Tell us a bit about yourself and briefly describe your journey to now.
Hello! I’m Luke, a photographer and artist based in rural Herefordshire.
I’ve never been one to stick to just one thing, something that was especially true growing up. As a teenager I was a dancer, but I was also studying physics as that’s what I imagined I’d be doing at University. Although I don’t do either now, both of those pursuits still feed into my practice. Dancing instilled a serious work ethic in me from a young age and pulled me out of my comfort zone. I’d spend long days rehearsing and travelling around doing shows. When I was 17, I lived in Berlin briefly as part of a big production there. I would wake up at 6am every day and rehearse until 6pm or so. Then in the evening I’d start the pile of physics and maths work that my tutors would send over, which I’d email back in the early hours of the morning. The schedule was brutal!
I decided to study Graphic Design & Photography at Kingston University in London. In my first year I did a project with a really good friend of mine, Josh Lake, who was on the same course. Together we created a photograph series called Inside Out which turned out to be the project to launch us as artists. It was a bit of a funny one, a silly idea really. We found out that 35mm film was made of gelatin. We were like “that’s edible, right?” and both agreed to swallow a roll to see how our bodies would react to it. Once it had passed through our system, we examined it under an electron microscope and printed the pictures for our final exhibition.
The day after the opening Channel 4 came round wanting to interview us. It went crazy! We were so young at this point and had no idea how to communicate the project. We didn’t even consider ourselves artists… we were just students making stuff.
After Inside Out, I completed two more projects – Forge and Xero – which together have formed my three main bodies of work to date. All of these projects were bought by the Saatchi Gallery, which was a massive turning point in my career and really gave me a sense of validation. Since then, I’ve carried on exploring and making work as and when it excites me, and at the same time, setting up a base here in the middle of nowhere!
Tell us a bit about your photography process.
I tend to shoot on film purely because it enlarges so well. The sight of grain is so much nicer than digital noise. Also, it sounds so good. That click of the shutter is too satisfying.
I also work mainly with still-life objects – I hardly ever shoot people. Perhaps it’s the science side of me, but I love being really meticulous about how things are placed in an image. With objects I can leave them there in the freezing cold and they don’t move, or I can come back at a later date and it’ll be exactly the same. I wouldn’t want to put any person through the same ordeal! I think the only time I used a live model was for the cover of Intern Magazine, which I shot last year. Alec Dudson, the mag’s founder, approached me after he saw me talk at an It’s Nice That event. He literally said “just do something fun.” So we went to a trampoline park and shot my friend Paul in the foam pit.
You’re currently living and working in your hometown of Herefordshire in the English countryside. How does this remote location impact your work?
I’m yet to find out to be honest. I moved back here from London after I was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2015 at age 23. So last year was a bit of an off-season, to say the least.
I guess I can do much bigger things here, more risky things. At the minute I’m working with the British Army casting cavities made by explosives in huge bits of clay. We’re hoping to do them really big and cast them underground using cranes.
That’s awesome! A lot of your work tends to have a scientific theme to it. Is this a conscious decision?
Yeah, weirdly. I’m finding that my work is often about energy and how it’s stored. I’m actually working on a photography project with Red Bull at the moment. We’re planning to visit a town in South America where there’s non-stop lightning throughout the entire year.
OK cool, let me get my wand…
I genuinely have no idea what’s about to happen…
Neither do I! This will be worth it though – I put on a good show.
Xerography works when ink is attracted to static charge. When I was working on the idea for this project I thought, ‘what would happen if I made static electricity? Could I show what it looked like?’
[Puts on lab coat and goggles]
This has literally become a uniform for me – I have one lab coat for every day. Quite often the postman will come in and I’ll be sat at my desk wearing this, and I’ll be like ‘wait, what?’
[Turns on Van de Graaff generator and loads Rubicon can with static charge]
Ha! This is the most ghetto version I’ve ever done.
[Tips toner powder on perspex]
You see that? That is what electricity looks like. This entire process took me about 9 months to figure out… even though in hindsight it’s really fucking simple!
Thanks so much for that! I was wondering, having lived in London, how does gay life in the country compare to gay life in the city?
Being a gay guy in the middle of nowhere, where everyone is really backwards and related to each other…? Umm… They’re not really by the way, that just what people think about country folk, right?
But seriously, growing up gay in rural England was pretty tough; I didn’t know anyone else in my position. Luckily I was a part of the MySpace era, so the Internet obviously made it a lot easier. It was such a useful tool for me to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do. When you live in a remote part of the world, it’s easy to suffer from tunnel vision, where being an electrician or a farmer seem like your only real career paths. The Internet introduced me to photography and art and without it I wouldn’t be doing what I am today.
I’m also lucky in that both of my parents have been incredibly supportive of anything I want to do and how I live my life. I never thought my Dad would be so supportive of me being gay, but that really couldn’t be further from the truth.
Being a gay guy in the middle of nowhere, where everyone is really backwards and related to each other…? Umm…
Is there a gay community here? If so, how affiliated with it do you feel?
As gay communities here go, it’s as you would expect; there’s nothing. I mean, there’s literally nothing! But there’s a weird part of me that kinda likes that. I guess because I never had links to a gay community growing up, it’s never formed a part of me that needs to be nurtured.
Do you find your sexuality has any impact on the work you create?
Many people have said that the way I display my work is often a bit “show-business.” Especially when I talk about my work. It’s so funny because a lot of it is actually very minimal and quiet. But the way I describe it is so over the top!
Although the final piece may be quiet and subdued, the process in which is was made seems to be pretty theatrical.
Exactly. There’s a certain drama in the work that’s always present, even if it can’t be seen. It’s also the part people enjoy hearing about most. There’s a certain showmanship to the work that I feel like I need to be a part of. It’s not finished just because it’s on a wall.
As gay communities here go, it’s as you would expect; there’s nothing. But there’s a weird part of me that kinda likes that.
What does 2016 hold for you?
This year is about finishing what I started, and making money to fund new work. I spent January in India working with the dance company I used to be in, and February with the National Museum of Wales, photographing their mineral collection.
Alongside that, I’m currently planning another project with my friend Josh. We want to build a roller coaster using a Stannah stairlift. I can’t wait to do it – it will be so funny to watch. Imagine doing a loop-the-loop, but really, really slowly.
That will be hilarious! And you’ve just launched a book as well, right?
Oh yeah, fuck! I’ve just released a limited edition book documenting 18 photos from the Xero project. Commission Studio (the guys behind the It’s Nice That Annual) have done a great job of the design. It looks fucking great!