After touring this year’s degree shows, we’re profiling a series of graduates who we feel have produced outstanding creative work. Here, we speak to Joseph Ball, a recent photography graduate from Falmouth University. The grainy black-and-white aesthetic of his surrealist photographs, mainly shot at night, have a spectral quality with scenes and figures often darkly obscured.
Ball’s degree show project, Dead Ghosts on TV, formed one half of a collaborative zine exploring how photographic processes can distort reality. Another project BLOWUP, left Ball unaware of what he was shooting until the burst of his flash, creating blow-out impressions of the world around him, which formed part of an installation using flashing light and large scale versions of the works.
Recent exhibitions have included a pop-up show during his degree inviting invited each visitor to curate their own customised, personal copy of a zine, composed from their edit of his work. His next exhibition is in September in China, at the Pingyao International Photography Festival.
Above and lead image: Dead Ghosts on TV
Can you tell me about your background and how you first got into photography?
Joseph Ball: I was 16 when I began to use photography as a means of expression. I always had a creative streak before then, enjoying art at school and pretending to be a rock star, playing offensively loud ‘music’, in a band called Badgers Eyebrow. It was my A-level photography teacher that inspired me to pour all my creative energy into photography. She introduced me to so many incredible practitioners, and encouraged me to experiment, so I quickly came to realise the potential of the medium beyond pretty portraits. I remember pretending to be Susan Derges in the darkroom at college, trying to capture ripples and reeds floating in the sink, using a flashgun and half a box of Ilford paper.
Dead Ghosts on TV
How would you describe your work and aesthetic?
JB: If I was being objective, I’d say a lot of my work and the aesthetic traits it employs are a straight rip of Japanese post-war photography. The grainy, blurry and out-of-focus style of the Provoke artists is a language unto its own and I join a long list of younger artists who cannot help but try and appropriate some of the aura surrounding that work.
In my defence, however, my aim is to use their language to join the conversation Nakahira, Moriyama and Hosoe et al were pioneering in the 60s and 70s, presenting their ideas in a modern context. These artists were using photography as a means of emotional expression, at a time of immeasurable and uncontrollable change, as Japan was subjected to rapid commercial growth, whilst attempting to recover from the lasting effects of war. Their grainy, heavily abstracted images are charged with a sense of conflict and confusion, critiquing not only the society they depict but the very medium of photography itself – the photograph is revealed as an emotional, subjective representation, containing a multiplicity of meaning, not the evidential, impartial format it is often perceived as.
Fifty years on, in the digital age, this critique of photography takes on new significance. The increase in image quality, exposure and immediacy in my lifetime alone scares me – I get the impression that people have begun to sacrifice their primary senses, in favour of living vicariously through digital images constantly shared by advertising, television and social networks. I’m concerned that if future generations are conditioned into learning primarily through screens, we will lose our interest in, connection with and concern for the natural world. I work as the Provoke photographers worked, combatting a world of perpetually repeating images, by creating more images. I shoot my environment constantly and impulsively, focusing on the scenes I find strange; plastic plants, faux-fauna, wires and branches intertwined, competing. I then push the work through many processes, including both film and digital, embracing the artifacts left by each one. I hope the results, fuelled by dissatisfaction with the digital and informed by photographers of the past, present something worth lingering over, at a time where images are innumerable and disposable.
Dead Ghosts on TV
Where do you look for inspiration?
JB: I love a good photobook, or any book for that matter. In the final few months of uni I found myself spending unnatural amounts of time sat amongst the shelves of the library, desperately devouring books that really had nothing to do with me or my course, incase I never have access to this information again. I think one session combined several plant ID guides, a book of cross-stitch patterns from around the world and a bit of Baudrillard for good measure. I’m sure that it all seeps out into my work, somehow. I also love to travel – almost all of my work is made whilst on the move, in unknown spaces. I use the camera as a tool to explore and react to my environment.
Black-white-images by Ball (Dead Ghosts on TV) and colour images by George Kitchen (Haunted Beepers Sunset Teens) as part of the collaborative zine
Could you tell me more about your Dead Ghosts on TV project?
JB: This was one of the quickest and most resolute projects I’ve done to date. It was created in collaboration with another photographer, George Kitchen. As we were both showing installations at our graduate show, we wanted to make something tangible, for people to take away – a zine seemed like the perfect format.
Over the course of a week we went out on several night shoots, before processing and editing into two 16-page zines, bound together in a vinyl-esque sleeve. We agreed to shoot in individual, distinguishable styles, pushing each to the absolute limits, yet shot in much the same manner using flashguns to penetrate the shadows and hone in on points of interest. George employed digital colour, dragging the noise and saturation out of the depths of night, while I stuck to black-and-white, layering film onto digital onto film until the bleached, spectral silhouettes my flash created began to sink into a dull, grainy grey. George titled his side ‘Haunted Beepers Sunset Teens’ and mine became ‘Dead Ghosts On TV’.
The work, being created and output so quickly, felt very free. We were pressured and inspired by one another but there was very little pretense. What we were making was already informed by our previous projects, with George focusing on the saturation of strange and irrelevant images that are in the public domain and my interest in the experience of only being able to see through images.
How does this relate or differ from other projects you created while at university, including BLOWUP?
JB: Dead Ghosts On TV was conceived and completed so quickly, it felt much more like I had a brief than any of my other university projects, which consisted of months and months of developing research, experiments and making vague, contradictory notions. It was more a product of all the hard work and using what I have learned in an unrestricted way.
It was nice to create something I can actually share with others too. My final major piece, BLOWUP [including the image featured in the CR / JCDecaux collaboration, above left] was a real sensory thing – a pitch-black room, formed of seven 8ft high panels, pasted top-to-bottom with enlargements of my night-time images. To view it you had to go through a mysterious black curtain, stumble about in the space until you tripped a laser trigger that set off flashes, mimicking my experience of taking the images and also temporarily burning my photos onto your retinas. I loved the physical experience of the piece but it was only relevant for that week or so it was up, to those few that saw it. With a publication, people can take it home, flick through whenever they want, tear it up, stick it on the wall, show a friend. I love that tangible, take-away aspect.
What items are currently in your must have kit?
JB: A couple of robust rangefinders I’ve picked up on the cheap, the Olympus XA and a teeny tiny Ricoh 35mm; any film will do; a digital point-and-shoot that my Grandma passed onto me because the buttons were too small for her to use; a chunky flashgun I found for £2 at a market; and reluctantly, a computer too. I resent screens yet find myself glued to them when it comes to working – ironic.
What type of lighting do you currently favour and how do you achieve this / shoot this?
JB: Whatever is available. I am drawn to the stark shapes that artificial flash creates in darkness, as well as the pixelated glow of moving advertising boards. I think the invasiveness and artifice of them is what attracts me. It is increasingly difficult to experience darkness, to stare into caverns of deep shadows that cause you to pause and think. I try to search out these places and bleach them using the flash, momentarily revealing their abstracted form before quickly being plunged back into darkness. I guess this photography is symptomatic of a society addicted to seeing, to being shown and to light.
How did you find studying photography at Falmouth? And what were the most important things you learnt from the course?
JB: It was an uphill struggle at times, but an overall positive and enriching life experience. It was important for me to learn much more about the theory surrounding art and photography, the benefits of reading and how to critique work.
I’ve also learnt how important it is to maintain interests outside of photography, otherwise you risk driving yourself to mad. Thankfully we were encouraged to pursue our own interests in our work; being surrounded by creative people all pushing themselves to excel in their own niche was really inspiring. Constantly sharing my work with these peers was really beneficial to its development, their work may be completely different but they offer fresh eyes and project personal experience onto it that you can never imagine yourself.
Also, assist! I learnt more practical skills assisting in five days, than I did in three years at uni.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
JB: I recently shot a lot of work on a trip to South East Asia, surprisingly in colour. It’s quite different visually from my third year work but is still coming from those core ideas and emotions. It feels like a steady progression, I just need to spend some time finding a purpose and a form for it. I hope to experiment more with publications too. I’m aware now having the university facilities stripped away that my work might suffer, I’m hoping this challenge will encourage me to work more creatively.
I’ve also recently worked on a bit of video with another artist, Andy Page. We shot some stuff onto 8mm cine film just as an experiment but I’d love to pursue more moving image work.
What are your plans and hopes for the future now that you’ve finished university?
JB: I plan to travel around Asia more, as the relationships and differences between the West and East fascinate me. I hope to pursue some of my other interests while I’m there too, including learning a lot more about ecology and volunteering towards conservation and sustainable tourism. I’ll be making work at any opportunity.
I’m always looking out for competitions and residencies to apply for, but I think the dream would be to work within publishing art and photography. I enjoy the experience of self-publishing work, curating shows and creating immersive experiences so much, it’s something I’d love to do not only for myself but also for other artists. The issues for me are finding a way to do it sustainably and to engage a new audience, outside of the usual suspects of fellow enthusiasts.
Joseph Ball is featured in CR’s Talent Spotting project, in association with Creative Translation, which sees work by 20 graduates displayed on over 1,000 JCDecaux digital screens across the UK this month. For details, see creativereview.co.uk/talent-spotting