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 Miri Stevens, a recent photography graduate from Falmouth University. Her degree show project Curious Continuous is a feast of abstract compositions crafted from curious details found in everyday objects and scenes, fuelled by her fascination for banality and spontaneous discovery.
Stevens is currently represented by Pholio, after meeting the agency at a D&AD festival talk, who took her on after seeing an image on her business card, and recent exhibitions have included a solo show at Photographique in Bristol and at Peter Jones in Slone Square, London.
Can you tell me about your background and how you first got into photography?
Miri Stevens: The very first time? Well, when I was 3, my father took a photograph of me after I wandered into my parents’ bedroom and began to photograph them looking through an empty tripod, looking like a little pro! My father was a photographer but stopped long before I was born, never encouraging me to pursue photography myself; the tripod just happened to be there. So I guess my interest was genetic as it certainly wasn’t nurtured.
My background generally is artistic – at secondary school I did a lot of painting and drawing which may have influenced the now very painterly style of some of my images.
How would you describe your work and aesthetic?
My work is serendipitous, impulsive and a product of a hyper-vigilance. My aesthetic is very abstract and textural with recurring representations of colour and shape, but my subject matter is forever changing.
Where do you look for inspiration?
My favourite photographers are Alex Webb, Cartier-Bresson and Ray Metzker, but actually I’m not inspired by others a great deal. If I were, I would be somewhat formulating my imagery around their style. My work is unexpected and found, so the only way to be inspired is to travel and seek novelty.
Could you tell me more about your Curious Continuous series?
The series began from my fascination and curiosity of foreign novelties when travelling on family holidays in my teenage years with a basic little compact. Over time it has become more abstract and fine-art rather than documentary.
People fail to see so much beauty in their daily lives, arguably partly because of their fixation with their smartphones. I have always been very sensitive in noticing this beauty, so I document it, ironically with my iPhone and hope to show people what they are missing. You can follow the series on my Instagram @miri_stevens #curiouscontinuous.
How does this relate to or differ from other projects you created while at university?
Because Curious Continuous is serendipitous/unplanned, I was worried about choosing it as a university project in case I didn’t make enough work. I finally chose it – with the encouragement of my tutor – in the final module of the course, because I had decided that it was the practice I should pursue.
My other university projects were still very fine art and abstract, but focused more on an idea, mood or skills set. I read Freud and made imagery from my dreams for several projects and also did a project inventing a new language via a colour code about my grapheme to colour synesthesia. Music is a big inspiration to me so for one project I made portraits in the shower on 35mm film to Nude by Radiohead, working spontaneously to what the music made me imagine.
(Images shown above, all from Curious Continuous series)
What items are currently in your must have kit?
In intensely technical situations, my brain goes into melt down so I keep things simple. In the last 6 months, I have been shooting on my iPhone 4s which is fantastic because it has freed up the possibilities; I can photograph anything anywhere.
For example, I would have never taken a big DSLR to the bathroom to photograph the washing image that got chosen for the CR Talent Spotting programme [lead image, and featured in the CR / JCDecaux collaboration]. The iPhone photographs are then also ready for Instagram, on which I have a growing following.
I do also take copies of each photograph on my Canon EOS M which is a cute little 18mp compact in case I ever want to blow the images up big in print.
What type of lighting do you currently favour and how do you achieve / shoot this?
I use entirely natural light for my work. I like the challenge of having no control over it and hate faffing around with equipment. I always used to worry about this way of working and whether it was adequate because everyone else I knew worked so technically. But in a university crit, one of my tutors commented that the series’ strength was its use of natural light. I don’t think many photographers realise just how much potential natural light has.
From the Blockout series, inspired by dreams
How did you find studying photography at Falmouth? And what were the most important things you learnt from the course?
Falmouth was great, I really got stuck in to the course, which turned out to be perfect for me because it was so free and open, you really could do anything. The most important thing I learned was to think broadly to be a better practitioner.
The most valuable things I learned were not necessarily about photography itself – teamwork, professionalism in business, formulating a good piece of writing, knowledge from guest lectures, putting up exhibitions, independent research and generally becoming more mature and cultured as a person and artist. I value these experiences much more than say the technical lessons I had on cameras and lighting.
Could you tell me about any other areas of creative output?
I’m an all-round creative: I love cinematography, video editing, painting, acting, writing, including writing film reviews for Zero Magazine. I’ve made a few short artistic films and hope to make more when I find the right collaborators.
From the Blockout series
Are you working on anything at the moment?
I’m always working on Curious Continuous as it’s ongoing. I aim and hope to take at least one good photograph every other day, and if I don’t, I get quite creatively frustrated, needing my snapshot aesthetic fix! I created a huge new batch of imagery during a recent family holiday to France, which I’m hoping to exhibit soon.
What are your plans and hopes for the future now that you’ve finished university?
Because I enjoy a lot of creative avenues, I have no idea what I will end up specialising in, in say, 10 years. I’ve never been interested in earning money in commercial photography so at the moment I’m looking to move to London and work in the arts sphere; a gallery, magazine or in film production, learning and networking more, whilst pursuing my fine art photography on the side.
From the Imaginary Proof series
Miri Stevens, aged 3
Miri Stevens 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