Interview with Jenifer Bunnett

My interest in Photography began as a child; it seeped into me. I recall being fascinated by the negatives processed by my father, Arthur Williamson Photography, hanging up to dry, alongside tiny clothes pegs from which dripped rows of black and white prints. A few years later, my father’s studio was by now in the centre of the Pembrokeshire town I was lucky enough to be brought up in, and I headed there after school to help in the darkroom or in the studio and at weekends with weddings and Press Photography. One day, while driving along the country lanes, my dad pointed out the way the light was catching the hedges. The artist in me woke up!

I later found myself in London, learning colour Photographic printing and lab skills and continued to do this while completing a BA in Photography and Film. Life was busy and I spent far more time working on other photographers’ work than my own. Then my three sons arrived, and time became even more of a luxury. When they were older I picked up a little digital camera, bemused by the revolution the industry had undergone in my absence. What could I do with it now? Dubious at first, I quickly realised the advantages. I could be in control of my images from camera to print with nothing more than a computer and a desk. I began the slow ascent into a brave new world of digital photography and before long my fascination was as great as it had been, observing my father’s work all those years before. Yes, I miss those dripping negatives in a way. But the light; it still catches the hedge tops as enticingly as ever it did.

Interview:

LEMAG: Hi Jenifer. Thank you for finding time to talk to us.

Looking at the images you present on your website are landscape and seascape images. Do you consider yourself strictly landscape photographer or are there other directions not present on your website you like to venture into?

Jenifer Bunnett: Hi! I’m most known for my seascapes, but I enjoy other aspects of photography too.  Because I live in landlocked Surrey, trees and hills are the nearest and most accessible landscape and when they are swathed in beautiful light, I won’t say “no”! But I was brought up in Pembrokeshire, and my life revolved around the sea; it was inevitable that I would gravitate back towards that and nowadays it’s where I’m happiest, and most at ease. I anticipate that I will spend more and more time at the sea and perhaps move closer to it, enabling me to fall out of bed and onto the sand! That would be bliss. I see my work becoming less ‘landscapey’ and more reactive to a mood, sense or emotion.

LEMAG: Tell us how your adventure with photography started please.

Jenifer Bunnett: My father was a photographer. He introduced me to black and white processing and printing when I was very young and by the time I was 13 or 14 I was pretty competent at it, and earned extra pocket money printing wedding photographs for the newspaper etc. I loved to sketch and paint, and thought that would be my future. So when my Dad wasn’t bogged down by commercial assignments, we used to career around the Pembrokeshire lanes, and I would paint while he took his masterful landscape images.  Sometimes I would pick up one of his cameras and have a go, and although I can’t say I became hooked, I was certainly sowing a seed. Printing my own images was more satisfying than wedding ones, and Dad was a rigorous teacher! If it was below par, he’d say, “Good, but why don’t you try it on, say, grade 4”. The “hardness” of the paper was graded in numbers, and affected contrast in the printing. I’d try again and eventually he might say, “Ah, now that it is a picture”. I gradually helped more and more with the commercial side of things, weddings, portraits and industrial shoots and while I still wasn’t smitten with photography, it had become something I just did. However I carried on along my planned art path, and spent a happy year doing a Foundation Course in Art and Design. Oddly enough I loved the photographic element of this but the penny still hadn’t dropped that it is what I should do. I  moved to London and needed money so considered that as I could print black and white, I may as well learn colour and found a job as a trainee colour printer. Once I became proficient at that, I thought I may as well do a degree in Photography,  since I already knew so many aspects of it! I continued printing during weekends, to feed myself. After my degree, I simply carried on with it, since the job was there and I had developed a good reputation as a colour printer. Marriage and kids took over my life for a while, and then I started to turn my attention to art again, finally realising that it was time to be the photographer I’d ignored for so long. But the new digital age had swept aside everything I knew, so I began from scratch really; it felt in many ways completely new. My Dad was thrilled, and intrigued by the digital developments. I have sadly lost him now, but he saw my new journey well underway and had a copy of the IGPOTY book with my first significant competition success. My brothers and I are beginning to sort through his vast cache of negatives, in the hope of bringing his incredible legacy of work back to life.

LEMAG: You are also a member of ‘Parhelion photographers’ – tell us a bit about the group please.

