An Interview with Rich Stapleton, Photographer, at Connolly, London
Rich Stapleton, photographer and co-founder of Cereal magazine, lives and works in Bath. His subject matter focuses on travel and lifestyle and his signature style has been described as having a sense of ‘calm and quiet elegance.’ Known for his clean, sharp aesthetic, Rich is always travelling. Be it Palm Springs, Italy or Japan, he favours natural light and chronicles his discoveries both digitally and on film.
Clients have included Mulberry, Mr Porter and Bottega Veneta. Rich’s recent body of work, PALM, was exhibited at Phillips and the verdurous Botany series, which followed, was shown by Isabel Ettedgui at Connolly. The sculptural quality of his asparagus ferns and olive leaves captured my imagination. Rich craves natural beauty and his deepening relationship with nature manifests itself across his ouevre.
Being dexterous as he is elegant and precise it’s unsurprising that Rich’s influences include talented creatives such as John Pawson, Agnes Martin and Mies van der Rohe. He is also inspired by mid-century modern design and classical elements of Italian culture, which has led him to a palazzo in Florence for the esteemed Numeroventi residency, where he has spent the last few weeks. Follow his journey on @rvstapleton.
How would you define beauty in 140 characters or less?
Something which creates a certain positive reception, or emotional response, which stays with you.
I think it’s different for everyone, and very personal.
Do you prefer shooting digitally or on film?
I like both very much, and I often use them alongside each other. There is a romance to film. The process is creatively enhancing because it requires you to spend more time with the subject and more time considering each frame. It’s a much slower method of producing an image and there’s a joy in waiting to find out what the film will reveal. It’s like painting with your eyes closed. On the other hand, I don’t think I could live without digital. I shoot digitally when it’s important to capture something in its entirety.
Technology is getting so good that we are fast approaching the stage where digital cameras can capture the same depth and quality as film, yet with the ability to adjust the image and translate what you see with greater accuracy. With film there’s always the possibility that the results will be disappointing, but the magic is that they can also be better than anticipated. Film can register a texture or a feeling you didn’t even know was there. While digital photography allows you to capture exactly what you see, film can convey something more undefined; an essence, a mood or a feeling.
Tell us about the spaces within which you live and work.
The permanent spaces where I live and work are all in Bath, in the UK. I work between a small studio space and the Cereal office, and I live in an old Grade I listed Georgian property. Bath’s Georgian heritage and the softly coloured sandstone buildings have a calming effect on me, which profoundly affects the way I work. Having a home within that environment, separate from work, is very important to me, but I often work in other spaces around the world – at the moment I’m in a studio at Numeroventi, an artists’ residence in an old palazzo in the centre of Florence. When I’m surrounded by a different environment and culture I find my mind operates differently, and I produce different work.
Do you have a routine or rituals as you work?
I like to work in the morning, and that sets the routine for me in terms of photography. I like to work with the increasing levels of light. It’s like beginning in the unknown, when the light is soft, and an idea still has the possibility to grow. This started when I was shooting landscapes frequently and I would always try to capture the sunrise. I love the quality of that time of day, when there are no people around and a place is just coming to life. Doing that for so long seems to have had an impact on my routine: when I’m working I like to get up early, have a small coffee, take it slowly and find a rhythm. Beyond that, what I do each day varies depending on where I am. As I’m rarely in one place for more than two weeks it’s hard to have a set routine, and that’s something I do hope to achieve later in life.
How would you describe the colour palette of your photographs?
I love to shoot in black and white, but the interesting thing about black and white photography is that to an extent, the eye will register colour based on form and tone. All colours render in monochrome slightly differently and I think that consequently colour does have an impact on black and white photography. When I’m shooting in black and white I always try to make sure the scene is as I would want it to be in colour. I favour soft, muted and usually warmer tones, like greys and beiges. Much of this is to do with the subject matter I’m drawn to: landscapes, interiors, still lives and even people that have a certain softness. The early morning light I’m so fond of also informs my use of colour, and the warm, gentle colours of the sky at sunrise reflect the palette I enjoy working with very well.
How would you define your personal aesthetic?
Internally, it feels like it’s always shifting, although to the outside world it might not seem that way. I love things that look and feel classic, but I’m also drawn to modernity. In some ways these qualities are antithetical, but where they meet, or where something timeless has been reinterpreted for a modern audience, is what I’m really interested in. I also have a deep love for the classical elements of Italian culture, and together with mid-century modern design, they are a good representation of my personal aesthetic.
Has social media had a positive impact on your work?
Yes, and no. Social media, by nature, is a very fleeting means of communication and I’m not sure about the lasting value these images have. But at the same time, it forces me to think about what I’m sharing. In the past, that might have only have been a consideration for an artist when putting on a show, but on social media platforms I interact with an audience on a daily basis, therefore everything I share has to be considered. As a result, I am constantly re-evaluating my work, and so my aesthetic evolves much more rapidly. At the same time, social media can back you into a corner creatively, because it can encourage editing or framing images in a way that will work well for a particular platform. This isn’t necessarily the best work in a wider context.
