© 2016 Claire Newman-Williams

ABOUT

I was born and raised in England and moved to America in 1988 where I worked primarily as a portrait photographer. Also known for photographing actors, my work appeared in numerous national and international publications including Time Magazine, The New York Times and The Advocate. I returned to the UK in 2005.

 

After 20 years of working as a commercial and editorial photographer I had become disenchanted by the hours I spent sitting in front of a computer tweaking digital files and making people look pretty. I wanted my work to reflect more of my life. It has been said that creativity can simply be the process of learning about ourselves and for me, the change that led me to being an artist was when I stopped looking for things to photograph that could be “fine art” images and started looking instead for emotions and memories, feelings and thoughts that I wanted to express. 

 

I began by combining my own photographs with text and the inscriptions that other generations have left behind in old books to build a story using layers of recalled experience and nostalgia. These images collected in the project named “Strata” were printed on a textured Japanese paper and then mounted on antique book covers.

This process of layering evolved into the mixed-media collage work I am currently working on.

 Combining original photographic images (usually portraits that I create with old cameras and alternative processes) with found objects, I create collages layered and arranged in antique wooden boxes.  These Story Boxes are intended to be like inner landscapes, addressing the recurrent themes of the smothering of identity and our fear of being seen - truly seen by those around us.

I source the boxes themselves from auctions and house clearances and the contents of the box are the ephemera of everyday life, the junk that others throw away: old book covers, flakes of old textured paint, strips of leather, old nails, snippets of newspaper from years past. Vintage glass slide casings cover the photographic portraits giving the viewer the impression that they are being looked at from behind a window. The viewer becomes the viewed.

 

I don’t use any one camera or process to produce my images. I have a cupboard full of old film cameras; a Brownie Autograph from the early 1900’s, a 1940’s Speed Graphic, old polaroids, plastic Holgas, and 35mm Nikons from the 1970’s. I particularly love working with a process called wet plate or collodion photography, which is a photographic process that was used before film existed.

 

Now when I shoot, I regularly find myself capturing somewhat random images that inspire me at the time, but have no real sense of context. That comes later when I layer together the different elements of a piece to create a narrative. In the moments that I capture the images it’s more like being a collector than a photographer. Combining them later becomes a post-photographic process and this is where the story is told.

Whatever the process or the equipment used, it seems to me that an image should be a transformation of experience. My aim is always to interpret the subject in some way to produce a picture that is somehow different from the scene I observe with the naked eye. I have no interest in simply recording what is in front of me. To me, the best images don’t over-explain. They leave us asking questions about the boundaries of illusion and reality. Martin Barnes has said that, “Good photographs neatly express the obscure and the complex meeting point of illusion, reality and theatre. When made with skill and sensitivity they inhabit the wonderful hinterland where perception and imagination meaningfully collide,” and this is what I strive to achieve.