Giles's studio experience during lockdown
This week feels like a big step in the easing of lockdown for Giles and his team with the gallery reopening its doors for the first time this year. And as we come to the end of lockdown 3.0 in Ireland (fingers crossed it’s the last one!), we thought we’d find out what Giles has been up to in his studio over these past few months.
Before we get stuck into the studio questions, what has got you through this lockdown?
I’m fortunate to live by the sea with beautiful walks nearby. And my kids were around, which was great as in normal times they’d be off in college or travelling. Luckily we have the online gallery, which kept us busy workwise. And I’m also a big movie fan, so I watched a good few films during lockdown. I rewatched some old favourites (my guilty pleasure is disaster movies) and I caught some new releases (I enjoyed The Dig and Promising Young Woman, both starring Carey Mulligan). And there was one rainy day where my daughter, Ali, and I watched the three Lord of the Rings films back-to-back.
How did you spend your time in the studio during lockdown?
I launched the new online gallery with my son, Jack, last year, so we’ve been continuing to tweak and add to this. But the biggest job I’ve embarked on during lockdown is scanning old negatives. When I moved from analogue to digital in 2006, I scanned all the gallery images (such as the Curious Cow) into digital format, so that I could digitally reproduce them; roughly 1,000 negatives were scanned at that time, leaving behind about 90,000(!) still to be scanned. Lockdown has allowed me time for this mammoth task, and I’ve now scanned about 20% of these old negatives. And while some days the scanning felt tedious, I’ve enjoyed the process overall, discovering long-forgotten negatives that I couldn’t see potential in during the darkroom days, but now see their potential using the digital process. I will be releasing a collection of these rediscovered analogue images at a later date, and I’m yet to decide if I’ll be making it a limited-edition collection.
Some people will be surprised to hear that you spend more time in your studio than you do outside taking photographs – what does your studio work involve?
The way I work is I go on three or four photography trips a year and I fully immerse myself in each location for a week. When I go away on these week-long trips, I’m excited and inspired to be doing what I’m doing, and I feel this wouldn’t be the case if I was trying to capture something 365 days a year. And then outside of these trips, the rest of my time is divided between the gallery and the studio. When I get back from a shoot, I unpack the memory cards, make a preliminary edit of the digital files, and then I leave it for a few weeks; when I return to these images with fresh eyes, I create another edit and these files are saved as master copies. And one of my other main jobs in the studio is printing. I do all the printing and visual design myself to ensure the quality of the final result – I imagine I’m not the only artist who feels this way, but I like to have control over every aspect of my photographs because at the end of the day I want it to be a true reflection of my work.
Do you work alone in your studio?
Yes. I’ve always worked alone, just as I do when I'm on location with my camera.
Do you need silence or do you like to listen to music while working?
I’m always listening to music. I guess it’s a habit that harks back to my darkroom days when music was my only company – I was constantly on my own because people couldn’t come in and out of the darkroom. And of all art forms, music inspires me the most. Bob Dylan is one of my all-time heroes. If I’m not listening to his music in my studio, I’m listening to an audiobook by him or one of the many biographies about him. And it’s not just in my studio – when I’m away on photography trips, I like to listen to Dylan while driving. He is an artist without compromise – he writes what he wants to write and sings what he wants to sing, and listening to him inspires me to photograph what I want to photograph, and not to be influenced by the photograph’s future reception – if someone likes it, then great, but if not, then that’s okay too. For me, the highest form of art is doing it for yourself.
Listen to Giles Norman's Studio Playlist Vol. 1
Gallery visitors are often surprised to discover that your studio is on the same site as your gallery – do you like having them connected in this way?
It’s just the way it’s always been. When I first started out with a studio in Kinsale, it evolved into a part-gallery space too with a bell signalling to me in the darkroom if someone walked in. And one of the most frequently asked questions in the gallery is if I’m still alive, so it’s nice to make an appearance from time to time and prove that I am. And I do enjoy the gallery, talking to visitors if they want to chat to me – it keeps me connected. But for the most part, I like to stay hidden away in my studio.
Have you been working on any new collections during lockdown?
I’ve just finished a revised Yosemite collection. I originally had a small Yosemite portfolio, but thanks to the negative-scanning process, I now have around 300 finished images. One of the biggest challenges I face is editing down a collection to a reasonable size, but I managed to cut this Yosemite collection down to 50 images during lockdown, and I’ll be releasing it next month.
And finally, what are you looking forward to most this summer as lockdown restrictions ease?
I have my next two photography trips planned. First up is a trip to the Blasket Islands next month where I’ll be staying in one of the original cottages (with no electricity, so that will be interesting!). And then I’ll be heading to Sheep’s Head – I’ve photographed the Beara Peninsula several times over the years, so it feels only right that I spend some time on its neighbouring headland. And outside of work, I can’t wait to sit on the Bulman wall with a pint of Murphy’s and drink some red wine at The Black Pig and enjoy a lazy Sunday breakfast at OHK café.
Giles brought his camera with him on lockdown walks - these two images are a preview of what he captured.