Catherine Hyland is a London based landscape photographer known for images that blur the artificial and natural, where the real and imagined are hard to distinguish. Her work focuses on questioning contemporary views of landscape.
Photographs have the power to make me interested and search for the interest of others. I think of photography as a blend of experience and imagination. It’s very cathartic for me. It’s a fantastic tool by which to experience the world and I see it as exactly that, a tool that helps me to experience things I otherwise wouldn’t.
Photography allows me to tell stories about places, and about our connection to land, in a way that can only be done by getting out into those spaces. I started out painting and briefly dabbled with sculpture but there was something about creating your own visual language through photography that engaged me. I think it is because it’s so difficult at first. Anybody can take a photograph but to create something with your signature on and repeatedly do that, takes a while to understand & develop.
What role does the photographer have in society?
This is a big question. Ralph Waldo Emerson claimed, “Photography is distinguished by its immediacy, its authenticity, and the remarkable fact that its eye sees more than the human eye. The camera shows everything.” Photography can create a record of events that is in some cases used as indisputable fact. On the other hand, and in most cases, a great deal of manipulation goes into the production of a photograph and it is often used to present a complete fiction. I think the main role of the photographer in society, no matter what their technique and despite those two opposing facts, is to make people see the world in a different way. To freeze a moment and really make people look at that one singular moment and most importantly to provoke people to ask questions, and leave people to find their own answers. How are we imagining our present? How are we sharing this time? How are we picturing this time? How are we experiencing our time?
What themes do you pursue?
I’m interested in capturing subjects attempting to find a balance between human nature and the natural world.
What other photographers / filmmakers have been inspirational to your work?
What do you think makes a memorable photograph?
Ambiguity. I think all the best pictures have some ambiguity. Good photographs rest on an ambiguity that makes you unable to stop looking at them or thinking about them. A didactic image, is almost always forgettable.
What do you want viewers to take away from your work?
I want my photographs to be connected to my principles. It is important to me that they ask questions about human nature and our desires. To bare witness to this collective striving for transcendence that seems to be engrained in the modern man. And make people feel something, some kind of truth that resonates with their own lives or their own actions.
What motivates you to continue taking pictures?
Photography takes me out into the world, to experience the unexpected. To feel small myself, to see how far I can push myself and most of the time just be open to strangers and new places. There is that famous Anais Nin quote, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” I want my photographs to provoke people to look, to ask questions, and to find their own answers because that is exactly what I am doing through taking them, that is my main motivation.
What are some of your favourite books on photography – what do you have about them?
I’m actually much more interested in reading exhibition catalogues that cover themes I’m interested in nowadays, over photography books. The Hayward Gallery in London for instance puts on such comprehensive shows that I have catalogue after catalogue lying around the studio that I seem to be incessantly picking up, and questioning the critical context of those ideas in my work and outside influences.
When you’re shooting how much is planned and how much is instinctual?
I’d love to say it was all planned but it rarely is for me. I’m a firm believer in just walking, in getting lost and trying to be as unconcerned with time restrictions (or comfort in fact) as possible. I am a very impulsive person, it is both a blessing and a curse. So I usually go to one place and let that experience inform my choices for the next place. Then plan whilst away. I enjoy working that way, letting things naturally evolve based on connections I make whilst out there.
How has social media played a role in your photography?
It has given me both a platform and the freedom to show my work as, and when I want to, and disperse images across the world in a second.
What advice would you give yourself if you started in photography all over again?
To embrace photography wholeheartedly as a struggle against isolation and unanswered questions.
View more of Catherine’s work at catherinehyland.co.uk.