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Hello London #4 - Interview with photographer Polly Penrose

The artist blending artistic nudes with the landscape

Hello London #4 - Interview with photographer Polly Penrose The artist blending artistic nudes with the landscape

From theatrical Caravaggio-esque atmospheres, marked by rich warm-hued colours and emphasised contrasts that contribute to a sculpturesque rendition of the human body, to the playful vibe of the most recent works Pool Party, Paperwork and I Was Never Good at Yoga – that open up to brighter spaces fired up by vibrant spots of colour, photographer Polly Penrose explores the way her body assimilates to different environments and how it interacts with the objects there located, creating alternative spaces and optical illusions distorting the perception of the human figure.

Born in the English countryside, Penrose moved to the City in '97 to study Graphic Design at Camberwell College of Arts and was then offered a job as studio manager for the master of the oniric Tim Walker. Last weekend the photographer showcased A Body of Work 2014-2016 (second part of an ongoing project) in a pop-up exhibition called 10 Seconds held at Hoxton Gallery. We took the chance to meet her.

#1 Where do you draw your inspiration from?

The work is my inspiration. It’s a necessity, it’s just something that I have to do. I just go to these places and I respond and react to whats there. I never really plan it, I shoot with whatever I find, so this is in a yoga studio, this was in Ibiza… And in all of these obviously Im just responding to the space.

#2 So you never set it up before?

No, never. Which is wonderful, cause I had a full time job and then Ive had two children, and this is kind of my escape, its like meditation. I never do research or really think about what I do and thats what makes my work my work, I think. Its just very spontaneous and off-the-cuff. I never say This time, this is what my works gonna look likeand that gives me real space to just create whatever happens. Im very lucky. But, you know, obviously Ive been to art college, so I’ve looked at a lot of peoples work. I love sculpture, photography is where my heart lies but also painting.

#3 Some photos from A Body of Work actually look like paintings. We were just having a look in the other room and noticed the colour palette seems to refer Caravaggio

Totally! And whats so wonderful about that is thats just chance. I never know where Im gonna shoot. The last time [for ‘Judiths house] it was a neighbour whose tenant moved out and she knew what I do, she said it might have been interesting, so I just turned up with my camera and shot. When I walked in there the light was amazing, there was this blanket folded up at the end of the bed, and I was just Oh, heaven!. Some of the locations are houses that I walked past and I thought I bet thats interesting’. I’m gonna take a picture in here when I take the show down and Im going to use that wall, cause the colours are so beautiful. You know, the reason I showed here is I saw that wall on an Instagram post and I was like Where is that gallery? Thats where my works going to be’.

#4 And how was working with such a legend as Tim Walker?

It was wonderful! He is extraordinary, he’s a really special human being and also one of the most down to earth people Ive ever met. He just loves what he does, he’s completely immersed in it.

#5 Is there something in particular you think youve learned by working next to him?

Yeah, just to do it’. And not to be ashamed of your work or think that you should fit into a certain frame. He’s a fashion photographer, but he doesnt really go to a studio, he does exactly what he wants to do. And I dont think that my pictures are typical nudes, I just do them how I wanna shoot them. And I think thats really important. I would never even compare myself to him obviously, but our works are completely different, his is about drama and props, while mine is just completely straight back with hardly anything, so what I learned from him is more in how you think about it and also just enabling yourself. I remember saying to Tim ‘Oh god, I’m pregnant, my house (6:35), I cant find anywhere to shoot’ and he was there Just do it, just find somewhere’.

#6 That’s a beautiful approach. And what plans do you have now? Are you planning another series?

Well, they just happen. It’s interesting how in my first exhibition, which was 2 years ago, a lot of journalists picked up on the body changing-documenting my body’ thing, which is something that Im not doing. I never thought about it! Obviously 7 years passed and that was my first show, and was kind of a way for them to make a story out if it. But interestingly now that I’ve had two kids and I’m about to turn 40, I am starting to see how my body is changing. And I think you become a lot less worried about your body, a lot less wanting to present it in the best way. I look at a picture now and Im like I really like how its getting older, I like all the wrinkles and red veins, and so now for me its quite beautiful to think about documenting it. And obviously, Im going to do this forever, so then it really will be interesting, cause it will be like a mid-20 body to like a seventy-eighty year old. I kind of cant wait!