of life myself. I started photography at Dewsbury College in 2007, an area of West Yorkshire, which use to be a large center of the wool trade. Evidence of this trade lined the rail journey I took to college everyday. Throughout my study here I became increasingly aware of how much of my work was concentrating on the landscape around me. This is how I came to focus my work on ‘industry’ as a reoccurring theme throughout university – it gave me an excuse to explore industry in a way that I am not personally connected to, but my family’s, and region’s history is.
What’s next for you and your project?
I am itching to get started again on something new. I feel I have extinguished the ‘Quarry Series’, for the time being anyway, who knows I may come back to it! I really want to do a project on young Apprentices, and in particular, of trades that are in dwindling numbers, such as dry stone walling, weavers etc. The only thing is, without a job at the moment, I’m pretty much stuck creatively, which is pretty depressing, but I’m sure something will come along again so I can at least start renting equipment. I don’t even have a camera at the moment!
What advice would you give those starting their degrees in September?
Enjoy yourself and have passion for what you do. That’s key. Not everyone is going to like your work. But, have faith in yourself and take any criticism on board and look at it objectively. As long as you’ve got the drive and the will to do something, and you put the time in, you’re sure to go far. Also, never have your goals set in stone, you never know which opportunity might open your mind to something completely new that you like even more!
Finally, never forget to give yourself a break, go out, and have fun!
Check out Simon’s website here.