In Focus: Ian Howorth, a photographer looking at the UK through a Peruvian camera lens
“Arcadia – An image or idea of life in the countryside that is believed to be perfect.”
For many, the somewhat mundane imagery revealed by working men’s clubs England’s most northern towns offers a bleak and uninspiring reflection. For Ian Howorth, however, it was a glimpse into a new world.
The photographer, who was born and raised in Peru to and English father and Peruvian mother, found solace in his camera from a young age. The consistent nature of the artistic output, relentlessly hanging from his neck or over his shoulder, became the ever-present part of a childhood that regularly changed its surroundings.
Howorth lived in nine different homes across three different countries by the time he was 15. While he had visited England sporadically in his youth, the full-time move to the country a year later offered its own unique challenges. While a change of polite customs began, the photographer began adapting to life in a new culture by focusing on the details of a daily routine. “I love interesting interplay, between objects or of colour – something unique or that I feel tells a story of a place,” he told Far Out Magazine.
“Photography to me is basically, emotion,” he adds. “And those are the ones that are the most memorable – not how technically good they are. That emotion can be captured over a series of images, each image aiding the other and setting up for the next to make you feel something.”
While he didn’t initially plan to forge a series, Howorth’s daily documenting began to take shape and Arcadia was born. A collection of images that depict life as an outsider trying to fit in, one which shines a light on the usually overlooked aspects of British life but does so with a wonderfully South American tinge.
FO: We’re focusing on your series ‘Arcadia’ could you explain where this idea came from?
“Initially, there was no Arcadia, the project began quite organically – I just began photographing things that interested me as I began my journey shooting film. The idea behind it matured after about six months to a year when I looked back at all the images and realised what was happening.
“I realised that the body of work as it stood after about six months was very much a personal account of what the contemporary British landscape feels like. Our influences, choices and perceptions are all very much reflected in the book.”
Detail, if you could, how your upbringing and travelling to live in different countries has impacted your life. If and how did that experience open your creative process?
“I’ve always had trouble with this concept – explaining to someone that you look at things they take for granted differently. I think something like my life experience and conversely, living somewhere all your life can only be experienced to be fully understood. I don’t know what it feels like to have had one family home my whole life like many of my friends and peers. I think this has been the main impact – not really having a sense of ‘home’ an identifiable identity that I could relate to my friends. I think moving around when you’re older has a different effect than doing so in your formative years when you’re already firmly rooted.”
How did it feel to move to Britain at the age of 16? Do you think your perceptions of Britain and the people here has changed?
“I had visited many times before, but at 16 even though I was noticing things, I was more concerned with fitting in and trying to learn how to live successfully and not get bullied or beaten up! I think the way British are is what struck me the most – People are more polite, but less tactile and more reserved, which wasn’t a problem – it was just a question of getting accustomed to not kissing every woman I greeted on the cheek like I had been accustomed to all my life up to that point.”
Could you run us through your process? What distinctive imagery are you looking for?
“I love interesting interplay, between objects or of colour – something unique or that I feel tells a story of a place. Ultimately you are taking your own vision of what makes something important to tell a story and hope that it will resonate. Whilst you want to be accurate to a degree, it’s not what drives me to make these image – Its capturing places that exist on the fringes – places that are unaffected by modernisation, marketing or consumption.”
How have you developed your own distinct aesthetic within photography?
“The only answer I have is that I really don’t know – the only thing I can really do is look at my photographs and compare to whose do they look like and if I knew who they were before shooting them! I think I’ve always been enthralled by cinema, ever since I was little, I always liked scene-setting shots that introduced a new location, giving the viewer a sense of space, time etc. There’s something very romantic about these.
“I like going as wide as I can – I’m rarely interested in singular objects in a frame, for me it’s rarely about the ’thing’ but more about where the thing is and why. Although I’ve noticed that I’m getting further away from being too focused on getting my framing perfect or being too hard on myself, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to escape the fact that I will never be a pure storyteller as a photographer – I will always try to deliver an attractive photograph.”
What attracts you to a certain subject or field?
“I enjoy being alone, or with as few people as possible – and I think being in places that have few people appeals to me. The solitude allows me to think, dissect and figure out where I am – why places look how they look, why certain choices have been made. Sadly at this stage in my career, I don’t have the budgets to embed myself fully in a place for days or weeks at a time – so I try my hardest to get a vibe for a place by talking to people that are local, having a meal typical of the area.
“I think its the only way I can get somewhere into my bones so I can photograph it as accurately as possible. There is a certain level of interest in the anthropological I guess – how people live effectively. As a photographer, I simply try to frame that within single images.”
What do you think makes a certain photograph stand out from the norm? What makes a certain photograph memorable?
“I think it depends on many things – photography to me is basically, emotion – and those are the ones that are the most memorable – not how technically good they are. That emotion can be captured over a series of images, each image aiding the other and setting up for the next to make you feel something.
“Other images are in themselves powerful enough as a single image to give you everything you need. I think it’s very much dependant on what is being told – and within this, there are variables like the complexity of the emotion or story that dictates in many ways, whether a single image can be successful in transmitting that emotion.”
What did you seek to capture most in your series?
“I think its many different things – but I think that deep down I wanted to see how successful I had been in understanding what makes my adoptive country what it is. you’re never going to please everyone – and there will always be inaccuracies and inconsistencies.”
Did the atmosphere change when you began to understand more about your process?
“Completely. For one, I began to shoot with more focus and researching more. Thinking about what makes England, England – to me at least. the issue was always knowing when it was finished, as a book at least. For me, this series is something I will always shoot – its something I enjoy immensely.
“Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the pictures are simply the finished product of what is effectively a very rewarding experience.”
Do you have any ideas in terms of which sphere of life you may be exploring next?
“Yes, there are always a few ideas floating around, I think he next project is likely to be a lot more personal and likely very different from the work in Arcadia. I will always love to visit strange places and I hope to never stop doing that, but after you’re published you become a very different photographer I think – what was once organic and a bit more carefree suddenly becomes something in need of more intent and focus. I’m still adjusting to that.”