As published in the SW Group newsletter.
Helen was introduced by Patricia Howe who gave a bio of Helen’s background of study and work, starting at Reading University and the Slade School, UCL. Helen then gave an informative and interesting talk about her work, starting with the installation “Between Us” at the Chapter Arts Centre in London in 1985. Much of her early practice was a combination of 3D and 2D work, using transparencies and slide projectors along with other solid objects. She spent some time making images using dioramas of animals and birds from a museum that were overlaid with vivid colours to disrupt the viewers approach. Colour has been very important to her, influenced by her surgeon father who kept photographs of his operations and used her and her brother as academic models. Green and red have featured prominently in her work, often in a very saturated and prominent manner.
She took us through various projects that she had done and there was discussion about all of them. “Grounded” uses a combination of images of animal backs and prominent skylines. At first look, they appear to be normal landscapes but closer inspection reveals the land to be a fur covered animal. “Spot” is a project from an 18-month residency at Wollaton Hall in Nottingham, using stuffed birds from the collection photographed against painted backdrops and then a flat spot of colour obscuring the eye. Normally the viewer will connect with the subject through the eyes, but by losing that connection the viewer has to look more into the frame and what is beyond. The project that most of us found fascinating was the “Inside View” series. Again, she disrupts the normal view in that each one shows the back of a head looking into a landscape rather than seeing a person against a background. She digitally merged two images and then painstakingly blended them so that parts of the background stood out, most being brightly coloured flowers. They is a painterly feeling to them with fine lines all over them where the brush moved to remove the top image to reveal the second one below.
Overall, there was a lot to take from her work from the subtle ways that she makes the viewer look again beyond what is going on in the frame. She combines photographs to make new versions and started with transparency film before moving on to do this digitally. There is a theme of eyes and obscuring the eyes in order to make the viewer look beyond the obvious and then make new connections. It was an engaging and interesting walk through her practice and her approach to her photography and it was a shame that we ran out of time. There was plenty of interaction between Helen and the group, and there was exchanging of opinions and ideas between everyone. I am sure that many of us came away inspired by her use of colour and techniques.
Helen Sear has an exhibition at Hestercombe Gallery in Taunton from July to October 2018.