In a small town in the north of Wales Clare Marie Bailey is making big waves in the analogue photography community. She shoots exclusively with film, creates masterful portraits dripping with a timeless aesthetic and has exhibited her work in Europe, USA and Japan. She tested out the Lomo'Instant Wide and talked to us about her journey into film, and her passions and influences.
Hi Clare, please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a Welsh photographer and film maker and was born on the island of Anglesey in the UK where I currently live. The island is very evocative with big open skies, dynamic sea scapes, it’s totally shaped my imagination, as have the people. I’m predominantly self-taught and really value hands on intuitive learning.
How did you get into shooting with film and instant photography?
I first got into film photography in school when an enthusiastic teacher, Mrs Farrell, set up a darkroom for pupils to use. My friend was going along after school and I went with her and enjoyed the whole experience and the process of what went on in there. I feel like darkrooms allow you to be alchemists. From there, I used an old film camera belonging to my father to shoot some of the people I encountered in my hometown who were intriguing to me. I worked after school and at weekends in a popular newsagent. Many interesting outsider characters came into that shop, and I began documenting them. The shop also had the best selection of magazines and I would collect The Face, Vogue, and various music magazines, so I was feeding myself on a diet of inspirational imagery and potential. I dipped in and out of photography for a while but then began in earnest around 2007/8 with a digital camera.
My digital images weren’t delivering the look and feel I wanted and I’m aware that it may have been due to a lack of skills, but everything felt cold to me. I began to read about Lomography and film, and in this period Impossible Project began to produce instant film again and I was liking what I saw from other artists who were shooting with this medium. I began again with film and really liked the warmth, the saturation and with instant film, at times the unpredictability and perfect imperfections. I love the physicality of film, the process of loading cameras up and especially with Instant film, having and holding a tangible object at the end. I think of them as little portals into other worlds. My early relationship with instant film began on a beach on Anglesey and I’ve been with it ever since. I value loyalty, so I’m glad I’ve remained loyal to instant film over the years.
Your style is so unique and recognisable; do you have any specific influences?
I’m really influenced by cinema, music and countercultures. As a child I spent a lot of time with my grandmother who lived close by. She watched lots of films and TV and I have fond memories of being propped up on the sofa with a drink, watching these films alongside her- not understanding what was happening, but being interested in the imagery and through the prism of a child, making my own interpretations. My love of films and world cinema comes from those days and remains an enduring influence, and trying to create a standalone film still with each image has been a mission. I love Lynch, Antonioni and many other directors, and most recently one film I’ve found myself watching for its visual style, particularly its lighting, is Michael Mann’s Manhunter. I come from a part Italian family, I was schooled in the local Catholic school and attended the church with my mother and grandmother. The theatre, rituals, clothing and atmosphere of the Catholic church has also influenced me.
There was a lot of bright glittering gowns, incense, candles and every year there was a May procession where some of the girls in the last year of primary school where crowned as queens with garlands –like a pagan Picnic at Hanging Rock, which is also one of my favourite films.
Music has also played a part in my life and been an influence. I feel that you can see music as much as you can hear it. I love bands like Boards of Canada, HTRK, Gwenno, Beachouse, they all inspire a mood and emotion that can spark an idea. Even a lyric can sometimes trigger a series of images and ideas in my head. My everyday surroundings can do it too. I went into a local shop recently, and was served by this fabulous woman around 70, who began telling me how she drank an energy drink when she did her hoovering. Everything about her was wonderful and, in that moment, she inspired me.
What kind of planning do you need to prepare for a shoot?
When I get an idea, I write it down and then build on it from there. It might have come from a film I’ve just watched: a particular character or scene that has influenced me, it might have been a song that’s triggered something, but I begin by writing it down. Then I think about the location, visit it if I can, think about the elements I need in order to create the scene I imagine on film. I think about what outfits and props I need to build my set with. I really like this element to my work and enjoy sourcing things. Then I think about what film and camera would suit what I’m trying to create. Then I get the film, check things like batteries, make sure I’ve got tripods, mounts etc. and then go and shoot. A lot happens in planning and preproduction. I don’t really sit in that category of photographers that carry their camera everywhere. I’m more creating and staging shoots. That said, I’ve kicked myself several times for not having a camera on me.
How did you get on shooting with the Lomo'Instant Wide Camera?
Very well! First of all, I thought it was a beautiful camera to look at. It was a real bonus that the camera had a tripod mount, and also had a lens cap that had two push button options that acted like a remote control so you can take self-portraits. One being the instant button, the second the time setting for great exposed images. I liked the fact you could unscrew the lens cap from the string and so shoot at a distant with yourself in the frame. The lens itself had a good choice of focal distances too. It allows lovely wide shots (as the name implies) which I think look great. The camera was easy to handle and came with a thrilling set of creative features and accessories, such as different attachable lenses and the splitzer that allows you to slice and split your image so you decide what is on it.
I really enjoyed these creative features and I’ve got a lot of ideas I’d like to develop about how to use them within my work. I worked with the splitzer, the wide lens, the ultra-wide lens and experimented with the close up lens too. There is a flash you can push on and off. Mostly I had the flash off, but I did try a couple of shots with it on in some bathroom scenes and it illuminated the images well.
Another bonus was the multiple exposure function, where you click it on and then take as many exposures as you like, then push the button off to release the film. There’s a bulb setting for long exposures at night, coloured filters. It’s literally got everything. Working out the distances and the framing with the range-finder took me a few shots, but I really feel like this camera is a great new friend and really marries well with the work I do. I really enjoyed shooting with it.
In this series you use yourself as a model. Can you talk to us a bit about why you decide to use yourself, and do you think it changes your approach to photography when you make yourself the main subject?
I never started out with the intension of doing self-portraiture, but I learned early on that at times people can let you down so I was always the most reliable and available person and ready to go when an idea hit. When I began using myself, I started to get something out of it. I liked the idea that I was reinventing myself as these characters that co-exist in a parallel, alternative world in tandem to my day-to-day life, and that they carry on co-existing through these images. I love the concept of doppelgangers and doubles, and I’m always interested in exploring via my female character’s feelings of loneliness, longing and an ambivalent sense of disconnection and connectedness, and the images are a reflection of my Psychic life.
I think we all reveal and conceal aspects of who we are to people in different times and in different ways. When you use yourself in your photography you are revealing aspects of you and I guess giving yourself a voice of sorts to communicate some emotional content. You’re also opening up yourself to a potential double whammy of, at times, criticism centred on the style of your imagery and potentially on you. On a practical level, I think about my safety. I’m mostly on my own, out at times in remote locations. I had one encounter that unnerved me and so it’s become something I now think about in my planning.
If you were to invent a type of film what would it be and what would it do?
I love the idea of a film that gives you hyper-vivid Giallo vibes. If I could create a film that turned your images into the neon-soaked wonder of Dario Argento’s Suspiria, then that would be it. It would create a sort of intense luminance to your work. I also like the idea of very large format instant film, but that would also mean a new camera. Sort of
50 x 50 size. Really big. Imagine the cost though! Or even more far-fetched: I watched Blade Runner again recently and was fascinated when the protagonist Deckard uses a kind of scanner to explore the interior dimensions of an analogue photograph to gather evidence. A photo you can enter and have a look around in. Imagine that!
To see more of Clare's work visit her Instagram page.