Photography can help us see the world in new ways. Dan Commons is a graduate from Leeds Arts University making compelling images that encourage multiple interpretations. Bright red flowers, shuttered windows and car interiors are taken out of context, asking viewers to consider their own narratives.
Commons’ work is part of Leeds Arts University’s 2020 undergraduate showcase, an inspiring virtual exhibition which questions, experiments and responds to the world in radical ways. The artist speaks to Aesthetica about image-making today.
A: What types of media do you work in?
DC: I’m primarily a lens-based artist, using a mixture of analogue and digital processes with an emphasis on self-publishing. A tactile, physical dimension is important in producing a final result, especially when using photography as a tool to share ideas. It instils a sense of the artist’s authorship and creates an interactive object for the audience.
A: What are the themes explored in your images?
DC: I’m interested in exploring the nature of photography as a language in its own right. My work looks at the psychological effects of inhabiting an image orientated society, as well as the poetic and aesthetic sensibilities of the ready-made in the everyday.
A: Where do you find inspiration?
DC: I get a lot of ideas from reading a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. The works of William S Burroughs and Sylvia Plath are what I’m currently reading – they help to develop a frame of mind. Some contemporary photographers that have influenced me include Jean Vincent Simonet, Vanessa Winship, Yoshinori Mizutani. I take inspiration from a lot of post-war Japanese photography and modernist techniques.
I was in a band for a long time, as a self-taught musician, before returning to study photography as a mature student. I think that experience has helped to shape my approach to creating visual work: not to force anything and to use simplicity as a method in the creative process.
A: What do you hope audiences take away from your series?
DC: With Projections, I wanted to depict abstract, sculptural forms found in everyday life that seemed uncanny or unfamiliar when taken out of context. They signify something more psychological. With this process of defamiliarisation, the hope is that the viewer will look at something ordinary in a new way – or just appreciate the form for what it is. By not thrusting a grand narrative onto the series, it allows space for an audience to create a more personal relationship with the images. It frees the language of a photograph from any text or agenda.
A: What are your future plans? Do you have any projects / ideas lined up?
DC: I am currently preparing a follow up to my first photo book, No Silver Bird. The new work, titled Absent Air, is a collation of images shot and produced in my attic darkroom over the last four years. It will be published with Salt n Pepper Press, a Leeds based independent publisher. My final body of work at university will also be developed into a publication sometime next year, expanded and re-titled as These Sickly Flowers. I will also be continuing my studies with an MRES hopefully starting in September.
A: What can viewers expect from Leeds Arts University’s online degree show?
DC: I am particularly proud of my peers on the BA Photography course and what they have produced in the last year. There is some outstanding and varied work stemming from a range of concerns. There are a lot of strong visuals produced from the other courses too – especially Fine Art, Fashion Communications and Textile Design. Overall, I think students graduating this year have overcome a tremendous challenge. Though it’s a shame we can’t celebrate the end of this period of our lives physically, it’s great to see what everyone has accomplished.
Leeds Arts University’s Undergraduate Showcase is live now until 30 September. Find out more here.