Jenifer Bunnett: Our group Parhelion evolved, really, as these things do. Photography is by nature a lonely activity and working as a group provides opportunities to get several photography brains together, exchange ideas, and inspire and encourage each other. We are all very busy people, and finding time together can be a challenge, but when we achieve it, the camaraderie of six individuals, with one common theme, is exciting and intoxicating. We can trample for miles through muddy fields and over slippery rocks with not a hint of complaint from any of us! One doesn’t get that in a family outing, or one with non-photographers. We can get ridiculously excited about a receding line of pylons and each understands why. Or we might have a lively discussion about a topical aspect of photography, or try and help with a members’ photography conundrum.  Last year, we created our first Ebook, and the process of curating it was variously thoughtful, hilarious and in the end, intensely satisfying. We currently have a calendar for sale, featuring a couple of works each, and next year plan bigger things; our first exhibition will be held at The Oxmarket Centre of Arts in Chichester beginning in late April. Each of us has his or her very personal style and we think this will be an opportunity to share what we as a group have achieved, and provide us with inspiration for the future.

LEMAG: All the images you present to the world are long exposure. How did you get into this kind of photograph and why you specifically show only this kind of work?

Jenifer Bunnett: There are some that are not long exposures, and in fact, one that you have selected to feature here has a shutter speed of 1/1600sec. See if you can spot which one! But you are right, they mostly do have a fairly slow shutter speed, and the fact that my arty background influences my work, is possibly why it’s difficult to tell which is which. I do what is necessary to create that painterly feel,  and choose the shutter speed accordingly. Invariably that will be a slowish one.

LEMAG: We all have our masters and favourite photographers who influenced us. Who are yours?

Jenifer Bunnett: There really are so many, it will be difficult to narrow them down. My father of course was a huge influence, and his spectacular sailing images and windswept trees, certainly made me aware of the power of photography; when I later had to write an essay about whether photography is an art or a science, I had no doubt at all that can be, very much, art. In the late 70s my father exhibited with Fay Godwin, whose work intrigued me. It was gentle, yet desolate. I recall standing in the exhibition, eyes moving from Dad’s powerful image of a yacht in full sail, coursing through the windy water, filling the frame, and Fay’s lonely bridge, quietly recalling lives who had traversed it. It was rather like my first philosophy lesson!  My parents took me to a William Turner exhibition, when I was really quite young, and that too had a profound effect on me. I was smitten. They had to drag me away in the end, we were there for hours! I had pored over his paintings many a time in books, but here in their largesse, it was a different matter. Light and water coursing about the canvas. That sense of emotion in a picture has never left me. I was also very taken with Don McCullin’s war Photography; so heartbreakingly moving, and there for perusal, among many others, on my Dad’s bookshelves whenever I wanted. And Julia Margaret Cameron’s life story and extraordinary work is a great resource for a woman counteracting the inevitable negativity we can be presented with. Influence cannot be measured, we are surrounded by it. A lovely cacophony of artistic pleasure. I’m sure we subliminally syphon off what affects us most deeply so that it unconsciously works its way into our own works.

LEMAG: The list of exhibitions you took part in is not a short one. Have exhibiting, seeing your own work exposed to the eye and mercy of perhaps random viewers had any influence on how you perceive your own work? Or do you belong to those artists who although happy to exhibit strive to be shielded from any opinion on their work.

Jenifer Bunnett: Exhibiting concentrates the mind. It makes me consider my work carefully, how it is evolving and developing, and can give me ideas as to where to go next. I have had very interesting conversations with people about my work during exhibitions. Many people are surprised that photography can be so creative…it is a revelation to them! They are intrigued by what it takes to get one good image; the background work that goes into getting that image and the obsession with weather forecasts, tides, clouds and the direction of the sunrise. It is great when people who previously never thought of photography as an art, have become converts! Of course one hears negative opinions too, but it’s all part of life’s melting pot. Everything gets thrown in, you stir it around a bit, skim off the froth then ladle out the riches.

LEMAG: Do you print your images yourself?

Jenifer Bunnett: Printing has become the new black, that’s for sure! But I have spent a large part of my life printing, albeit the old fashioned way. I hear all the excitement from photographers learning it for the first time and don’t feel compelled to join them. I have a brilliant printer, an individual, not a big company, who has been printing since the old days, too. He knows his papers, and their history,  and is exceptionally good at it.  However, I do think it would be fun to experiment again, and once my (very complicated) life settles down again, I might look into it, as well as possibly setting up another old fashioned darkroom and going full circle back to my nine year old self.

LEMAG: Unlike many LE photographers, you seem to keep your work to a few seconds long exposures only. Why is that and have you ever tried your hand at exposure running into several or more minutes?

