On 15 November 2019 The Scottish Society for the History of Photography invited Garry Fabian Miller to give the annual photographer’s lecture at the Hawthornden Lecture Theatre in the Scottish National Gallery.
Garry Fabian Miller has earned world-wide renown as an artist specialising in darkroom photography, exploring the elements of light, time and colour. Fabian Miller exposes coloured light directly onto Cibachrome – a photographic paper that the world is quickly running out of – through substances such as plants, cut paper, glass, water and oil. It became clear during the lecture that the finite amount of this material bears huge impact on Garry’s artistic process: the finish line is always in sight, and outwith his control.
In the lecture Garry talked us through the evolution of his artistic style. He started by discussing his first visit to Scotland, shortly after completing his O-Levels in the early 1970s; It was a solo trip to Shetland with the intention of capturing something of the essence of the place before it was transformed by the oil industry. As he explained it, at that age, he believed that it would be important to document the last scenes of the place as it stood, and his understanding of photography was that it was supposed to be important.
Garry now lives and works from Dartmoor which he spoke about with remarkable authority; the audience was left with the distinct impression that very few people could know an area of land as well as Garry knows Dartmoor. He described how the different trees in different places have their peaks on specific days of the year – and how it is vital to him that he be there. For a long time his work centred around making photographs with nature and the changing seasons. Consequently, if he made a mistake it would be another year before he could correct it.
The way Garry Fabian Miller’s photographs are made has been stripped back and stripped back to essentials: he does not use a camera, and his recent works, those currently displayed at Ingleby, are pure abstraction. The subject is light and colour.
‘Exposures are slow and the image is unique. It is a bit like daguerreotype and some of the earliest forms of photography where the final image is also direct without any intermediary stage. Here the effect is stunning. It is as though colour has been triple-distilled to its purest form.’Duncan Macmillan
For the Summer 2018 edition of Studies in Photography Alex Hamilton the Chair of the society conducted an interview with Garry Fabian Miller in which they discussed elements of this artistic development, his collaborations with Dovecot Studios, the V&A and his long-lasting relationship with Ingleby Gallery.
I first visited Scotland in 1973. I had just completed my O-Levels in Bristol and wanted to become a photographer (which in the early 1970’s meant social documentary photography). I travelled to Aberdeen, and then by boat to Shetland. The oil industry had yet to begin so I decided to visit and work in the tradition of Paul Strand in the Hebrides, documenting life on the island before this great change began. I travelled on foot across the islands, staying in schools or with crofters. With hindsight, that summer showed me another life, away from the city, a way of living which some might consider to be at the edge or margin. I slowly began to realise this was a state of mind and that these places could exist at the centre of thought and offer an integrated life.
I have since returned to Scotland many times, often to islands such as Orkney and Tiree. In 1995 I had a one person show at the Pier in Stromness and they subsequently acquired my work for their collection. In the mid-2000s my time in Tiree led to the series of pictures, Exposure. These were shown at Ingleby Gallery linked to a publication about the island…
Since 2000 I have regularly shown with Florence and Richard at the Ingleby Gallery. We have now been working together for 18 years, a long relationship within the art world. We must have made 5 or 6 one person shows in that time, alongside group exhibitions. Their commitment to my work and the distinct aesthetic and approach that they bring to running a gallery has been very important.Garry Fabian Miller
We would like to thank those of you that attended and enjoyed Garry’s talk. To read more about Garry Fabian Miller purchase a copy of Studies in Photography Summer 2018 here.