Lewis Chaplin (b. 1992, UK) lives and works in London. Alongside Sarah Piegay Espenon, he runs Loose Joints, an independent publishing house and design studio. From 2009 to 2014, he co-ran Fourteen Nineteen with Alex F. Webb, a project dedicated to supporting young photography. He was also an organiser of Copeland Book Market, an annual event for Printed Matter which ran from 2010-2015. His most recent artist book, 2041, is published by Here Press.
All the photos © Lewis Chaplin
Installation shots © Harry Mitchell
All images are courtesy of the artist and roaming projects, London.
LC: I must have first come across Tristan in the way that many of us come across tangential, strange or attention-grabbing information - through trawling the Internet, being bored, scrolling and clicking. At the time I was a student and disillusioned with the idea of studying Photography, and was also simultaneously falling in love with Anthropology, the discipline I switched to study. Tristan served (and continues to serve) as a convenient conceptual link between the methodologies of the two disciplines.
LC: Sending cameras to Tristan is an important part of my understanding of the place as it addresses both the physical and visual remoteness of the island, while still preserving that important obscurity. A lot of this work is about the inconsistencies or gaps of photographic practice, and how these cracks open up unforeseen meanings from images, archives, and documents. Therefore it was important to be as opaque as possible with direction and instructions with the cameras, and offer up no guidance beyond a curiosity in seeing what everyday life was like on the island. The results were more remarkable than I could have asked for. Despite being a simple gesture that has been done countless times before, giving residents of the island these cameras created what is, to my knowledge, the only public photographs made by residents of their own island. To reverse that dynamic of representation was important, and also tellingly revealed things about the organizational structure of this island community in the process. Tristan is by most respects an anarchist state, without any clearly recognized leader and all decisions made through complete consensus. The cameras themselves reflected this, in that rather than being given out to specific individuals, they were retained as a communal resource and employed to document specific aspects and occurrences on the island; the fishing industry, a wedding, sheep-shearing day, a hiking expedition, et cetera. You see their social organization on the island reflected through the way they interpreted a request to take photographs.
WR: The series Untitled (Horizons) came about by accident. However, you used these images to play upon the ongoing narrative of the island as a distant, mystical landscape. How did you come to the decision to include these images in the exhibition?
LC: In many respects a lot of the imagery made so far around Tristan uses the island itself as a way to speak broadly about distance, perception of the landscape and the location of the body within the landscape. To put it plainly, a lot of the personal pleasure in making and researching is about indulging with the fantasy and mystical qualities attributed to far-off places. Since time immemorial, far-away lands have served a place to physically map fantasies, dreams and imagination onto a physical point on the horizon. Maybe this is something rapidly disappearing from our reach, and so I’m clinging onto an opportunity to indulge in this through such a private place so physically dislocated from contemporary flows of infrastructure, travel, permission and technology. But to return to accidents - the backbone to most of the works about Tristan is in some way connected to random or unforeseen occurrences. I suppose that friction between attempts to meaningfully and plainly show reality through images and the unexpected results of those attempts are the spaces where that indeterminate, fantasy-space that projects onto the physical space creeps in. It’s that moment where the landscape or photograph appears flipped on its’ head, an articulation of something more mystical than it was seeking to show. The Horizons images are one of these examples.