Photographer Dylan Culhane is the Cape Town-based artist and transcendental wayfarer whose first solo exhibition in London, taking place at Shoreditch’s emerging arts platform EB&Flow gallery, is a collection of images produced using his singular technique, showcasing the beauty of his native South Africa. With the desire to produce an alternative outlook, Culhane has matched a unique form of photography in which to channel his own unique perception of the spaces around him. The celluloid negative serves as his canvas – layering light and emulsion in splatters and shapes which he then strips away, bit by bit, to complement shadows and light captured on the film.
Culhane experiments with the mechanics of traditional photography and with it creates something beyond the wonders of digital manipulation. His influences lie firmly in the work of Dutch graphic artist Maurits Cornelis Escher, Japanese sumi-e painting and Optical Art and, like these practices, his work is a thought evoking filter for the world around him. Dazed Digital caught up with Dylan to discuss visual arts in South Africa and to learn more about producing his visionary playground of images.
Dazed Digital: Can you tell me more about the experimental techniques you use and how you discovered them?
Dylan Culhane: I've been playing around with multiple exposure photography for several years now. This basically means exposing more than one image on the same negative; superimposing two or three or four photographs upon each other, in-camera. It's hardly a new idea, but I've been exploring the creative permutations of this principle.
About seven or eight years ago I was really into the Lomography movement, which is ultimately centred on the idea of experimenting with the analogue medium. On occasion I'd create multiple exposures accidentally by forgetting to wind on the film, and the results often intrigued me; the combination two disparate co-ordinates of time and space in single moment seemed to create more than just an intriguing overlap of shapes and forms, but somehow communicated something tantalizing yet indefinable to me about the essential nature of photography, and challenged the assumption that a camera simply records a specific, standalone juncture of time and space.
DD: What influences you to produce work in this way?
Dylan Culhane: I think the fact that photography is so commonplace today forces me to continually explore new ways of using the medium; developing ideas that perhaps haven’t been thought of before. In other words, I take the fact that every second person on earth has a camera of some variety, and however-many-million photographs are uploaded on Flickr and Facebook every day as a healthy challenge to differentiate my work and assert some kind of value on it, which becomes increasingly difficult.
As I’ve evolved my style and tried out all sorts of different techniques it’s been great to realize that my philosophy on photography really informs my philosophy on life. As I say that I’m aware of how wanky it sounds, but it’s true. The notion of alternate levels of reality, and a multi-dimensional view of existence is a common thread that runs through everything from quantam physics to Zen Buddhism to drug culture, and this has really motivated me to use photography in order to move closer to truth. I think the common assumption that photography offers us realism and truth by virtue of replicating what the eye sees is misguided, and my work is often a reaction to this.
DD: Do you think it’s important to steer away from digital techniques?
Dylan Culhane: I used to think so... Well, I guess I still do since I don't even own a digital camera, but I've moved away from the militant views on the superiority of film that I used to regurgitate. "Film vs. digital" is one of those fireside debates that photographers love to get stuck into, but I don't think it makes sense to regard them in opposition to each other. Inasmuch as one can go on for days about the 'warmth' or 'soul' of film, it's pointless to deny the benefits of digital photography.
In fact, I’m currently completing my M.A on the value of camera-phones in citizen journalism. But, getting back to your question, if you're asking if it's important to me as an artist then the answer is yes, definitely.
DD: How would you describe your work?
Dylan Culhane: Well-considered chaos.
DD: Do you have any up and coming projects?
Dylan Culhane: I’ve been accepted to a residency program in Berlin for the month of July, so I’ll be creating work for two separate exhibitions while I’m there. Aside from that I plan on continuing the ‘Transcendental Wayfaring’ project and ultimately publish this collection as a book. I’m in Europe until August, so I’ll use the time to get lost in the woods and the mountains and the cities and add a global dimension to the project.
DD: What do you love most about what you do and why?
Dylan Culhane: The fact that my professional work adds to my personal understanding of the world is something I’m grateful for. Knowing that what I do is original and entirely on my own terms is also something that gives me pleasure. Every now and then, when I’m contemplating the ripples in a mountain pool, or staring single-mindedly at the geological geometry a cliff-face, or simply driving on the open road looking out for a vista that speaks to me, I get that amazing realization that this is my job; this is how I make my way through this world. Watching people figure out my images once they’re hanging on the wall also gives me immense satisfaction. When I’m asked “What is this?” or “How did you do this?” I consider it the greatest compliment.
Dylan Culhane: Transcendental Wayfaring, EB&Flow Gallery, 77 Leonard Street, London, June 10 - August 26, 2011