Portraying the traces of our existence
SDk: You graduated from university in 2002 with a degree in film & television studies and English literature, but it wasn’t until later that you “decided” to become a photographer. What prompted such an apparently life-changing decision, and why at that point in your life?
Lisa Furness: I always had a love of photography and a fascination with the medium. It wasn’t an option to study photography at my school, but my father gave me equipment to use, advice and support. When I came to choose my degree, I made the decision that I didn’t want photography to be my livelihood because I wanted to keep it as my private passion. I never wanted to feel obliged to pick up a camera. Then I got older and significantly less wise and managed to convince myself that becoming a photographer was something beyond the grasp of us mere mortals, it was something reserved for blessed people.
In 2003 I was broke and working in a pub and a customer started shouting at me; he demanded to know what I was doing there when I could be anywhere. And he pushed me into saying what I wanted from life. The only answer I could give was photography. I started studying photography two months later.
However, the experience of life is work
in progress – I’m always thinking about what I’m doing and where I’m going.
SDk: What is it about derelict buildings, empty spaces, and the urban environment in general, that attracts you? What do you aim to communicate or represent in your portrayal of these spaces?
LF: The first thing I must say is that my pictures are concerned with people and our environment. They’re about how we shape the world and how the world shapes us. I feel that looking at the places we create and then ignore – empty buildings, staircases, bathrooms – give us an insight into the nature of our modern world. On the other hand, I’m looking for an aesthetic rather than a documentary record of the spaces. Places left alone take on their own atmosphere independent of their use. This is what pulls me back to them.
SDk: You make an effort, and sometimes go to some trouble, to ensure that your pictures are, as you emphasise in your SDk contributor profile, “devoid of human subjects”. Why? And yet, you stated above that your pictures “are concerned with people”. Considering the absence of human subjects, in what way is your work about people?
LF: My pictures are intended as universal. The human animal is present in these places because they are spaces we planned, built, used, and then neglect – our fingerprints are all over them. Introducing an individual person into the scene would make it a picture of “somebody else” in relation to the viewer, whereas the emptiness of the scene is an invitation to the viewer to step inside and explore the world inside the frame. I strive to create a direct and empathic relationship between the viewer and the scene, which the presence of somebody else would intrude upon.
SDk: Referring once again to your SDk profile, in what way(s) do you see your work as a “rejection of our glossy, surface-obsessed, collagen culture”, and as “an antidote to it”?
LF: I want to peel back the curtain, to linger over those areas of our world that don’t fit the confident, brash story of glamour and progress we tell ourselves. They are pictures about the effects of our actions and about the deeper nature of our relationship with the built environment. We only dominate these spaces when we are there. Anyone who has walked down an empty street in the night and felt the presence of the shadows and the
My pictures are about how we shape the world and how the world shapes us. I’m looking for an aesthetic rather than a documentary record of the spaces… places left alone take on their own atmosphere independent of their use. This is what pulls me back to them.