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Richard Coghlan explores identity

"My priority is always to create imagery that has a deep and deliberate existence. It is curiosity which drives the creative need to explore the unfolding story, where not knowing the outcome is often the very reason for the doing. So that the doing of and the reason for have an equality.

My current working practice uses medium format analogue photography taken with a 1935 Box Brownie camera. It is self-portraiture in which I use long and multiple exposure techniques where I become both part object and subject of the work. I am inspired by the tension of the object-subject reality and I approach such questions philosophically, as this draws upon issues of identity and story and questions the truth or lack thereof of these phenomena.

The project has already, in its three year journey, changed and evolved according to where and when I can work. Approaching my situation openly and organically allows for resulting imagery to pass freely and honestly into existence. Imagery which invites further examination and results in questioning the photograph and also the context and place in which the work was made.

At the same time there is a psychological dimension to the work. It addresses our sense of individuality, our place of being in the world and a seeming need or desire to make a record of this."

See more of Richard's work on instagram at @sideways_cowboy

A/A: What inspired this project?

RC: The project began in January 2020. I wasn’t in the best headspace ever, sometimes life throws you a bone and sometimes it throws you a hand grenade with the pin already removed, I had been trying to deal with latter for some time. It was during a particular difficult time of dealing with the aftermath that I felt going back into my creative practice, after an absence of a few years, might just be the medicine I needed. So one morning I fished out my grandmother’s Box Brownie camera, bought some film and headed to a studio where I had been working as a life model. I didn’t know where I was going to start but I was curious what would happen if I just moved in front of an open shutter, to simply record myself in the vulnerability I felt. Perhaps something would emerge or a journey would begin through this playful beginning. As the project progressed I found deeper inspiration as I peeled back the layers of my story. I began to explore the relationship I have to myself and how we learn to act and behave differently to all those we know and don’t know. I became intrigued in how I presented myself to the world. This was especially true for me as someone who identifies as queer but grew up in a culture and time where this still wasn’t ok, although no longer a criminal thing, culturally my world hadn’t settled into an acceptance of queerness and the importance of such a thing to a healthy society. This aspect of my work requires ongoing exploration and I have ideas to further this. So to summarise, I think the inspiration was the need to accept, explore, create and play.

A/A: What is your photographic background?

RC: Very little in fact. I studied photography many years ago when I first started college. It actually blew my mind and I remember having to walk away at one point. The options felt endless and I’m not great with being presented with too many possibilities at once. I concentrated more on sculpture and drawing, I had some incredible tutors at the time who taught me how to view the everyday world as if it was my first time to see it. However, I never lost sight of the value of photography and during that time did take a huge amount of photographs. So it may be fairer to class myself as an artist using photography rather than an actual photographer. However, this is a loose description and I may well become more photographer than I currently see myself. What remains the same is that once I drew with charcoal, rust and anything that could record a mark or gesture, now I continue to draw but this time using my body to record marks with light. But then that’s what photography is; to draw with light. What is interesting is that in this process I am both object and subject and that creates a tension which comes through in the finished pieces.

A/A: Did you find self-portraiture gave you a sense of empowerment? Vulnerability? Any other feelings?

RC: Yes, certainly a sense of empowerment arose, which in retrospect is something I was seeking. To be creative is to be empowered, to bring forth into the world that which is utterly new and as yet unseen or unexperienced. As regards vulnerability, well that’s the very thing that I was dealing with when I started out and that, in a sense, is why I am naked in the work that I’m making, to be without armour, to be exposed. I’m interested in what it is to be vulnerable, when the story of who you think you are and what your world is suddenly gets blown apart. Dealing with vulnerability is also about facing one’s own authenticity and that is something that a great many people struggle with. Someone recently said to me that as children we need two things: love, both to give and receive it and the need to be authentic. Furthermore, we will sacrifice our authenticity to make sure we are loved. In a world where we continually strive to fit in to our assigned stories we end up suffering and a great many things are lost to ourselves and the world as a result. Making this work has definitely allowed me to reclaim some authenticity and have fun along the way. My process is a lot about play and through playing we find ourselves again. We forget about what the world has told us to be and can enter a certain ceremonial space. I feel that playing is the greatest start point any creative practice can embrace. In short, I play to forget and by forgetting there is a remembering.

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