Interview | Patrick Clelland

Last year I found Patrick and his beautiful work through a French art magazine we were both appearing in, I caught up with him to find out more about his artistic process.

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Your photographs remind me of a certain mood found within futuristic locations in dystopian films and television, a little bit Black Mirror, Blade Runner or Hong Kong Express. A certain exhausting yet beautiful sadness. Neon lights, streets wet with rain reflecting the lights, and night most of the time. Interior seen from outside, looking out a window, a tangible loneliness touches me while I gaze out figuring the city that you show. Tell me about these constants in your pictures… night, neon lights, windows, cars and signs.

I’m definitely hooked on a few particular visual cues. Cars, neons, windows, and silhouettes. For me they are all subjects but they are very powerful because of the emotional response they trigger. Especially cars, because styles have changed so much through the decades they can immediately set a feeling of a time and place. But I think it’s difficult to understand why these things make us feel certain ways. For me that’s really the mysterious power of photography.

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Your represented night appears to be unending. But then you get a nice, great light from a window, or you capture a perfect moment under the setting sun and all things quieten down, the desperate night disappears in a blink. The lonely lady (female figure in your shots) seems to be waiting for the end of the night, to breathe again. Could you tell me more about this intriguing female figure in your photographs?

I shoot a lot at night but sometimes I force myself to go out in the day, usually after I’ve been looking at William Eggleston’s photos, and I guess this cycle starts to shows up in my work. The figure I think is actually more than one person. Most of the time it’s my wife, sometimes my friends, sometimes just a person standing perfectly in the street. I nearly always shoot alone but if I’m with somebody and I have a camera, I can’t help but make them pose if I see a nice scene. I guess it always turns out mostly anonymous because that’s just my style and these people have sort of merged into one.

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Sometimes in your photos there is a figure, usually shot from behind. Shadow-like and usually not in focus. Can you tell me more about this hard urban solitude I can feel through your pictures?

I seem to include a human element in most of my pictures because that’s what catches my attention. It’s interesting that you mention a feeling of solitude because I actually never noticed that. The problem with shooting in dense urban areas is they’re almost always crowded with people. Maybe I’m taking cues from films, where a whole street has been closed off for the scene, and you get this harsh emptiness opening up around the characters. Or it’s just a minimalist composition style and I’m happy to wait a long time for that chance where all distractions are excluded from the frame.

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Are you looking for locations or do you casually find these places? How do you choose the subjects you shoot?

Something I noticed a while ago was that I explore foreign cities much more thoroughly than my own, and I thought this was really stupid. So now I try very hard to find new areas around Sydney. Many times I’ve found great places purely by chance, and now I really believe that a great photo can be found anywhere and I fight to ignore any assumption that one place will be good or bad for shooting. I often get on a train or bus without checking where it’s going, and just get off when I feel interested in what’s outside. Sometimes I find myself far from home late at night and think “What the hell am I doing here?”

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Looking at your pictures is like being harnessed inside them. It’s like I could pick up the smell of interiors, the cold of the streets, the sea breezes in the photos on the ferryboat, the noise of the city. I’m sure that taking pictures is also a way to put yourself out there, I think that there’s so much of ourselves in what we represent. What do you show of yourself through your pictures? 

Photography is just a hobby for me and I really enjoy being outside, walking around listening to music and maybe drinking beer. I’m really not sure how much of myself is in my photos except to say that they are all places I’ve been and the photo is how it looked to me at the time. I guess it’s the same as anybody building a collection of things they like, and it’s hard to know what it really indicates about the person. Maybe nothing!

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I know that no digital camera can capture the warmth and grain or depth of good film. Why are you still working with film? And do you have a favourite camera or favourite film to use? Do you edit your pictures in post?

I learnt a lot of photography basics on digital cameras but eventually reached a point where I couldn’t achieve the look I wanted. I tried film out of curiosity and though my first rolls were pretty bad, I haven’t touched my digital camera since. For me it’s not just the look and feel of film, it’s how much extra time and consideration you have to put into each shot, and the beautiful simplicity of old cameras. Favourite film and camera now - Lomography X-Pro 200 & the Olympus OM-2N. This film gives crazy, intense colours either as E-6 slide or cross-processed. I have to admit I’m still searching for the perfect exposure in all situations so I do post-correct lighting sometimes.

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Next projects?

I want to do more deliberate portraits and actually go out shooting with people.

Tell me something about yourself. Just a few words.

My next favourite thing after photography is skateboarding. I’m not that good but I still love it. I recently went back to my home town and skated spots I hadn’t been for about 15 years. It was quite a strange feeling.

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Suggest a movie, a novel, a song, a photographer. Just say what comes to mind first.

Saturday Night Fever, Dostoyevsky’s Notes From Underground, “Don’t Change” by INXS, Greg Girard.

This is the hardest: Why do you take photographs?

I have a lot of reasons, some obvious and some more personal. I’m glad that others can enjoy my work and that a photo allows somebody to see something they otherwise couldn't. I also enjoy it as a sort of journey of discovery and really like the fact I don’t know what’s coming next.

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