Dean West’s photographs are so conceptually perfected, that they appear as if a hazy dream has been tweaked and sharpened to encompass painterly vision. Inspired by mythology, every image of Fabricate seems like it’s the crucial scene of a dark fairytale about to continue; while In Pieces — a collaboration with Nathan Sawaya a.k.a. ‘The Brick Artist’, who crafted the series’ subjects so carefully out of LEGO that you almost wouldn’t know — depicts brighter, everyday scenes. Through creating fantasy rather than capturing reality, West challenges photography’s truth claim. He will tell you more in our Q&A, which he managed to squeeze in while busy with a new body of work. Look out for updates on his Facebook page!
I read in an interview on adobe.com that you “don’t like to scout for locations, props, or bring in the production team until you have a very strong idea of their placement in the photograph.” Your photographs are thus very — as the name of one of your series suggests — ‘fabricated’. Is this your way of escaping the more ‘organic’ nature of reality? Could such a fabricated world be more real than reality?
I would say it’s more about experimentation rather than escapism. For me, the medium of photography is a platform for developing ideas. To take everyday occurrences beyond the realm of banality and showcase the psychology and emotion that’s involved in real-life situations. Nothing can ever be more than the real itself — yet art has the ability to inspire a consciousness of what is real and what is not.
Can photography mess with our perception of reality?
The mechanism of the camera relies on the user to make a series of decisions before capturing a ‘scene’. From the subject they choose to capture, the amount of depth of field, what’s in focus — all of these decisions alter the medium’s ability to capture reality as it is and propose a series of issues surrounding ideas of representation. Still heavily associated with the element of truth, I undermine the medium’s traditional attachment to a specific moment and promote the potential for photography to represent complex realities through artistic vision.
What does ‘true photography’ mean to you?
Painting with light.
A lot of your photographs appear so finely crafted and styled that they actually appear more like paintings. They depict something imagined rather than documenting ‘what’s there’. Is that your way of giving sense to things we can’t see, and thus maybe not even understand, such as the subconscious?
It’s about challenging the medium and its association with truth. It’s somewhere between representation and abstraction. A series of decisions inspired by design.
Do you have a vision and then feel an urge to replicate it photographically? Or does the style of the image develop as you create it?
It starts as a basic nebulous idea that is constantly refined and developed throughout the creative process.
When I look at some of your images I get very overwhelmed by their sheer perfection. What would you like viewers to feel when they engage with your photographs? Are they there to enhance our imagination?
Everybody has a different schematic pattern that they project into reading a work of art. What I create, is a product of what felt most important to me at that time. If that inspires ‘a feeling’ within the viewer then I have succeeded.
I read that you “spent weeks looking for the perfect octopus tentacles” for your series Process. You obviously go to extreme lengths to get what you want. Do you have a lot of patience? What drives you to work so hard for the right shot?
I’m a believer that great things happen when you work hard.
What current trends are there in art and photography that you find interesting? Are there any that you think people of the future might point to in history books and say “this was the style that changed photography for many years afterwards”? Who is pushing boundaries nowadays?
I think it’s interesting that the medium of photography pushed so hard for perfection for so long, yet now we see apps like Instagram, where a user will add photographic aberrations such as lens flares and filmic grades to make it feel more authentic. I think that’s an interesting trend.
Plans for the future? Can we look forward to some exciting projects?
I have a new body of work in production now. Stay tuned.