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Light manipulation

Updated: Nov 23, 2020

Photographer Michael Mahne Lamb is the first New Zealander to be accepted into the University of Hartford’s International Limited Residency MFA program which, due to the global pandemic, he’s currently undertaking virtually over Zoom. Here he talks of light, perception, and locking himself in the darkroom.

How does your childhood influence your work now?

I was the type of kid that you could sit down with a pad of paper and a pencil and I would sketch for hours. Drawing was my first love. Photography came later, but I still believe those days sitting at the table drawing inform how I see, and what I make today.

Where do you find beauty?

In ideas, language and details.

What materials are integral in your work?

Light, glass, film and paper. Photography at its most essential is light through the lens of the camera onto light-sensitive material, and then likewise from the negative onto light-sensitive material to make the print. The way light can be manipulated and sculpted, and how it responds, is endless.

What themes do you pursue?

I’m interested in the way the physical world can be “organised” or translated onto the two-dimensional plane. Visual psychology and perception are areas that I’ve been researching in recent years, and I’m hardly even scratching the surface. There’s so much to dig in to. For example, in Complements (2018, Bad News Books) I was interested in the phenomenon of amodal perception, in which the viewer completes objects that are obstructed in one way or another; and in Courting Frustration (June – July 2019 at Precinct 35) I used an essay by Victor Burgin as the inspiration to form a series of images where I encouraged prolonged looking — we as humans become frustrated when we realise the command of the scene is not in our control. The way imagery initiates a unique response in each viewer is fascinating to me.

Do you collect anything?

Photobooks, issues of the New Yorker, other artists’ work and obsessive routines. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve read or seen this week?

Canadian artist Michael Snow’s 1975 artist book Cover to Cover. I was shown a flip through video online, which I’ve watched a lot in the last few days, and can see myself revisiting it more in the future. I’d love to see a physical copy.

Where do you work and what do you like about it?

I work from my studio in Wellington City. The light is great no matter the time of year, and sharing it with other like-minded people makes for insightful (or absurd) conversations. I don’t enjoy the idea of the solitary artist locked away by themselves, but on the other hand, I do cherish the hours I spend locked away in the darkroom printing.

What books are beside your bed?

The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with W. G. Sebald and The Shape of Content by Ben Shahn.

Field Studies #9, 2019

Photography by Michael is on display alongside paintings by Hamish Coleman in Short Memory at Bartley and Company Art until 12 September.


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