In response to our Artists at Work exhibition in the Drawings Gallery we wanted to shed some light on the artists among our colleagues at The Courtauld. Here we have Marysa Dowling a freelance educator in our Public Programmes team discussing her practices.
Could you tell us about your practice – what media you work in, what subject matter you focus on, what inspires you?
My photographic practice is participatory and rooted within portraiture. Many of my projects have an international focus as I work across several communities and cultures simultaneously to explore universal, human and democratic themes of communication, interaction and connection to place. Participation and collaborative possibilities are vital to my process. Works are an exploration and observation of how people co-exist, relate to and interact with each other and the various environments they inhabit. I use photography as a tool to articulate experiences about our lives, how we live them and how we choose to represent ourselves. Working in both gallery and non-gallery spaces I aim to create thoughtful and playful photographic works, that come into being through social interaction. Recent projects have centred on journeys, the use of objects and human bodies as a form of performance through photography. Currently I am developing projects in the UK and Mexico firstly considering women’s roles in activism and change making, secondly how we use our hands to communicate, make and learn and using photography as a form of exchange. I am also working on my first book of a 10-year portraiture project with Smith Design.
Tell us about your working environment(s) and do you work anywhere other than, or in addition to, a studio – and if so, where?
My working environment varies hugely from job to job depending on the kind of project or where I am working. I can be based in a museum, gallery, school, studio, hospital, offices or out on location in the UK or other countries. An average week will involve working with people in a many different settings, as well as some time spent in my office or studio plus going to meetings. Currently I am an Artist in residence with GOSH Arts at Great Ormond Street Hospital, a unique and constantly changing environment to work in. This can involve working on a one to one basis with patients on wards or at bedsides or with larger groups in outpatients. You can see my studio in the photographs, but you will find out more about where I work from the locations and settings in my portraits. I love that things are constantly changing in my work. I find it stimulating to constantly meet new people to share ideas and make art with. As well as short term projects I develop ongoing projects to build long term relationships with individuals, communities and organisations.
How does your working environment affect your art (if at all)?
The environments I work in very much influence my art. Place, space and locations are often part of how and why I make my work and connect to the themes of each project. The location can dictate how the portrait and images will or can be made. Location often becomes relevant to part of the narrative I’m telling with my subject, both in my personal, participatory and education work.
Are there any particular tools or objects you feel particularly passionate about and/or are central to your work?
The concept and theme of the project will very much dictate the camera or cameras along with the methodology I use. My main tool is a Mamyia RZ 67 medium format analogue camera although I use various others such as a Canon DSLR 35mm digital, a wooden pinhole camera that takes medium format film, apps on a phone, scanners and paper-based image resources. When working on education projects having a little 6×4” printer with me encourages instant discussion and editing processes.
How do you deal with creative block?
I start by going back to previous projects and begin to look again both at ideas, techniques and context. Trying to look afresh gives me to opportunity to ask myself what I get from the images now, what narratives, meaning and context is showing itself after some time away from the work. When I look again I start to see how themes and ideas are connecting. This usually gives me a way in to develop new ideas. I also play with laying out images to make connection and new narratives to spark ideas, simultaneously looking through my book collection and reading texts about my current interest. Sometimes getting out a camera I haven’t used for a while to experiment with techniques helps too.
Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) Arts Exchange
Discover more of Marysa’s work: