Ahead of Ned Pratt’s second solo exhibition at Nicholas Metivier Gallery, we asked him a few questions about his process and latest photographs.
NMG: You have only photographed Newfoundland in your artistic practice. What is it about your home landscape that keeps you engaged?
NP: First and foremost it is just as you say, it is my home. A place I feel comfortable in, confident in and a place where my history makes me feel like I am justified to work in. I am not a tourist.
My photographs are on the surface very simple observations. I believe I can only really do that in a place that I am so familiar with, the more romantic “bigger pictures” don’t appeal to me. What appeals to me are the subtleties within that bigger world.
By working in such familiar landscapes, I have time to watch things change, be built and be torn down, grow and die and grow again.
More simply though, I truly love it.
NMG: You often shoot the same subject several times before releasing a work. What qualities do your photographs need to have, in your mind, before they are deemed successful?
NP: Yes I often return several times to a location. Very rarely does an image come together in one go. I find when you first make an observation, and then go home and think about it, you begin to study the various elements in the image more closely. So when you go back, you are better prepared to deal with the puzzle you are presented with. This is one of my favourite parts of the process, and it doesn’t always pan out. Images disappear, combinations of things change and then it’s gone for good. But when everything comes together it’s an extraordinary feeling.
For the photographs to “come together” they must develop a sense of balance, calm and completion. Completion seems to be an obvious criteria, what I mean is they have to offer complete information. I do not want the viewer to be curious about what they are not seeing, what is outside the picture plane, the information within that shape should be as close to complete as I can make it. And that is an essential part in creating a sense of calm I think. Like a silence.
NMG: You come from a family of artists – who or what inspired you to become a photographer?
NP: My grandfather Jack Pratt, a businessman, loved cameras, he had piles of them, mostly Super 8 movie cameras. I would play with them, I’m not sure he knew… My uncle Philip Pratt was a very good photographer too. He actually gave me his Hasselblad when I was just out of university, my grandfather gave that camera to him. I think Philip gave it to me, I never gave it back – I should probably ask… I still use it. And then of course there was our home where cameras were once again, everywhere. I always loved the gadgetry of them.
Those things made me interested in the camera as a machine, but what made me interested in becoming a photographer was its speed and the fact that it was not painting.
I wanted to be and studied for some time to be a painter. But there are many painters in my family and to be honest I felt the odds of having my own voice were against me. Photography helped me feel like an individual. It still does.
NMG: Many of your works are very painterly and you often reference painters in speaking about your work. Which artists have influenced you the most?
NP: Both my parents have influenced me, obviously. But there are many others, and I feel that’s important. Tim Zuck has had a major influence on how I see things. American-Newfoundland painter, printmaker and photographer Jim Hansen is an extraordinarily undervalued creator. He has affected both me as a person and my work. Also, Mark Rothko, Piet Mondrian, René Magritte and Marc Chagall. That sounds pretentious I know.
It’s not always the work that influences you though. Wonderfully, sometimes it’s just the person.
NMG: There is a focus on colour and light in this latest body of work. Where do you look for colour and is there a certain time of day that you like to shoot?
NP: It’s not so much that I look for colour, its more like I’ve decided not to avoid it. In the past, I have worked in a much more monotone kind of way. I worry about the attachment of colour to sentimentality. In this body of work I am letting that go a bit. It’s been a rough year in my family, and to be honest, working with colour has been sort of joyous.
I don’t really depend on a particular time of day. Morning and evening are always full of dramatic light and therefore shape. Middle of the day is wonderfully flat. All times of day and all types of light have their value in any given situation. If I had to pick one it would certainly be dusk. (I’m not a morning person).
New Lines, 2018, chromogenic print, 33 X 46 1/4 in., edition of 7
NMG: What is your favourite place in Newfoundland?
NP: Cape Pine is hands down my favourite part of the island. It is isolated, beautifully bleak and not for everyone. It can be deafeningly silent or horrifically loud when the wind is there, and the wind is almost always there. The sun can split rocks and the fog can blind you, the rain can be horizontal and sting your face.
Our cabin is well built and secure, a safe refuge always. A great place to watch and listen. And when you are out in the landscape, its simplicity is constantly changing. You just need to wait and look, and that process gives me the most joy.
Tourism, 2018, chromogenic print, 33 X 46 1/4 in., edition of 7