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5 April 2019

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©️ Simon Norfolk

Simon Norfolk, Curator - Places

This years categories in the Student Awards are People, Places, Things.  Below we have the first in a series of inspiring interviews with the curators of this years Student Awards, Simon Norfolk - providing an insight into what makes an award winning image.



What was your first job?

I was a student at University in Bristol and I'd been taught how to use the darkroom in the student union. No-one had been in there in ages and I spent days cleaning them and refurbishing. One of my people in PhotoSoc told me they needed photographers at the local what’s-on magazine that was called ‘Venue'. I went down with two contact sheets that I'd shot of a regatta in the harbour and on the basis of that I was asked to photograph a story about urban beekeepers. I think they were desperate. I remember I got to the shoot and asked if they had an extra bee suit for me and was told they didn’t have a spare. Inevitably I got stung all over the top of my head and on the crests of my ears. The bees were between the camera and my face. I spent a couple of days in a sweaty, pukey headache and experiencing really strong pain from any light. Not a great beginning for a career.


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© Simon Norfolk

How did you discover that the creative world was right for you?
I've never thought it was really. I never wanted to be ‘A Photographer' and I’ve never wanted a be part of a ‘Creative World.’ For example I rather despise most modern art, I’d rather go for a bike ride. But I did want to be an activist and storyteller and it seemed to me that combination words WITH photography created a package that was much more palatable. It wrapped the politics in a chocolate coating. I think that's the only creative part and so the greatest part of my enjoyment is finding beautiful ways to tell tough stories. If you're curious enough and need to offload the story, the creativity will follow. If you leave the house in the morning saying ‘How can I be Creative today?’ you’re doomed.

Where do you find inspiration to keep your work fresh, innovative and relevant? 
I try to spend a lot of time reading about current events. If I just watched the evening news on TV there’s enough there to keep me furious for a year; lying politicians; the Brexit cluster fuck; dead bodies washing up on a beach; an American bomb on an Afghan wedding party. These are my starting points. For innovation and freshness I trudge joylessly round the art supermarkets like Paris Photo and Unseen but I also spend a lot of time on Instagram. These tell me much more about what NOT to be doing. Chasing ‘relevance’ is a fool’s game like following fads and fashions. Make work that is well-crafted, sophisticated, urgent, informed. Increasingly the only question I ask of work is, ‘Is it honest?’ I’ve been using some innovative technology recently; types of computational photography like Polynomial Texture Mapping and photogrammetry. Broncolor lent me what will be their Scope D50. Fascinating piece of kit. It challenges the very notion of factuality.


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© Simon Norfolk

Which photographer’s / artist’s inspire you?
Percy Bysshe Shelley is the man I wish I was; him and Fausto Coppi. I’ve recently rather fallen for the life and work of John Martin the painter of biblical armageddon: roiling, burning skies; apocalyptic scenarios and turgid biblical prophesy. I learned a tremendous amount from the Irish war photographer John Burke. If I need uplifting I ride a short lane that runs down to the village of Wiston through woods of bluebells and pollarded beech. In a month it will be full of wild garlic.

Your work has been widely recognised winning many Awards, what would your advice be to students entering the Places Category? And what do you think makes for an Award winning image.
No ‘dead fly on the window sill in granny’s old house.’ No ‘trolley in an empty supermarket car park.’ No miserable redheads standing in the corner of empty rooms. No wallowing in introspection, I can find someone whose life is shitter than yours. Intrigue me, bedazzle me, seduce me, annoy me, educate me, upend my prejudices, leave me in a heap. Make me wish I’d shot it.

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