Äkkigalleria interview with Patricia Driscoll on Friday September 14th, 2012.
Äkki: This is your first time in Jyväskylä, and to Finland, you spent a day in Helsinki before taking the train up to Jyväskylä. What are your first impressions of Jyväskylä (and Finland)?
PDriscoll: I thought it was really smart. Everything was impressive.. and spacious. But it is also quite relaxed, and functional, it is all very high tech.
Flying into Helsinki there are these islands below, and the trees and the sea. And so the first thing you see is nature; islands and sea.
The other thing I found odd was how quiet everyone was. But I like that sort of quietness.
Äkki: Earlier you mentioned that you are not photographing the same things as you usually photograph. What and how do you usually photograph – how is that different from what you are doing here?
PDriscoll: I usually plan my photography, and I pursue a project over two to three years. So my work will revolve around planning it. Here I have to respond to my environment quite spontaneously. Here I am responding to what I see in Jyväskylä and I have to think of how I can fit my ideas into what is happening here. If that is possible. This is probably a good thing because it makes you change your approach.
Äkki: Some of your work is quite political (A Means to an End). And some of your work appears to be more visually based (abstract landscapes coming from more natural settings). How do you bridge these seemingly different kinds of landscape?
PDriscoll: I was 18 or 19 when apartheid became redundant. During that time everything was political, I was affected by it. In a sense I didn’t want to deal with that at all, I felt I wanted to turn away from it, but it was always there, you can’t get away from it and it influences you in many ways.
And I think the abattoir series is not overtly political.
I think the way we treat animals is political, what we eat is political, but it is not particular to South Africa, it is a general issue. But in doing the work I did find out some interesting stuff about the particular places I went to. And a lot of the apartheid abattoirs are closing down, but they are being replaced, in some cases, by global companies rather than local companies; which is quite disturbing I think, because local is much better. So they are actually bringing in work forces from Ireland or other places and they are now competing with our local guys, which is terrible.
Äkki: What drew you to photograph in the abattoirs (slaughterhouses)? How did you get started on that project?
PDriscoll: I started in Cape Town. My friend and I did a project together, we were interested in where meat comes from. So we went to a supermarket and bought some beef but it’s all neatly packaged and we thought we would do a story on where it comes from. We went to the Maitland abattoir and we actually came across this amazing phenomenon called the Judas Goat, and that is really what we based our story upon, this goat that lives in the abattoir and leads the sheep into the slaughterhouse. So that is how it all started really, with the Judas Goat. But they don’t have Judas Goats any more; it has become more mechanized now.
Now this particular Judas Goat that we photographed, that abattoir closed down (another example of an apartheid abattoir) and it went to a petting farm. You kind of feel sorry for the goat but also it’s quite unsettling to think of all these children, stroking this goat, who don’t know what the goat has been doing.
I think the way we treat animals really reflects on how we treat each other, and I think we should think more about that. People don't think about it, I mean you can’t think about it otherwise you can’t eat meat. But it is pretty horrific, and on such a large scale. I mean I am not against eating meat, at all, but I think the scale of it is sort of scary. The mechanization of it and the economics.
Äkki: Do you think having lived through and out of Apartheid in South Africa, has affected your work as a photographer?
PDriscoll: It’s difficult to see how, objectively, what could have affected me, but it’s definitely affected me. It just affects the way you see things. It’s a very difficult subject, and it is very emotional as well, and it is not easy to describe I guess, and through the TRC (truth and reconciliation commission) it was a highly emotional time for many South Africans, and I still think it is incredibly difficult.
Äkki: In Helsinki this year, all of the first year photography students are women. Thirty years ago the photography scene was dominated by men, as it is today in South Africa. Do you think there could be this kind of turn of the tables in South Africa? How do you see the future of women photographers in South Africa?
PDriscoll: I don’t think it matters too much, I mean there are a lot of really great photographers who are women, who are doing very interesting work. I think it is a difficult field in which to be a professional, I mean if you want to be an artist. But I think there is a lot of scope for female photographers.
I went to Rhodes University for a while and a lot of the students there were women, and I don’t know many girls in my class who have done well in photography. Maybe you have to be a little bit aggressive to do photography as a woman, maybe a little bit more aggressive than normal, I’m not sure. I don’t know.
I think there are more men photographers at the moment but there are quite a few females too.
Äkki: What is your earliest memory of light?
PDriscoll: I think it was making daisy chains. As a primary school girl I would sit and make daisy chains with my friends, in the sun, I think that's when I really noticed light, spring and summer.
Äkki: And what about your earliest memory of art?
PDriscoll: that is quite a difficult one, I don’t really know how to answer that because art can be so many different things. Art can just be an experience or –, it doesn’t necessarily mean a picture or a visual. So I guess for me an experience: my first experience of art I guess, my first experience of fear would probably sum that up, but a fear that was exciting at the same time, so probably riding a horse, galloping for the first time, down a slope or something like that, would be that experience for what I feel like art can be. The sort of feeling of fear or anticipation, but with enjoyment.
Äkki: And now some one word/short answers: