I first heard Chloe Dewe Matthews talk at the Brighton Photo Festival in November 2014 and wrote about it near to the end of this post here. This new talk was arranged by John Umney, Level 3 student, organised by the OCA and then, through collaboration with UCA, Farnham, held in one of their lecture theatres . UCA students were also invited and three of the UCA Photography Department staff were in attendance. The advertisement for the talk on weAreOCA included a link to this excellent video on the Vice site .
In fact, her talk very much covered the same ground being about her evolution as an artist using the medium of photography from being a Fine art Student studying conceptual sculpture at Ruskin College, Oxford. She recalled asking herself, after three years’ study, “What do I want to say about the world?”. After then working in the Film industry for four years she left because she didn’t feel she was doing anything creative Matthews became an assistant to some photographers and it seems that not having a photography education somehow left her freer to take photographs and trust her own instincts rather than worrying if she was doing things the right way. She discovered there was a group of Hasidic Jews who spent holidays in Aberystwyth, Wales and her fascination with this, and how different people lead their lives, led to her creating a series Hasidic Holiday (2009). From there she created another series Banger Boys of Britain, being attracted by the sculptural aspects of the cars, and set up an exhibition in a car spraying workshop to create a ‘finishing point’. There ensued a period where she was trying to find a photographic language, teaching herself along the way and photographing things that caught her interest. She continued taking photographs during a long journey in 2010 hitchhiking with her boyfriend from China to London – in China’s Wild West Xinjiang, attempting to portray the lives of its minority population of Uighur Muslims who were constantly ‘watching their backs’; Kazakhstan workers constructing mausoleums for the rich class and holidaymakers along the Caspian Sea visiting Sanitoriums to have oil treatments.
As she became better known there were Commissions and a residency in St John’s College, Oxford to produce the work Shot at Dawn around the story of the British, German, French and Belgian soldiers shot for desertion during World War I. There was a lot of research involved in uncovering these hidden sites and histories as there are no monuments and families were shunned. The archives on German sites have been lost. In fact she said the series was actually 90% research. Matthews visited sites where this happened producing ‘late’ photography and creating a visual archive, as form of restitution, that evokes the tragedy of what happened. She achieved this through photographing this hidden history in dawn’s early light, in cool pale tones. Different outcomes were planned including a book and dedicated website and the series was included in the Exhibition Conflict, Time, Photography, shown in Edinburgh and Tate Modern, London. Matthews explained that she was unable to speak to families so could only talk about the people by the places and captions were essential
In addition to a long term project along the Thames Estuary (with an Exhibition due later this year) Matthews has been back to the Caspian region to do further work (with a book due later this year) and most recently has undertaken a commission for Tate Modern responding to the Southwark area which she has discovered has the highest density of African Christianity. She talked of how the visual and audio landscape changes on Sunday. There are eleven churches on an industrial estate and she has kept going back to one particular church. The work produced includes video screens installed in a gallery in an ex-church, showing layers of church happenings (2015).
Chloe Dewe Matthews is a very interesting and engaging speaker and her enthusiasm for photography shines through. She made her development and recognition as a professional photographer sound an easy process but I think this probably belies a great deal of hard work, networking and communication of her ideas. It was interesting for me to see the difference in her images as well from the exuberance of Hasidic Holiday , Banger Boys and Sunday Church in Southwark to the quiet solemnity of the sites in Shot at Dawn. Here website is here and her talk to us was also videoed and can be accessed here by OCA students