SIMON Murison-Bowie is uniquely placed to capture a distinctly private view.
Armed with an almost-silent medium-format camera and decades of experience, he has caught artists from across the county lost in their own worlds.
And you can see the startlingly intimate results at Artists & Studios: Private Views at The Mill’s Foyer Gallery until June 3.
“I am a documentary photographer – I don’t pose or arrange people. Essentially, I ‘take’ and don’t ‘make’,” says Simon.
“I photographed people doing what they enjoy and the absorbment each artist had in what they were doing meant I could fade into the background.
“I am discreet, there is no sound to my shutter – I can disappear into the woodwork.
Artweeks commissioned Simon to take pictures of 30 county artists to mark the 30th anniversary of Artweeks – an event which is close to Simon’s heart.
“The public has a real fascination with Artweeks and it’s always hugely enjoyable,” he says.
“People are fascinated with the studios themselves and astonished by the variety of things artists do.
“There are well over a thousand people in the county who are contributing to Artweeks.”
Simon, a winner of the Mary Moser award, started working on Artists & Studios four years ago when an artist asked whether he could photograph her in her studio.
Recommendations for subjects snowballed. Simon knew many of the artists beforehand with others’ names passed on to him.
Simon’s personal favourite subject was Betty Blandino, the influencial potter who died last year.
“I knew Betty well and admired her greatly. Several people were taught by her. Another subject of mine, [the potter] Lucy Butterwick, was taught and was hugely inspired by her. By turn, Lucy’s
husband Jon Gordon volunteered to interview all the artists as part of this project.”
So, the nature of the project has resulted in a series of monochrome pictures which reflect layer upon layer of intimacy.
“The pictures are very much a question about what it says about people’s practice, their relationship with their work,” adds Simon.
“It is about photographing the unseeable – the atmosphere between the person and what they are creating, and the space they create for themselves.”
With five pictures of each subject, the network of 150 pictures has also been published as a book – also called Artists & Studios: Private Views – with additional Arts Council support. The book
features essays by Michael Stanley and Simon Olding as well as Simon’s pictures.
He spent five-and-a-half weeks processing the monochrome photographs in his own darkroom – an experience he says he will not repeat... until the next time.
And so would he be tempted to move into digital photography to cut out several of these time-honoured steps?
“No. I never photographed digitally. I don’t feel the need to use digital. I have quality camera and film, and, truly, digital is completely out of my range.
“I know I’m a retro dinosaur but that’s what I’m comfortable with and the results are what I was hoping to achieve.”
Having started off at Modern Art Oxford, the Artweeks exhibition moved to The Mill in Spiceball Park, Banbury, in May and will remain until the Jubilee weekend. Call the Mill on 01295 279002.
Artists & Studios: Priate Views is £14.99, published by Oxford Folio.