MEET THE ARTIST! MEG COWELL TALKS TO US AHEAD OF THE 2015 HEAD ON PHOTO FESTIVAL
Full name: Meg Cowell
How were you first introduced to photography?
My first year at Art School (University of Tasmanian School of Art) was a basic introduction into painting sculpture and photography. What really hooked me on photography was the simple mechanical nature of 35mm film cameras and the magic and alchemy of black and white film processing. I used to race through rolls of film, shooting at practically anything so I could get back into the darkroom and continue the magical process of image making. I enjoyed the complete technical control and the various stages of decision-making that manage exposure, cropping, tone and contrast and -what felt like to me- the almost supernatural processes using chemical dips and rinses that create and seal the cameras vision. Three years later I completed my honors year in photography under the guidance of Anne MacDonald. Anne belongs to a sub-genre within contemporary-art termed ‘Tasmanian Gothic’. This genre is premised on the idea that something about Tasmania’s isolation, climate and convict history tends to produce artists with an inclination to the sinister. Anne’s work is a continual reference for me and I feel very connected her work and this sub-genre.
Did/ Do you ever dabble in other mediums?
Describe the works you have in the Head On Photo Festival in 3 words:
Fabric water motion
Who/ What are your main sources of inspiration? Why?
When sourcing garments for my work I look for pieces that communicate the kind of mood, feeling or emotion that I want to express. I have found that wedding dresses are particularly potent garments to work with. They speak of hope, expectation, and of course a symbolic transformation. One of my key inspirations is the ‘princess’ archetype of fairy tales, particularly wherein feminine garments operate as vehicles of metamorphosis, as in Disney adaptations in which the downtrodden character becomes a princess through the wearing of the dress. As young women we learn to include these ideas in our identity and hope for the future, when we are grown we act out this hope through the wearing of the white wedding dress. I purchased the subject of Tidal from an Op shop in the outer-suburbs of Melbourne and photographed it saturated with blue dye to enhance a sense of this symbolic transformative process and also to suggest a phase of biological metamorphosis.
Where do you make your works?
My current photographic work depicts feminine garments, lingerie and couture that have been arranged and illuminated while suspended in water. For this purpose I have assembled a 1000 litre pool in my inner-city backyard (I now live in Melbourne) in which I am able to immerse whole theatrical costumes and wedding dresses. I select these particular garments because of the sensory and emotional values that are evoked by the colour and quantity of the fabric, but also because of their association with a formality and deliberateness in dressing that has slipped out of meaning, like the absent wearer from my images. My objective in submerging the subject of my photographs is to generate a sense of the garments being ‘inhabited’, not only by an absent female body, but also by a complex of psychological statesthe emotions and associated character traits. The desired effects are achieved through careful stitching and arranging, and a sense of movement elicited by the garment’s submergence in water.
Some advice for young, future artists?
My advice would be to find a photographic artist or commercial photographer who is where you want to be and go about logically unpacking how they got where they are and why. Have a look at their C.V and take note of the kind of prizes they’ve entered and enter them yourself. Have a look at the kinds of places they are exhibiting and consider whether your own work might be suitable for that market. Have a look at their website. See what kind-of publications are writing about them. Find a reason to contact them, perhaps with a short question about their work, and see if they’re open to giving you some advice. Also education is a great tool. I completed my post-graduate diploma at The University of South Australia and undertook whole units of study about how to shape my C.V, write grant applications and present myself professionally. I was also lucky enough to be paired with photographic artist Deborah Paauwe through their mentorship program and received one on one coaching on all aspects of my practice, including professional development.