Brad Walls is that rare type of artist who can convey deep meaning without losing the stunning energy conveyed in his sharp, astute, complex compositions. His new photography series, Detached, In Harmony, marks a fascinating departure from his previous work in its engagement with the ecosystem of the pandemic, another show of artistic daring compounded with his usage of drone photography to capture sleek aerial shots. Dip into Walls’ cool, refreshing photos as we discuss the social and artistic geometry of his new work.
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You’ve just been exhibiting in New York again in public galleries - finally open, at last! Over the course of the pandemic, your work has garnered significant attention on social media; how has it been presenting your work in person once more, now we have the means to do so again?
My work has been shown in New York and London at various art fairs. It’s fantastic to see. I wish I was able to visit the current exhibitions in person, but unfortunately Australia, where I’m based, has very strict rules on leaving. It will ease up soon [1 November], so hopefully I can see it in person. Nevertheless, it’s been nice to see some drone work in galleries!
I’d like to talk a bit about your new series, Detached, In Harmony, a collection which retains your signature artistic flavour but also deviates from your past photography in some ways too, particularly Pools From Above or In Motion, for example. How would you describe this new series in relation to your personal portfolio, is it detached or, dare I say, in harmony with it?
Detached, in Harmony was my attempt at producing a conceptual fine art series solely with a drone. Conceptual photography is mostly shot on handheld cameras, but I wanted to showcase the value of an alternate viewpoint to convey a meaningful story - perfect for the pandemic, I believe. In terms of relating it to my other works, it’s in line with my aesthetic but it has a deeper story, which is entirely new for my work.
The stasis of the pandemic has been a pervading influence for us all, and you’ve said it directly affected the production and inspiration of Detached, In Harmony. How does your work engage with wider social or political environments generally, or is this entirely a new (as it has been for us all!) artistic approach for you?
As mentioned above, this was my first attempt at conceptual work. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of creating 10 to 20 images with a consistent theme. Having said that, I am very wary of where I want my work to go. I often use my creative outlet to remove myself from the chaos happening in society, whether it’s political or societal. We live in a world of over information currently, so my tactics aren’t avoidance, it’s tactically putting my mind where it’s most happy.
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Do you think photography as a creative medium can be a unifying principle or create a kind of harmony for people within these detached times?
Yes, I believe any type of outlet for people can be harmonious. There’s no doubt that some people have shined and some have struggled. For me, the former. I’ve had plenty of time to really test my abilities as an artist.
You’ve described being inspired by some artists and photographers of the 1930s and '40s, particularly Clifford Coffin and Olive Cotton. What appeals to you about the style of these photographers? Does the period they worked in speak to ours today?
The depression era photographers of the '30s and '40s have had an influence on me creatively. Ultimately I believe whenever there is a downturn, there’s a unique impetus for people to push barriers. I am not sure if it is socially proven, however it is something I’ve noticed. We are likely to see some great work coming out of this most recent covid pandemic for the aforementioned as well. In regards to these photographers individually, Coffin was a wild thought provoker who tested fashion photography and took composition to fashion. Cotton’s shadow work is divine. I wouldn’t necessarily push my work into the black and white space, however it was his use of black and white that pushed his shadow play to the forefront of his compositions.
The compositions of your photographs are meticulous, tight, and embody a stunning exactitude and handling of form – describe for us the processes you undertake to achieve this.
My work is very process driven from conception to execution. But this has not always been the way, however, given my work is now more fine art whereby the concept drives the majority of the project, it has to be that way. I usually begin with a very high level concept and start pinning ideas on a Pinterest board. Then I take that idea and begin adding additional pins to supplement the original idea. By this stage I start drawing out compositions on my iPad, usually 20 to 25 ideas focusing on positioning of subjects and the set. Then comes the fun part - shooting! I leave room in the shoot to free associate.
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How did you come to settle on aerial photography as an artistic approach? What do you think it achieves that other methods of photography can’t?
I’m always looking for a unique approach to anything. I enjoy novelty. Pushing photography into new and exciting angles has been the appeal from day one. Drones have allowed me to do that.
You’ve been asked at length about the machinations of form, balance, perspective, and composition within your photography. I wonder if I could ask you about how you like to employ colour? Your managing of it is sensational, visually.
I enjoyed learning about the basics of colour theory, and after a while you start thinking in terms of complimentary, supplementary etc. I have a very loose rule I apply to working with colours: 70/20/10. 70% of the colour is contributed by a base, for example sand or water. 20% is a secondary colour most likely in the form of the human skin, or the costumes, and finally the 10% is the pop, often used to grab attention but not to overpower: Detached, in Harmony employs the pop with the sunhats.
I’m interested in a quote you’ve cited before, from a book called The Systems View of Life by Fritjaf Capra; “From the systems point of view, the understanding of life begins with the understanding of patterns.” How do you understand patterns, personally or creatively?
Patterns have always intrigued me. Understanding patterns is complex and ever thought provoking. When it comes to applying it through art, that is where, to me, it becomes simpler. In particular, mathematical patterns that look at proportions, for example, Fibonacci, really intrigued me. Applying these patterns to the subjects provided such harmony and allowed the rudimentary maths to be applied artistically. It’s art versus science.
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Sport is a decided motif for you in terms of subject matter; Courts, Track, and Water Geomaids all examine the human body within a sporting context. What engages you within this specific material?
Much of the art community will turn a blind eye towards sport. Perhaps it’s somewhat less imaginative to other forms, or it doesn’t fit into any idealistic movements. I’ve always strived to highlight the artistry of the sport in an imaginary way. It’s disciplined, formulaic and a perfectionist playground. Additionally the human body is a fascinating subject and I love bringing a different perspective to the table.
Nostalgia, escapism, or simply the impulse to leap through the photograph into a serene pool of tantalisingly cerulean water have all been described as particular evocations of your work. What would you like the viewer to experience when viewing your photography, and why?
This is a funny one as I never know how to answer the question of “How do you want the viewer to feel”, as it’s never in my train of thought when I’m working. I understand the importance of the question, however it’s amiss on me how to properly answer it without being cliché. The most poignant emotion I’ve wanted to portray is the act of surprise. I think this form of photography can be overlooked by the overlords of the art community. Whether that is true or not, I do want viewers to have some sort of aha [realisation] moment.
You’re planning to present Detached, In Harmony as a solo exhibition in 2022. What other plans do you have in store that you could share with us?
I am also looking forward to putting together my first photography book for my Pools from Above collection, which went quite viral at the start of the pandemic in 2020. Lookout for that at the end of 2022.
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