We had the pleasure of speaking with Manila-based artist, Frank Callaghan (b.1980) to find out more about his artistic practice and of his solo exhibition, Search/Light, at Silverlens Galleries, happening from 17th August – 16th September 2017.
Tell us more about your interest in photography and how you started as an artist.
I was on a completely different track altogether when I realized that photography and art was something I wanted to pursue. I was studying finance and management at Wharton on track to be a banker, consultant or something similar. I had somehow conditioned myself to think this was everything I wanted, but I was completely unhappy. Business classes weren't helping me answer the questions I needed to answer. It got worse, until I reached quite a depressive state. I had been taking pictures pretty consistently since I was 15, but it was during this time that the camera became something really important to me. It became a need to make pictures. It reminded me about the beauty in the world and pulled me back from the brink. It became a form of expression and self analysis. Before I knew it, I was using photography as an artist would.
We are excited about your upcoming exhibition entitled “Search/Light”! Consisting of 17 photographs shot over a period of five successive nights, this is your first new series in two years. Give us some insight into its conceptualization and the meaning behind this intriguing string of works.
The starting point of the Search/light series was a singular impression. I was standing on the shore of an island. There was no moon in the sky and the sea was calm and quiet. Then, a strong beam of light appeared, as if from nowhere. It shot out towards the horizon, piercing the darkness, then swept across the surface of the sea. You could tell the movements of the light was being manually controlled by someone out of view. After a short while, it switched off and the night was returned to inky darkness. The event left a strong visual and visceral impression.
It had been a long time since I had made work, which was weighing on me. I knew I needed to try and shoot this. From there, it is all about the process. Experimentation, feeling out the boundaries of the idea, the rules of the series. Very early on, I decided on the position of the horizon within the frame. Then I experimented with position relative to the source of the light. Fixing the rules, then exploring how far these rules can be pushed. Some rules can be pushed and broken, yet still stay true to the series. Others cannot. When I pushed too far, I felt the process sort of crack and break, and the series was done.
The central rule of this series that I broke was not to intervene with the control of the lights. There was a rhythm of darkness and light. A long 30 minute darkness, followed by a short fleeting period of light of maybe 30 seconds. There were several search light stations around the island, perhaps 15. They all followed this rhythm. I followed the rhythm. The dark periods to think, plan, move, position and wait. The periods of light were about mad shooting.
On the fifth night, a security guard saw me shooting on a dock. After some explanation, he asked me if I wanted him to radio the searchlight tower, to put the light where I wanted it. I sort of felt like I shouldn't, but I thought, why not? Then, crack. The spell was broken, the series was done.
You are known for photographs of urban nighttime scenes, especially with the use of long exposures in the dark. What drew you to this particular process of capturing through the lens?
I like the quiet at night. I also like to work alone and unwatched. One can work slowly and deliberately. Time slows down. The light that streams into the lens has time to soak in. Your thoughts have time to soak in.
Just like “Search/Light”, your previous photography projects like “Dwelling”and “Stranger”, have concurrently a certain gravitational pull yet a raw detachment to them. Is it your intention to have an interconnected relationship between your individual projects?
That's a very interesting observation.
Intention is tricky when talking about my work. I avoid intention in many ways. I like to set up processes that allow for meaning to form along the way. Like a carefully constructed framework that leaves an empty space in the middle. It can create a vacuum that attracts meaning to rush in. This relates both to the process of making and to that of viewing. I hope this relates to the gravity/detachment duality you feel.
It has been the same process throughout the different series. Though it has evolved and changed from one to the next, I feel that it is one flow. If anything, I am distilling the ideas down. Subtracting elements (such as the urban), and leaving only the light and the process.
Can you expand on how you find you inspiration for the subject matter and theme of each of your photographic series?
For me, it is a matter of listening and waiting. Certain things resonate. They vibrate with possibility and meaning. You may not know what the meaning is, but certain things have that buzzy sort of quality. I feel as though I chance upon the subject matter. Out of the endless possibilities of images or impressions, one seems to be calling. I suppose there must be something in the subconscious that feels a kinship to what you are doing or seeing, so that you feel it in your gut. However it works, it is about staying receptive to what draws you.
You mentioned in your biography that you seek for a feeling of balance and beauty in the visual. What do you mean by this? Do you think you have achieved that in all of your works?
It is the feeling of looking through the viewfinder and seeing balance. It may be the lines and forms are in compositional balance within the frame. The color can be in balance too, with warmth and cool balancing each other out. But also balance in thoughts, and in the tension in the series and the process. It's hard to describe precisely, but you definitely know when it's there. It is a constant striving. It happens quite rarely that it is a really perfect balance, a buzzing feeling of rightness. Then the compulsion to press the shutter. Now!
In the arts, an artwork’s ability to engage the viewer is vital for its ideological and visual appreciation.Do you take your audience into consideration when creating your works?
On some level, not at all. When I am actually making work, my thoughts are purely on what I am doing. They are, in fact, mostly visual and spatial thoughts. At the moment a picture is made I am not considering anyone else. It is only important that it feels right to me.
On another level, I do consider the viewer. I try to imagine the experience of viewing a work. For example, I like to create space in an image to allow a viewer's meaning to fill. There is an implicit invitation to engage with the work, and make it one's own. Ideas like this do shape the way I create work.
But the question was about audience. I do think about audience on some level. When I am thinking about how to present the work, size, framing or hanging a show. However, I do not think about a certain audience that I am trying to reach with a particular message. The work isn't really part of any explicit dialog. It's not the kind of work I do. However, after the work has been produced, I welcome the chance to speak about my work, and try to explain the process, engage.
What upcoming projects do you have planned for the rest of the year?
No idea! I don't tend to plan that out. But I did order a new camera that can take clean longer exposures of up to an hour. I might try to play around with that. We'll see.
'SEARCH/LIGHT' opens 17 August 2017 and runs through till 16 September 2017 at Sliverlens Galleries, Manila. For more information on the exhibition, click here.