Jenifer Bunnett: Yes, I have used my 10 stopper from time to time! I find very long exposures can erase the life from an image. Some people use the effect beautifully to produce a feeling of absolute serenity, but I’m looking for a sense of the movement; where the water came from and where it’s off to.  There is more energy in that. However, I don’t make hard and fast rules for myself and I will do whatever I think is necessary to achieve the mood I am looking to convey.

LEMAG: You also present your images in colour rather than monochrome. Any particular reason for such choice?

Jenifer Bunnett: I have become more and more critical of my own work and am wary of pretensions. Some people perceive black and white work as more “arty”.  I simply do what feels right,  and my palette, generally, is fairly limited anyway. I have had black and white work on my website, but currently it does not suit me; it’s never ruled out of course, and I will do what I think suits a particular image.

LEMAG: Some of your images, like your ‘Allusions’ series, although clearly still being landscape, take the viewer into the realm of abstract imagery. Is it for you a natural extension of slow movement or is it something you perceive as entirely different part of your work?

Jenifer Bunnett: I don’t think I ever decide to just stick with one technique. The Allusions series is very much the old painter in me surfacing again. My life has recently been very challenging, and I will say that these images are generally made in the woods, when I have gone out to clear my head. ICM and multiple exposure techniques have become much easier to do and as such, very popular, of late. The first time I tried to do it was at college, and you had to work out all the exposures so that you didn’t get a bright white nothing at the end of it. Maths not being my strong point, I struggled a bit! Now it’s so popular, I see a similar attitude toward it as in black and white photography; if it’s ICM, therefore it’s art! So I am very cautious with mine; I love the painterly feel one can generate, but I do still require good light, good composition, a sense of emotion, and a sense of purpose. The reaction to them is mixed; some people love them and will talk about them most animatedly, while others, perplexed, move on! It’s rather a personal project really, and I have only shared a very few. It’s an ongoing, considered process, that one.

LEMAG: Your images are full of light and even those like your ‘Gyre’, where there is a fair amount of shadow, still keep the viewer’s eye on the light. Has this to do with your personality or life experience?

Jenifer Bunnett: Hmm.  It’s very easy to spill out a pile of emotional dialogue about what one has gone through and why it’s shaped one’s art. And I was an art student long enough to see that you only had to attach a whole lot of pretentious sentences to a piece, to get a high mark!  I see people doing that today; it can sound ridiculous. Much of my past life was spent working for aspects of the advertising world and I learned a lot about how one is subliminally affected by almost everything one feels, smells, hears and sees. So my images are bound to reflect my personality and life experience. I hope that they do because they are made out of me. But I don’t offload the minutiae of my experiences to support an image.  I’m aware of what the light is doing everywhere I go, every waking moment, whether I’m making images or not; it’s as much a part of life as breathing.

LEMAG: What is your personal best out of all your images and why?

Jenifer Bunnett: Funnily enough, it’s the one that has recently been noticed, “Confluence”. I loved that shoot; I was totally engrossed. When I uploaded my images, I was hard pressed to choose which one to process; a rare and very nice problem to have. It had in it all I wanted, which was very little. Its subtlety meant that I had no idea what others would make of it and I left it quietly on my website and didn’t share it elsewhere. Then ‘On Landscape’ Magazine wrote and asked if they could publish it, because someone had written about it for a feature in their magazine. I was surprised, since it was such a quiet image, in all senses of the word. Alison Taylor had written a very perceptive piece about the image and I realised I was conveying what I wanted, with nothing but sea and sky. In the meantime I had entered the image into the LPOTY competition and although I knew at the time that it had been shortlisted, I have subsequently discovered that is was Highly Commended. Conveying emotion in an image without people in it, and with, in fact, very little in it, is quite powerful and resonates with my life at the moment.  I so wish I could show it to my Dad!                                                   

LEMAG: Given a chance, what kind of project would you be happiest to execute?

Jenifer Bunnett: For the longest time, I’ve been considering ways to combine my photography with the fine art that dominated my life many years ago; I’d like them to converge, somehow. As kids, we used to spend a couple of idyllic weeks a year staying with close friends of the family, The Lowes, in the Brecon Valleys. Ron Lowe was a brilliant artist (sadly he died way too young), and I was allowed into his studio to observe, and have a go at some of his techniques. One has stayed with me all these years, and I’m sure I can do something with it. I cautiously feel on the verge of a better period in my life; maybe I will make that happen.

LEMAG: Thank you very much Jenifer for finding time to talk to us.

Jenifer Bunnett: Thank you, and best of luck with your new magazine venture.

Drifting
Confluence
Sculpted Edge