Katie Bret-Day is a London based photographer bridging the gap between digital and analogue in creating abstract work based on the human form. Her Facets exhibition has recently been displayed at the Brighton Photo Fringe and she is currently working on its follow up, a selection of work perfecting a previously unused technique.
When did you first become aware of photography?
My Dad gave me my first camera when I was about ten. It’s a Canon F10 that I still use today. I can remember using it in my parent’s house in Normandy. The house has been in our family for generations and is full of weird history. During the Second World War it was used as a rest point for a group of Nazi’s. After Normandy was liberated Neme, my grandma, hid one of them in the attic and he became a gardener after the war. I think I managed to capture some of the bizarreness of the house but in all honesty, I mostly turned my camera towards my sister and the dog.
When did you make the move away from classic realism towards the work you do now?
My perspective on photography changed when I was introduced to the dark room at school. It was so small, not much more than a cupboard and nothing really worked properly. There were no timers on the enlargers and you always bumped your head on the shelves. I am hesitant to connect the two, but there does seem to be a vague correlation between my current exploration into the darker facets of the human form and one particularly sharp knock to my head in the dark room.
What form does this exploration take in your most recent exhibition?
My most recent project revolved around Dissociative Identity Disorder, more commonly known as Multiple Personality Disorder. In short, the condition is characterised by a person having multiple selves that are distinct from one another and I looked to capture this in photographic form. This had me playing around with form, nudes and portraits, and disrupting what would be perceived as the bodily norm.
Practically, how did you achieve this?
Primarily through shapes and mirror. I was printing into mirror and setting myla into resin.
What effect would you like this to have on the viewer?
My work is often abstract and is therefore left open to a fair degree of interpretation. However, I would like people to question themselves when they look at my work. To be forced to really look at themselves and ask how the body is different from the being. This has been a long held objective in my work. In my previous exhibition Amalgam, named after a chemical dentists use to repair teeth, I looked to reflect the narrative of contemporary medicine in its improvement of the human form and the integration of synthetic materials into our body. Our contemporary physiology no longer has a fixed, un-malleable architecture and I think this is a poignant theme in a medium associated with the realist capture of the natural body.
Can you explain the technique you’re currently looking to perfect and how it relates to the thematic focus of your work?
I have been advised not to talk about it too much until I perfect it, because, as far as I’m aware, I’m the only person in the world to be making prints this way.
I first started doing it as a money thing because of the cost of film. It’s fundamentally a way to manipulate an image without doing it digitally. But it’s more than that. It completely disrupts the essence of the image. I pick up and play with the pigments of a piece, shifting them about whilst attempting to retain a certain quality of the original image. I’ve always seen photography as a building block, a starting point upon which I can intervene. I use it to tell a narrative whilst exploring the realities of a photograph.
I want people to realise digital imagery is fragile like analogue. It can be too disposable. I think there’s a precious and transient quality to photography that has gone now. My technique is a way of saying that digital imagery is fragile, it is beautiful. By integrating contemporary means with digital it makes the process necessary. Perhaps there is some irony in the fact that I have to shackle myself to do my most able work.
What’re you planning on doing next?
I’ve just started forming a collection that I’m hoping will pick up the work done in Facets and move it on. So far I’m toying with the idea of mirrors and the split sense of identity that they can bring about. There is a symbiosis between the two identities people perceive, loosely the body and the mind. I want to take that idea and then make the dualist gap wider, more distinct, and disconnect the two. Photographically at least.