Mark Tweedie, is a photographer that uses hand-made cameras to discover the world around him. He uses simple photographic technologies and a deep understanding of the mechanical and chemical nature of photography to create insights to a world that lies somewhere between fact and imagination.
Looking at your work you seem very interested in the physicality of objects, be they books or photographs, what is it that drives you to create these tangible objects?
I've always loved books and prints as objects of beauty in themselves irrespective of their contents. This physicality adds a dimension to the experience of appreciating a work which electronic media lack, and, in my view, will always lack. I remember reading of an experiment where smooth pebbles were handled by a large number of people and then placed amongst a group of identical untouched pebbles. A second group of people were asked to choose their favourite pebbles from the mixture of handled and unhandled stones and they almost exclusively chose those which had already had physical contact with other people. I found it astonishing that the energy of others could be stored and transferred in this way. I am sure this occurs with crafted items too. Therefore an image which has been physically handled by its maker will have a subtly different feel to one where solely mechanistic means of production have been employed. I feel that the physicality of a print or book is vitally important in the way it will be understood by the viewer. For example, a photogravure has a completely different atmosphere and presence compared to an inkjet print or a silver print from the same negative.
You seem very focused on particular projects with a strong idea behind what you want to achieve, how do you begin your creative process?
Mostly things start for me with a single image. During the course of creating this, and particularly during the long exposures normally required by indoor pinhole images on paper negative, there is plenty of time for focussed but open attention to the feeling and symbolism of what I am making. It doesn't always work but sometimes it can lead in unexpected and fertile directions. The same applies during the post-processing where the idea or theme can come to light through selection, sequencing and finishing.
Your work often seems to consist of a series of work rather than single pieces, why is this important to you?
It sounds a little masochistic to say I find single images too "easy"! I suppose what I really mean is that I often find it unsatisfactory to try to portray what I see and feel in one single piece. Having said that, I do see one of the great strengths of photography in its capacity to cut straight to the truth in a single frame. I don't consciously avoid single images, it is just that I work better using sequential and serendipitous methods.
There seems a love of simple technologies (including the analogue aspect) in your image making and a love of craft throughout your process how important are these to you?
I find complexity detracts from the image-making process, and certainly from the enjoyment I get from it. The simplicity of using primitive and relatively uncontrollable media means that even a day spent achieving little in material terms still has a fundamentally satisfying aspect to it. Put negatively, hell is found in multi-level electronic menus and icons understood only by the gadget's maker! The craft aspect is important to me for the same reasons I like the physicality of prints and books. Photography can be a very cerebral pursuit and to bring craft and physical dexterity into one's work can add dimensions of earthiness and reality which might otherwise be lacking. This accounts for why people will flock to galleries to see artworks in the flesh rather than be satisfied with viewing electronic copies on the internet.
What do you feel making a camera adds to your practice?
Beyond the personal satisfaction of crafting something, I don't feel it adds anything at all. The image is everything and if the camera used is the right tool for the job I don't see why the maker of the camera would have any bearing. The exception to this might be for someone such as Wayne Martin Belger whose amazing cameras form as much part of his the message as the images he makes. I have two stunningly crafted cameras made by a friend who is a fellow pinhole photographer and a woodworker by trade. They work just as well for me as my own cameras and, to boot, are beautiful to hold, look at and use.
Given a clear month, free from daily chores and distraction what would you concentrate on?
Oh for the chance! I have a number of projects in mind. The series "Dream of Flight" remains unfinished and my intention was always to make this into a hand-bound, limited edition book; I have a large sequence of images from a walking journey on Dartmoor which, again, seem to be perfect for a book; my new etching press is languishing unused while I perfect making digital negatives and it is perhaps this which I would opt to spend my free month with if I had to choose just one project.
If, for a year, you had to use only one of your cameras what would you use and why?
I made a 4x5 camera which I named the Chilli Camera, painted red and built around a kitchen draw handle I found in the shape of a chilli. I love its quirky feel and never fail to be astonished at the results it produces. As this camera continually captures the wonder of pinhole photography, it would be the obvious choice.
Are there any processes you have wanted to work with but yet to get round to?
I am still an absolute novice in photogravure and solar plate so this would be what I would choose for the way it takes the physicality of a print into another realm. All alternative processes are very attractive though especially gum bichromate and salt printing.
What methods do you employ to get you out of an image making dry spot?
I'm not sure I have a good answer to this. I have frequent spells when nothing seems to gel and the only thing which consistently unsticks me is to simply do something, anything, to dispel that feeling of inertia which is so inhibiting. This might be printing unprinted images, editing sequences or even launching off on a new idea and making the first exposures. I also think that engaging with other art forms plays an essential part in broadening one's view of the visual medium. Looking at sculpture, listening to music, reading, talking to artists, viewing their work; all these keep one away from that narrow focus on one's work (and, dare I say, problems) which leads to artistic blockage.
What do feel is important about creating images by simple methods such as pinhole?
The greatest thing of all is the liberation from the complexity and unreliability of electronics. I personally find the need for quick decisions regarding f stops, shutter speeds, depth of focus and so on to be a distraction from the actual process of photography, primarily the need to 'feel' your subject. (I am lost in admiration for photojournalists and street photographers for their ability to be open emotionally and to operate technically simultaneously in fast-moving situations.) I think that, more than the simplicity of pinhole, it is its slowness which is important in allowing me the thinking-space and time to make images which satisfy me.
Do you have an underlying question you are trying to answer with your photography?
No, I don't think so. In fact, I find that photography opens up more questions than it answers, especially working in sequences where one's direction is often dictated by what happens during the creative process rather than any preconceived desire to get answers. To refer again to photojournalism, this school of photography aims much more to get answers or, at least, to present facts. In contrast, my work is usually far from objective reality, it deals rather with the realms of imagination and emotion. I would be extremely pleased if a viewer felt a strong emotion or found a starting point for reflection in my images because there really are no answers there in my mind, merely an opening up of a window into the world as I see it. Until considering this question I hadn't appreciated that I never aim to reach a conclusion in what I do. That feels like an early artistic death because where would you go from there?