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No Sleep for the Dreamers

by Samora Chapman / 20.04.2012

In a time of rampant fear mongering, when so many artists feel the need to employ some sort of shock value to make an impact in this flooded information age, it’s refreshing to stumble upon the work of South African photographer, Andrew McGibbon. Andrew’s photographs have a compelling dream-like and ethereal nature focussed on light-hearted subject matter. Compositions of sleepy young girls falling through the air against a backdrop of simple scenes of middle-class mediocrity… a shopping mall, a take-away joint and a petrol station.

he has two photos showing at an exhibition called In Family Unity, which is travelling to 100 cities across Europe; he is the South African representative for the Berlin-based agency Periscope-Creative and is currently working on their Olympic Champions project; and he is
We caught up with Andrew to find out more about the ‘dreamy-girl’ images and how he balances high profile commercial photography with artistic exploration.

Andrew McGibbon: I originally wanted to have the girls falling through the air against a setting of a beautiful natural landscape, but because I had lit the subjects from all sides, the pics turned out looking bizarre when placed in a landscape with a single light source. So I just had to let the idea evolve… I googled a whole lot of images and when I transposed the floating girl into a shopping isle, it just worked. The lighting and the colours and everything. So I went and emulated the pic at my local Pick ’n Pay. And that’s how I came up with the final product.

Andrew McGibbon

Mahala: The images are part of a personal project of his called Dreamscape. Like most of your work, the Dreamscape images are primarily concerned with beauty, colour and aesthetic rather than social commentary or grappling with politically charged subject matter. Is it escapism? What of the concept behind the work?

I never used to focus on the concepts behind my work, but I am getting more and more into that element. I want my work to stand alone in its aesthetic. And I don’t mean that I just want to make images that have a purely aesthetic quality and no meaning. I want the aesthetic to make you feel something without focussing on the meaning. The literal meaning of aesthetic is to evoke a feeling.

The images are quite abstract and surreal, how did the idea originate?

I have always suffered from insomnia and when I do sleep I dream a lot. It interests me… what is dreaming? Why do we dream? And what influences our dreams? I have had falling dreams many times and thought it would be exciting to explore this idea. I chose young kids because children’s imaginations and their waking lives are still very close to their dreams. The older you get the more your waking life and imagination becomes grey and your dreams seem more bizarre and distant. In that, I guess I’m saying we should all be dreaming more.

Andrew McGibbon

The Dreamscape pics must have been technically challenging to create. What was the most difficult part of putting these images together?

The Dreamscape project is an exercise in photo compositing. The hardest part of compositing is cutting out hair, so I wanted to challenge myself and create composites with long flowing hair.

You landed a major commission to emulate the Dreamscape series for the fashionable and innovative store, The Space.

It shows the importance of shooting personal, artistic projects.

Andrew McGibbon

Your first solo exhibition All The Wild Horses showed at Fat Tuesday gallery last month. Some might argue that you have a bourgeois choice of subjects. Are you interested in politics at all? And do you feel as an artist, any responsibility to provide social commentary?

No, I’m not into politics at all… but I am passionate about social justice. I do a lot of pro-bono work for NGOs and I spent some time in Zimbabwe volunteering, doing social work. I’ve also initiated something called the Keyhole Garden Project in Embo [a township near Hillcrest]. I’ve spent a lot of time in Embo and I have friends there, so I’m close to the people and their issues.

You’re kind of stuck between being a commercial photographer and an artist, but you still manage to consistently churn out personal creative projects, how do you maintain that balance between artistic freedom and high profile corporate work?

I was working for this art director who was a bit of a Nazi. She gave me this brief for a photograph she wanted and she expected a perfect rendition of her idea… not a detail out of place. And I failed. I couldn’t do it. After that job I went onto my website and I changed the ‘about me’ page. I wrote: If you over-plan a photograph or try to achieve an exact image you have in your mind, you remove the space for magic and mystery.

Andrew McGibbon

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