Johnny Savage / White Horses
November 2018 Interviewed by Christiane Monarchi
Roaming the in-between spaces of Dublin’s commuter-belt, Johnny Savage has created a new body of photographs in this landscape that speak to a current unease, a personal as well as societal apprehension of change. Savage’s White Horses contains images which seem to dissolve literal fact and figuration into abstract moods and dreams. Following on his acclaimed first book Fallout, Savage has self-published his newest series in a limited edition publication, with thought provoking text by Ian Bamford. Below, Christiane Monarchi asked Savage recently about its creation and intent.
Christiane Monarchi: You’ve created a real atmospheric body of work here, set in an amorphous time and space and at the same time very tangible and sometimes pulling us back to now. What was the starting point for your creating this new series?
Johnny Savage: I think I started with a type of picture in my head and I went out to find it. The actual places in the photographs are not so important, only that they could be anywhere. Most of the time when making this work I just leave the house and drive or walk without a particular destination in mind. My interest is in how places and their histories can define us, as culture accelerates and becomes more homogenized I think a sense of place or identity becomes harder to define, particularly in the current state of uncertainty. Shooting on old expired film was a decision to make my process unpredictable, a subconscious type of flow emerged and a certain atmosphere started to connect the images. I like how film grain and mistakes can attach a sense of memory or nostalgia to images and wanted to explore this but connect it to the here and now.
CM: Could you tell me more about horses, how has this figured into your imagery and your title?
JS: The white horse emerged as a symbol that connected the series for me. There is the abstracted face of a white horse on the cover of the book but is also present throughout the series as a type of myth. It is a romantic ideal that we long for and chase, but does not actually exist. Recent history has shown us that the so-called pillars of society (financial and religious institutions) have been proven to be false and untrustworthy. There is an economic ‘recovery’ yet we have a housing crisis pushing people into homelessness. Ireland’s small towns have been hollowed by a recent wave of emigration and a suicide epidemic. Unfortunately, the longer that these issues persist, the more they become accepted as the new normal. This leaves us questioning what our ideals actually are and whom do they serve? This does not only exist in Ireland obviously, uncertainty seems to have become the norm in the western world.
CM: For me, your rendering of these places and in-between vistas evokes the lingering imagery of bedtime fairy tales, where dusk and falling night changed the world from what we know to what we could fear. In the book, LiDL signage and a praying statue provide anchors of familiarity and focus amidst images of uncertain movement, and by the end I question the possibilities of what may lie beyond the sea. Very emotional images, could you describe your process of sequencing, and thinking about the physical delivery of the works?
JS: That is a good way to put it, there is something in the dusk light that transforms, it opens up the world to other possibilities, that there may be something lurking just beneath the surface of everyday things. This movement in the images is kind of like a waking dream, looking for something familiar to grasp onto, there is comfort and safety in things that are predictable and unchanging, like supermarket chains and religious figures. These were not pre-thought out ideas but something that developed organically and slowly, so the edit was important. I worked quiet sporadically, processing film only every few months.
Deciding to do a book forces your hand to make definite decisions and things like format and size can make decisions for you, which can be a good thing. With the sequencing I wanted to strike a balance, it is not a straight-forward narrative, but a flow had to be created that connected the series. There are certain echoes and relationships happening. I spent a lot of time putting images together into sets and experimenting, with a tight selection, one image can change everything. With the book, one of the first decisions was that the images should be full-bleed, so the images were fully immersive, almost claustrophobic. I worked with a great designer down to the details like paper stock which give the images a nice resonance and quality.
CM: It’s an interesting choice, the full bleed images in this soft, flexible book; that makes for very tactile and direct reading. This kind of paper is not precious about handling, finger prints, or any kind of gloss. Have you thought about any other kind of image delivery, prints in an exhibition for example, or projection?
JS: Yes, I wanted it to be accessible and not too precious.. The black slip cover is an image screen printed directly onto a black envelope, black on black, this gives a nice texture, it also means it can be different and unique on each copy (I hand cut each one). I have created some four-colour silk screen prints of the horse image as an experiment, this is a new medium for me. I like the textures and layering and that it is not a photograph but something else created from an image and duplicated. The process can distort and change colours and textures to create something new. Ideas are still in development as to how this would work as an exhibition. It would depend on the space but projections are a consideration for scale and possibly some sort of soundtrack. I have previously installed a full wall in a gallery with an image printed on commercial poster paper used for advertising billboards.
Johnny Savage studied Documentary Photography at University Wales Newport, graduating in 2004 with a BA (hons) Degree. In 2014 Savage completed the MFA in Fine Art Photography at University of Ulster and subsequently had his first book; Fallout published by independent publisher, The Velvet Cell. Savage lives in North Co. Kildare, Ireland and lectures on photography at Griffith College, Dublin.
White Horses, 32 page photobook was self published by Johnny Savage in an edition of 200. More details and availability of this book can be found here: www.johnnysavage.com