There are so many ways to produce an image, and if you fall into a formulaic way of working you can become less open to those possibilities. From another perspective, these platforms are socially powerful tools. I’ve met and worked with incredibly interesting people thanks to social media. Overall I see it as a positive thing, providing it’s seen for what it is, a small part of the whole, especially when it comes to creativity.
What is your favourite art gallery in London?
One of my favourites is Lisson gallery in Marylebone. I’ve had some wonderful experiences there, and I love the artists they show. There is also a small photography gallery in Marylebone, Atlas, which I really appreciate. I actually rarely go inside as it is often closed when I pass, but I always stop to admire their beautiful collection of photography through the window.
Which of your travels has had the greatest impact on your work?
I was really inspired by the presentation of artwork on Naoshima Island when I visited Japan. There might be a handful of people allowed into a space at once, and in some spaces they ask visitors to remove their shoes, and not to take any photographs. This isn’t the curators being overbearing; rather, they have prepared the environment with such care that they want to ensure their visitors experience it fully. The significance for me as a photographer was to make me consider that I don’t have to capture everything.
There was a time when I would photograph anything that remotely peaked my interest, but that’s perhaps the worst way to experience a place, because you don’t truly experience anything. At Naoshima, I learned that what I choose not to capture is just as important. Now I like to let the subject matter speak and try to determine the right moment to take the photograph. When I shot Palm, a series depicting Palm Springs in California, I only took 6 rolls of film with me. The resulting images became my first show as well as my first book, and I think they turned out the way they did because I had deliberately limited the number of shots I was able to take.
What do you wish every child were taught?
I’m not sure that there is one rule that we should apply to every child, and I don’t think a strict curriculum is necessarily the answer. I think children could be taught to value creativity, but also to appreciate relaxation and time spent with family and friends. I think we could pay more attention to teaching them the smaller things that affect our interactions with others, which can make life much easier if they are taught early on.
How do you balance photography with being the creative director of Cereal?
In many ways they are intertwined. My love of photography was one of the things that brought Rosa and myself together when we were starting the magazine. I see Cereal as an element within the greater whole of photography; they’re not at opposite ends of the spectrum. My photography practice has grown as Cereal has evolved and, in a similar way to social media, putting out a magazine twice a year means reconsidering the content from scratch every time. It’s a nice balance to have: Cereal and my personal work influence and improve one another.
How has your relationship with nature evolved?
It used to be more simplistic; nature was a place I would escape to occasionally. Now I seek it out actively and I crave the natural beauty of the world. Through finding interesting places to photograph, my relationship with nature has become more direct, less of an escape or a side note to my life and more integrated. It’s a relationship that seems to keep deepening as I grow as a photographer.
Is there a photograph or photographer who inspires you?
I recently started looking at the work of Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri. While his images are beautiful, they are not necessarily the type of work I am looking to produce; however, it’s his process that I find most interesting. He would write an essay to accompany each body of work, trying to articulate his creative intentions. Even without referring to the photographs themselves, the essays communicate the nature of the work very powerfully. It inspired me in a new way, through words and not images, to be more considered in my own practice and to really evaluate the intention behind each shot and what I want it to show.
How important is the presentation of your work?
It’s extremely important. In many ways the presentation is as important as the work itself – and even is the work. I don’t separate the two. If you were to present the same photograph in two different ways, the viewer’s perception and feelings when he or she saw it would also be completely different in each case. The work is not separate from its environment either. The lighting, the colour of the wall, and the way the viewer sees the space all affect his or her response, so I always try to consider those things. The way artwork is presented should enhance what it is trying to convey.
What is your greatest indulgence in life?
My greatest indulgence tends to be food. At the moment it’s probably pasta, because I’m in Italy. Today I was by the coast and had spaghetti alle vongole for lunch, and back in the city for dinner I had spaghetti al Ragu. Having spaghetti twice in one day feels like a real indulgence. When I’m at home it’s pizza, which is a nostalgic thing. I cherish a short period of time I spent in Naples when I was growing up. Going there at the age of 16 my experience of food was still very limited and I tried many dishes and ingredients for the first time there. The taste of Neapolitan pizza is still one of the most vivid memories I have from that time.
Is there a subject or place you are yet to photograph?
Yes, there are so many! The one I keep coming back to is Antarctica, which I’ve wanted to photograph for a long time. It’s the ultimate expression of nature, and one of the few truly remote places left on the planet. Its inaccessibility is part of its appeal: it’s an important place of great interest, and getting there would be a worthwhile journey. I’ve always been drawn by the glaciers and the vast plateaus of ice and water. It’s both a place I’d love to visit and a subject I’d love to shoot.
Do you love what you do? If so, why?
I do love what I do. For the most part it allows me to be the one to make decisions and determine my own direction. There’s a pressure and a freedom that comes with that. I also love to see both the process and finished result first hand. That can apply to a photograph, to a magazine, or to a show. The effort that these things demand results in something final, a marker, which, once completed, allows you to appreciate what’s been achieved and then move on. With photographs in particular, once something is captured it can never be captured in the same way again.
Find out more www.richstapleton.com.
Written by Flora Alexandra Ogilvy, Founder of Arteviste