Alexander Mourant on creating work in unfamiliar surroundings

Meet one of our featured photographers, Alexander Mourant, whose work challenges the friction between our interior and exterior worlds

Raised on the Channel Island of Jersey, Alexander Mourant has always been influenced by his surroundings, and seeks out projects far from home. Drawing inspiration from the notion of pilgrimage to and from sites, he attempts to exemplify the connection between experience and place. Mourant’s early project, Aurelian, explores humid and tropical environments, creating visual metaphors for artificial spaces. Born from this project, his more recent Aomori was conceived. Meaning ‘blue forest’ in Japanese, the work synthesises the forest, and the nature of the colour blue. Finding meaning in not only the image, but also the process, Alexander uses stained glass from church windows to introduce spiritual significance, and to explore the otherworldly landscape.

Since graduating from Falmouth University in 2017, Alexander has continued his study of photography at the Royal College of Art. He has been featured in several publications including British Journal of Photography, and has been the recipient of a number awards, including the Free Range Photography Award and the Metro Imaging Award.

Dissipate I © Alexander Mourant, 2017

How did you get into photography and how has your background influenced your approach?

My family have lived and farmed in Jersey for generations, so a relationship to landscape, space and experience is embedded in my psychology. My interest in photography emerged naturally, as a reference point for ceramic sculpture. I wanted to pursue its practice and concepts further, which led me to study photography at university.

Can you tell me about your key concerns as a photographer?

I am drawn to the friction between our interior and exterior worlds, as well as photography’s power to represent existential ideas. I am most concerned with portraying photography as an active medium.

What was the starting point for your project Aomori?

Previously, through Aurelian, I employed atmospheric conditions, and artificial spaces as a metaphor for elsewhere. These environments are used to probe the nature of experience, as an envisioned idea where time is not absolute, but continuously contained and all encompassing.

I became interested in how we invest ourselves in the medium of photography, with our hearts and minds. I wanted to see if I could expand the possibility of the photograph by giving it a body, which we could experience from the image itself. Through Aomori, I attempted to directly expand these metaphorical territories. Seeking a location of infinite scale and depth to help activate my photographs, and continuing along the vein of organics and humidity, I became interested in exploring the philosophy of the forest.

In what manner did shooting away from your home environment change how you approached creating the work?

The way I create work has changed forever by shooting in Africa. By experiencing different environments, cultures and ideas, I strengthened my natural curiosity. Before Africa, I viewed photography merely as an aesthetic document. Now, photography has become a way of questioning and creating unforeseen connections.

Untitled VI © Alexander Mourant, 2017

Would you say it’s constructive to shoot away from your immediate surroundings?

Yes, shooting away from home is one of the most constructive things an artist could ever do. I actually find it incredibly difficult to shoot something of interest at home. However, I do not disregard artists who make work through the process of meditating on the concept of home. That subject can be intensely stimulating, but my curiosity is driven by what I do not understand. Perhaps your language will come from home, or further afield. Without the experience of creating in unfamiliar surroundings, how can you know?

Who/what has influenced you in your approach?

Artistically, my influence is varied, but my process finds its roots in the 1960s land art movement. I am fascinated by the material and psychological effects of organics, climateand geography. When I reflect on my projects Aomori and Aurelian, I see a key idea resonating, which I had otherwise overlooked; writer Michael Kimmelman described visiting land art as “The Art Of Pilgrimage”. To visit is to invest months of planning, submit applications and await approval, followed by long car journeys into the remote desert or jungle. This idea of a pilgrimage to a site — to a place existing on a blurred line between imagination and reality — becomes very relevant when I analyse my own work. Each project, whether home or away, comes through a pilgrimage to a site which I imbue with metaphor. It is a space or a constructed world in which I can create meaning, explore concepts and understand photography.

Do you have any advice for photographers who are thinking about making work out of their familiar surroundings?

When I look at someone’s work, I need to not only experience the idea presented by them, but I need to experience them. A photograph is not just a document of the place, but of the author. For me, you are the most interesting variable within the photograph. You need to show confidence that your interests are important. Furthermore, you need to learn how successful artists have approached your subject; learn how they have interpreted, adapted and disseminated their familiar to someone unfamiliar.

What are your plans moving forwards?

Later this year, I will commence studies at the Royal College of Art. I am also looking forward to my solo exhibition with Seen Fifteen at Unseen Amsterdam. 

Enter OpenWalls, your invitation to Arles.

By Heloise Winstone