LITTLE STORIES

Using an iPad as a camera might not seem the most logical step, but for Carolyn Quartermaine it’s her second best tool — her first being her discerning eye. Tim Clinch discovers a photographer who is following in the footsteps of some of the great and undiscovered masters of their day.

Karl Blossfeldt and Charles Jones are two of my favourite photographers. What do they have in common? They weren’t ‘photographers’, that’s what. They had little idea about the beauty of their work during their lifetime, never considered themselves to be photographers (they were, respectively, a botanist and a gardener) and their fame for their photographs came only after their death.

Their work is a huge influence and a constant inspiration. Many a time, while shooting a still life and finding myself overcomplicating things, the question ‘what would Charles Jones do?’ pops into my head.

I had seen some of Carolyn Quartermaine’s beautiful photographs after we’d become ‘friends’ on Facebook and of my favourite photographers. What do they have in common? They weren’t ‘photographers’, that’s what. They had little idea about the beauty of their work during their lifetime, never considered themselves to be photographers (they were, respectively, a botanist and a gardener) and their fame for their photographs came only after their death.

Their work is a huge influence and a constant inspiration. Many a time, while shooting a still life and finding myself overcomplicating things, the question ‘what would Charles Jones do?’ pops into my head.

I had seen some of Carolyn Quartermaine’s beautiful photographs after we’d become ‘friends’ on Facebook and immediately loved them. Although Carolyn would never describe herself formally as a photographer, her pictures, the way she groups them together, and their quiet, intimate beauty, captivated me. I met up with her on a sunny Saturday morning in her beautiful, light-filled flat in London. Carolyn is an artist, fabric designer, art director, collagist, stylist…the list goes on, and never describe herself formally as a photographer, her pictures, the way she groups them together, and their quiet, intimate beauty, captivated me. I met up with her on a sunny Saturday morning in her beautiful, light-filled flat in London. Carolyn is an artist, fabric designer, art director, collagist, stylist…the list goes on, and

‘Although Carolyn would never describe herself formally as a photographer, her pictures, the way she groups them together, and their quiet, intimate beauty, captivated me.’ everything I’ve seen that she’s been involved in has been exquisite.

Carolyn explains that, first and foremost, she sees herself as an artist, a painter. She came from a fine art background and studied painting and sculpture at art college, later moving on to the fine art area of the textile department at the prestigious Royal College of Art in London, where her love of collage first developed.

The most important ‘tool’ that influences her entire spectrum of work, and the thing that unites them all is, simply, her eye. ‘The eye constantly has to edit, she states. ‘It’s the same with painting or creating a set, or doing a collage, it makes it more of a journey. You take away everything that is wrong to your eye and leave only what you want.’

Carolyn explains that although she still had a couple of cameras, notably a much loved Pentax K1000 from her student days (‘someone told me it was the best camera to have, so I had to get one!’) she very rarely uses them, and shoots almost entirely with her iPad. When she is in her French house, in the mountains behind Nice on the Cote d’Azur, she will simply pop it into a string bag slung across her shoulder, and wander off…using it as a way to get her emails in the local cafe, something on which to keep up with the news and something to record her wanderings.

Carolyn is refreshingly free of the dreaded ‘technique’. She has three apps on her iPad, one of which she only uses for changing colours when using prints for collage. The freedom of only having the remaining two apps prevents there being a barrier between herself and her pictures. ‘I never mess around with my pictures. I shoot them very simply and never do any post-production on them. They all come straight out as they are,’ she explains. ‘It’s just me. Me and my eye, and I approach every discipline of my work in the same way. There is not and never has been any master plan, I just started taking pictures because I always had my iPad with me, and it’s just blossomed from there. I would never consider myself to be a photographer, but I’ve found a joy in the last year or so using it and the reaction to them has been wonderful — the ability to express myself in this way, without worrying about my camera, has been liberating.’

Carolyn has recently finished working on an exhibition at the Musee Fragonard in Grasse, near her home in France. It is about the Fragonard family, famous throughout France for their perfumes, and has involved Carolyn spending a lot of time with the family archives, re-photographing old family pictures, letters and ephemera and presenting them in her collages.

One thing that Carolyn is just discovering is the divisive nature of capturing images in this way.

‘I’m amazed at the reaction of some people to these pictures. Lots of people have been very complimentary about them, which is lovely, but I’ve also had a couple of photographers ringing up and demanding that I tell them which apps I use so that they can use them for their own work,’ she says. Understandably, she is a bit depressed by this. ‘You wouldn’t go into a restaurant, have a lovely meal and then storm into the kitchen and demand the recipe would you? Or look at a painter’s work and demand to know what type of paints or brushes they used? It’s about the result, the image — it isn’t about the method, or the way you’ve achieved something. And let’s not forget, it’s also about presentation.’

Carolyn, as befits her love of collage, wants her pictures to tell a story. ‘They’re about a kind of journey,’ she says. ‘They should be seen as little stories — me out on a walk, going to the shops, going to the sea.’

I will admit that some of the many criticisms of iPad/iPhone/mobile photography can be levelled at these pictures, and the lack of formal photographic technique will undoubtedly annoy some people, and fan the flames of the endless film v digital debate. The limited choice of apps that Carolyn uses do give the pictures the same feel, but as Carolyn says when I ask her about any influences she may have for her pictures, ‘Sarah Moon and Deborah Turbeville have been part of my vocabulary since I was in my teens.’ It shows. But I doubt if anyone would criticise either of these two great and influential photographers simply because their pictures had a similar feel running through them.

These are not typical, stand-alone images, they are little collections. The product of Carolyn’s admittedly very well educated eye. They take me off on a lovely wander through a romantic and slightly whimsical idea, sometimes almost dreamlike in their qualities. The lack of formal photographic technique, and the limited use of apps, lends a sense of.what exactly? I’m not too sure -nostalgia, possibly, intimacy? But whatever it is, I love them and feel like I’m seeing the world through Carolyn’s eyes and, if I may say so, that’s not a bad pair of eyes to be looking at the world through.

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