Douglas E. Pope is a London-born, Melbourne-based photographer. Using his photographic projects as a means of expression outside of his 9-5 job, his images strive for a strong sense of narrative, driven by a background in film production and post-production. His series "Burials" shows an other-worldly and mysterious view of the tropical nation of Thailand. His works, captured spontaneously from the beginning of his international flight, show us scenes that are hypnotically universal; they could be from anywhere in the world. We interviewed Pope and asked him about his unique aesthetic and about what inspired him to create "Burials." See more of his work on his Instagram!
Douglas, please give us a brief history of your photographic career. Tell us about when instant film came into your life and what inspired to you to keep using it.
I first came into contact with Polaroids at a circus when I was about seven years old. For a few quid you could have your picture taken with an elephant. As a teen I picked up a Polaroid 600 camera in a second-hand store in Gravesend. When I started making films I used the Polaroid for continuity and storyboarding, which was great but got pretty expensive very quickly. Years later I bought a refurbished SX-70 from Gary over at Filmneverdie.com. I shot Impossible Project and old Polaroid stock almost exclusively for about 4 years - I love the unpredictable nature of the medium. Over the last six to seven years I've had a steady stream of exhibitions, publications, and a few commissions - though I've had a hiatus for the last year while I've focused on work and family.
You grew up in London but live in Melbourne. What motivated your move to Australia? Compared to when you were shooting back in London, has Australia changed your outlook on photography?
The grind of London... I'm far more suited to a slightly more relaxed approach to life. My inspiration is my emotive response; where I am impacts my work but largely my images come from my emotional state in the moment.
What types of Instant Cameras do you own? Which one is your favorite and why?
These days I'm just using the refurbished beat up old SX-70 that I bought from Filmneverdie. I sold everything else because I found I was shooting so many formats and film types that I found it hard to marry up series... through reduction I've found consistency.
You shot your series "Burials" in Thailand in 2013. Did you go to Thailand in search of this series, or did your series concept bring you to Thailand?
It was very much realized on the fly. I knew there was an aesthetic approach to what I was shooting but I pieced together the series day by day - which is an experience unique to instant photography and one that I often embrace as a trait of the medium.
What about Thailand inspired your series? Generally one might expect tropical landscapes or night-life subjects captured. You went a different way with your series, highlighting the mystery of another place, which very well could be anywhere else in the world.
I would like to think my work is hard to place geographically. I think this is inspired by my love for science fiction - my mind runs wild when reading the works of Ian M. Banks, Piers Anthony or Stephen King. Even more so when I'm reading about space exploration. Another series "Gliese 667c" is a great example of the ethereal and otherworldly aesthetic I lean towards.
A poem by Allen Ginsberg, "Wichita Vortex Sutra #3," was resonating with you at the time of your travels: "...because its not only my lonesomeness, its ours...." Can you tell us more about how you relate your work with the idea of "collective lonesomeness"? How often do you use poetry as inspiration?
My connection to this poem started in London - anyone who has ever lived there can relate to the sense of utter disconnection you can feel when traveling the tube or walking the streets alone. Hundreds of thousands of people traveling next to one another, yet not a single one will make eye contact with another. You can be surrounded by people but be entirely invisible. Sometimes I love that sense of disconnection, other times I have felt like I'm drowning in it. We're all together, but so utterly alone in those moments. For a while I would work my series around poetry I'd written, but I found those works contrived and forced after a while - which resulted in a push to abstract or minimal narration.
What intrigues you the most about the subjects of loss and lonesomeness?
Lonesomeness is universally relatable, but widely unspoken. There is a stigma of shame attached to being alone, a collective fear of being lonely. Going back to my previous answer - the idea of collective lonesomeness, those moments of embracing it and knowing that we share this emotive response even though we are ashamed of it - that's an angle I find intriguing.
On a technical and logistical level, how do you accomplish your mysterious open-ended story vibe? Do you find yourself planning your series in detail or shooting spontaneously?
My photographic process is very much a spontaneous act. While I dwell on themes constantly, I usually find something sparks off an idea and it'll usually be shot in a day. I find my post-production is far more considered; I dwell on a project I've shot for days, bringing the series together through post-production, with layout and framing.
All of your images from "Burials" have a slight under-saturated look to them, adding mystery to their scenes. What did you set out to accomplish with "Burials"?
I wanted depth and weight reminiscent of and as homage to Turner's paintings - aiming, I recall, for a sense of the overwhelming in what are essentially quite sparse images. While the color has been pulled out of the images to add to the emptiness associated with loss I have endured, in post-production I also try to bring across as much detail from my scans as possible to maintain the weight. This is especially considered in the skies in this series - where I pulled information from the images that I didn't realize had come through at first.
Do you have any upcoming releases or exhibitions?
Nothing in the cards at the moment, no time to shoot unfortunately. Expect something by mid-2016 though.
Anything else you would like to share or elaborate on?
Just a few plugs if that's allowed- Filmneverdie, Hillvale Photography Lab and IPF (Independent Photography Festival) - really keeping Melbourne at the forefront of contemporary photography.