Back in June, Tom Illsley was awarded our third student photography bursary award with Nottingham Trent University for his series ‘Meridian’, an exploration of central geographical locations in Great Britain formed of landscapes identified through the mathematical equation of centrography, divided into quarters and explored clockwise. A year after it’s initial exhibition and with the support of of NTU photography tutors, Nottingham Lakeside Arts Centre and £1000 of our production services towards exhibition, Tom’s work will be shown at Lakeside Arts Centre in 2016.
The bursary award will enable Tom to further develop his practice and to exhibit a body of work of his choosing. We caught up with him after his trips to Scotland and Wales to see how his work was progressing. Here’s what he said…
Firstly, tell us about the series ‘Meridian’…
Meridian is a photographic project exploring geographical centre points and the surrounding land throughout Great Britain.
The idea came to me during the summer before I began my final year at university. Having moved home to Coventry for my final year, I begun by thinking of ideas relating to where I am originally from. Coventry is in fact one of the most landlocked cities in England, and I felt this was something that wasn’t very well publicised. Through deeper research I discovered that in 2002 Ordnance Survey carried out an investigation into geographical centre points of the United Kingdom, using the method of centrography. This factual information inspired me to document these previous nondescript areas of land, and to explore whether they hold a deeper contextual meaning.
How have you continued the project since your degree show, and have you made any changes?
I’ve continued the project by photographing the geographical centres of Wales and Scotland, displaying these images along side work I made in Fenny Drayton; the geographical centre of England. I’ve made some slight changes to the series, such as the fact that I’ve decided to present solely geographical centres, whereas my previous exhibition also included photographs taken in Meriden, which was considered to be the centre of England for over 500 years (It was proven in 2002 to be just folklore, although a monument in the village still stands by it’s claim).
So far, I’ve already photographed the geographical centre of Wales and Scotland – I wanted to get it all done while the weather was neither too hot or too cold; I love an overcast day so I thought mid-late October would be best for both of these locations. Through my degree show work, I have already shot the centre of England and I intend to use the same images in the exhibition.
Where have you shot so far, and what are you enjoying most about working on the series?
I’m really enjoying shooting on film at the moment; I feel as though every frame I shoot – whether it ends up in the final edit or not – is helping to document and to tell a story of these locations. Against each frame I also make note of information that is relevant to my location on the map. I record my compass bearing, grid reference and altitude.
I think my favourite aspect of shooting has really been the freedom that this work brings – I’m not constricted in any sense other that the locations I visit, but even within that I give myself as much creative freedom as I can. I act as a flÃ¢neur in the great outdoors, guided only by what interests me or attracts my attention.
What has been your biggest challenge, so far, in the continuation of your work?
In all honesty, there haven’t been any major challenges; I’m very fortunate to have supportive parents that were willing to take me to Wales and Scotland at very short notice.
How difficult has it been scheduling time to shoot? Are you on schedule?
It’s been quite a challenge scheduling time for this, but as soon as I had decided on the work I wanted to present through the exhibition, I set out a plan detailing how and when I would shoot. I’ve also just started a new job, which could have caused so0me issues, but luckily they were extremely supportive and allowed me to have the time off straight away.
With your exhibition in June, have you had any ideas how you might like to present this yet?
I haven’t had any complete ideas yet – although I received positive feedback from my degree show on how I presented my work on the floor.
I’m really keen to present the maps I have used as I feel that they are a piece of art in themselves. Now that I’ve shot, my next step is to send off all my film to Dan at The Photo Parlour in Nottingham where he will work his processing magic – I’ve always used Dan and have a good relationship with him; he’ll always give me and honest answer about my work which is priceless. When I’ve got the negatives and contact sheets back I’ll begin to scan everything in and go from there… And of course, I’ll see you at Genesis soon!
Finally, where are you shooting next?
I think next I’d maybe like to head to Europe or Scandinavia and document the centre of a country there. Alternatively, I have thought of photographing Ireland and Northern Ireland – it could be interesting to create work in a country with such a hostile past and draw similarities between the two. I also think due to the fact this work is very strict and methodical in how I photograph, it could be extended to every country in the world, which would be an incredible project to undertake in the long run.