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Under the black hood

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

Harry Culy is a photographer studying towards his Master of Fine Arts at Massey University. A Parlour Projects artist, he also works part-time for the university as a technician for the School of Art. Here, he talks about working slow in a world that's speeding up, ghosts, and everyday strangeness.

Who are your biggest influences?

Diane Arbus because of the rawness and realness of her portraits. Noel McKenna because of his simple paintings of the strange and poetic in the banality of everyday Australian suburbia. And my friends who do way too much cool stuff to list here.

What materials are integral in your work?

I work with an old 4x5 view camera, and analogue film. The camera is super impractical, I have to carry around this big heavy backpack and a tripod, and go underneath a weird black hood to compose the picture, which is upside down and back to front, then you can only take one picture at a time, so it’s a very time-consuming and laborious process. Then I need to develop the film, and make prints either by scanning the film or printing in the darkroom. It really slows me down, in a world where everything seems to be speeding up.

What project are you working on now?

I’m doing a photobook project set in my hometown of Wellington – considering the concept of home, and how memory, place, and photography are kind of inherently ‘haunted.’ Not by ghosts, but by the past.

What's the last show that surprised you and why?

South of No North at the City Gallery which was a collection of three amazing artists, Noel McKenna, Lawrence Aberhart, and William Eggleston. It brought together two photographers and one painter who were obsessed with depicting the poetic within the everyday landscape in different ways. There is a lot of very conceptual art in the world (which I appreciate too!), but I have always been drawn to art that finds its inspiration in the strangeness that can be found in everyday life. Eggleston had this amazing picture of a lightbulb hanging from a red ceiling that I still think about.

What does a typical day look like?

It’s usually pretty mundane. My cat wakes me up to be fed by pawing my face, I have coffee, and usually head to Massey where I either work, or do research, developing film, printing, etc, for my MFA. I might do a bit of work on my small publishing company, Bad News Books, and if I’m lucky I’ll take a couple pictures in amongst my other work. After I finish work I’ll eat some takeaways and maybe watch a horror movie.

What were you like at 15?

I was going to Wellington High School and was a total nerd and very shy. My entire life consisted of studying, skateboarding, and playing Pokémon.

Where were you 3 hours ago?

I was taking portraits of my friend Eliza, who is a witch.

Money is no object. Which priceless artwork do you buy?

I would a commission a painting of my cat, Hank, by Noel McKenna. He does great pictures of animals.

Harry is one of five featured artists in our limited edition NZ Art Cards set.


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