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Clique speaks with Rohan Thomson about his personal series, The Makers

Tell us about your series The Makers. What is it about, and what is the context in these images?

The Makers is a series of photographs I made in collaboration with local artists and craftspeople. The images capture talented people in their working environments and studios. I chose to present each subject in two individual images, one against a stark black backdrop, and another showing their spaces and work.

Why shoot black and white? Is it a preference to shoot in black and white for your personal projects?

I photographed this series using a 1950s Polaroid Land Camera using (now discontinued) black and white, pull apart, instant film. The Polaroid prints are small (about eight centimetres by 11 centimetres) and the wet-chemical process brings a beautiful analogue feel, unlike any modern digital printing. The small size forces an intimate viewing experience without the grandeur and immediacy we are accustomed to. However, the real beauty of this process is the honesty and integrity it provides. In a modern photographic process there are many opportunities for human and digital manipulation after the image has been captured. Presenting the original Polaroid prints shows the images exactly as they were projected into the camera at the moment it was captured.

Why The Makers ... is it because they represent a dying art, hand-on crafts? A past that we are losing touch with?

I want to tell a story of passion and dedication. I am used to producing photographs with a few hours from concept to delivery and I admire the time spent on some work. I photographed Itzell Tazzyman working on a blown and carved glass bowl. She has been working on the piece since 2009 and estimates an astonishing 3000 hours have been spent in the workshop. Each step of the process is critical and a small error could result in a crack or breakage. This process is not just about the final product, it is about the journey, the mastering of technique, and the following projects she undertakes.

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Photographically, what approach do you take to your personal work and does it differ from the approach you take in your work with Fairfax?

The freedom from editorial direction, deadlines, and aesthetics provides a few different opportunities. Like any Fairfax assignment, I treat every project differently. In particular the freedom from direct purpose and deadline allows me to pursue ideas without any pressure to produce results. Because I photographed this series using discontinued Polaroid film, I needed to preserve my shots. Digitally I am used to shooting many frames to produce a single image. In this case, I shot two to three frames to capture the two images I needed with each subject. This approach allowed me to forgive imperfections which I would usually seek to cull in the editing process.

How did you go about setting up these images?

I treated each artist in the same way. We discussed my intent for the project and the things they were working on in their own practice. Photographing them engrossed in their work allowed me to capture them very naturally and without the anxiety of a particular moment or expression. In contrast, I then photographed them isolated from their work/space and engaged with both myself and the camera. These images give a different insight into the personalities and characters.

Does this work have a message? If so, what is it?

The Makers is about the creative process. It is about the creation of both the tangible and intangible, the invention, and the offering that artists and craftspeople provide.

The Makers will be exhibited at The Photography Room gallery in Canberra from 24 March until 30 April.