Q&A with James Elliott Dixon


Where was ‘Black pool’ (Shown above) taken and what happened there?

‘Black Pool’ is a small harbour on the East Lothian coast. I’d seen it and noted that when low tide coincided with low evening light, water was replaced by shadow. I see this as a key picture as it uses shadow, landscape and light to create a transition from one void to another.

Do you have the scenes in mind and then seek them out to photograph?

I tend to set some parameters of what I’m looking for, for instance certain types of shadow and light, geometry or scale, Then I choose locations as a stage for these.


What draws and influences you to photographs you take?

There’s a sort of void space between science and mysticism which I try to explore with pictures.

How long do you spend working in this environment?

This varies depending on the situation. I enjoy spending time in these places and I’m happy to wait all day to make a picture. The conditions dictate this more often than not. Most of the time composition of the picture is set within half an hour then it is just a question of waiting for things to happen.


Are any of the photographs caught by chance?

I think there is always an element of chance and this is what makes working outdoors so appealing to me. There have been many times when the weather, the light or some unforeseen human interaction have made a picture far better than i could of imagined. I have also often gone somewhere with a specific idea in mind often to find something completely different and far more interesting. its really about how you interact with the place when you are there.


Have any of the scenes been altered and have the any of the photographs been edited?

I usually make full frame pictures in camera so the resultant transparency is a work in its own right. These are shown as they are on light boxes or scanned and printed for exhibition. There is always an edit, I would say that I show 50% of the pictures I make. I think this is quite high and its largely due to the process, large format cameras encourage a pre-production edit by their nature. The pictures are made in the imagination, edited there and then the final selection is exposed to film.


Do you feel your recent photographs are documenting a landscape after something sinister has happened and everyone has left suddenly?

I’ve been going through a process of reduction for sometime now. I removed people because I want the viewer to imagine how they would interact or feel within the place rather than be directed by a figure. I have since began to remove elements of the scenes using strong shadow, light or shallow depth of field while at the same time removing signatures of time. I think the slightly unstable territory created by this gives a sense of the other or the sublime.


Any signs of manmade structures in your recent work, often look like odd, hidden away research centres, that the protagonist end up at, at the end of a zombie movie. Do you see something similar to this? Do you like this kind of reaction?

I think that’s great, because it is a product of your imagination in response to the pictures. This process of reduction leaves gaps and creates absence, these are the spaces that the viewer fills. The pictures are a partnership and its the viewers part that I find most interesting.


What do think adding or removing figures contributes to your work?

As I said, its really just about creating space for the viewers imagination. I personally find figures can be quite leading, however, when used sparingly, within a wider body of increasingly abstract work they add ambiguity rather than remove it.


What do you see as happening in the untitled pieces shown just above and just below? 

There isn’t a story as such, they are triggers for you to create one. With the raincoats picture I was looking primarily at the concrete bridge piers in the background, they’re modern standing stones and you could say that the figures have a slightly druid like appearance. The garden picture is a sort of suburban Mary Celeste, have they just gone in for lunch or is it something more sinister?


If time and money was not an issue, what kind of project would you like to work on?

To find better ways to interpret the landscape. I think I want to somehow create a link between the absolutes of the conscious and the absolutes of space but also remain rooted in the everyday. I hope to be able to carry on exploring this concept.


What do you think your photographs say about you?

I think I escape to them.

See more photographs by James Elliott Dixon