Gates and Hofmann Interview
Zac Gates and Joe Hofman are two photographers currently based in Cardiff, Wales. OGA had the pleasure of exhibiting at set of their collaborative work last year at our You’ve Been Fremmed Exhibition and we’ve been keen to see their work progress. At this point in time their ‘Good Nature’ project has gained momentum and I’ve been keen to find out more about what has driven the pair in their ongoing pursuit to find and photograph a certain type of remote building known as a Bothy.
To find out more about what they have experienced whilst venturing into some of the remotest parts of the U.K and what’s makes them pick up a camera read our recently conducted interview.
Deforested marsh, Mid Wales
Can you introduce yourself and tell us about where you are currently based?
ZG- We are both based in Cardiff studying Documentary Photography at University of Wales, Newport.
JH- I’m on the MA course and Zac is on the BA.
Where did you get your first inspiration to pick up a camera?
ZG- I guess it started when I used to go out people watching with my Nan. We used to sit in busy places and just observe people for hours. Taking photos of the people that interested me just meant I could stare for longer.
JH- As a child my parents took me on some really interesting trips, to places such as Japan, the Arctic Circle and Guatemala so I always had a camera on me from a young age. I started properly exploring documentary photography whilst studying a BA in film. Zac showed me a David Goldblatt book and I was blown away by a photograph of a man casually pointing his gun at a baby in his arms, this photograph got me thinking seriously about the medium.
Andy, Uig to Kilmuir lift, Isle of Skye, Scotland
What photographers would you say have influenced your work?
ZG- Undeniably Alec Soth had a massive impact on this project. The way he uses portraits, landscapes and interiors is almost like poetry, I see our project as more of a subjective story though. Good Nature follows more of a rigid pattern.
JH- Literature, cinema and painting also have a big impact on our work, in a less easily definable way but still extremely important. A recent film by Ben Rivers, Two Years at Sea, feels akin to the time we’ve spent in the wild.
What is your process behind choosing subject matter for personal projects, and executing your outcomes?
JH- I have realised from experience that for a project to be successful and worth while you can’t just be interested in your subject, you have to be passionate about it; it has to be a labor of love.
ZG- It starts with an idea, then you have to go out and shoot. It’s important to see the results before moving forward. Starting a long-term project like Good Nature really emphasized the fact that a body of work has to be refined and well thought out. From each of the trips we came back with a large variety of images, after examining rough prints, decisions had to be made as to what worked and what didn’t. On the first couple of trips we shot 35mm, medium format and large format, and it wasn’t until looking at the photo’s we decided to cut all other formats out other than 5×4. They looked like separate bodies of work. After the third trip we really had an idea of how we wanted the project to look. We are about to embark on our next trip and for the first time we feel we both know exactly what photographs we need to begin to finish the project. Although I could be wrong!
Old Man of the Hills, Camasunary bothy, Isle of Skye, Scotland
In terms of genre, where do you place your photographic output?
JH- I think it has to come somewhere under that inherently hard to define documentary photography umbrella.
What made you decide to form a collaborative duo?
ZG- We are child hood friends both with a passion for photography.
JH- We found that he process when we work collaboratively is definitely an organic one. Sometimes one of us will set up a shot, sometimes the other and sometimes both of us, whatever it is we will always discuss it and take each other’s opinion into consideration. I really do feel that the best work both of us has made, and make, is collaboratively. If you have to talk about why you are making decisions photographically it makes you analyze, think more deeply and put more consideration into the picture, and with this comes a greater openness to ideas.
Grwyne Fawr bothy, Black Mountains, Wales
Your recent project ‘Good Nature’ has seen you travel across the U.K to hunt down and photograph a certain type of rural buildings called bothies. Firstly can you explain what a bothy is and where shooting this project has taken you?
JH- A bothy is a structure used by shepherds and ramblers as a place of sanctuary in some of the remotest parts of Britain (mainly Wales and Scotland), they have few amenities, no running water or electricity, but they do provide shelter from the elements by getting you off the cold ground and by providing a fire place to dry off wet clothes and to warm your bones. A bothy is a refuge from nature and her elements. A place that offers many surprises as one never can be certain who else will be occupying the building or what condition it will be in when you arrive.
ZG- So far the project has taken us to the heart of the Black Mountains, north of the Brecon Beacons and to the West coast islands of Scotland. All of the trips have lasted for varied amount of times. The longest trip undertaken was for a month last summer when we hitched and trekked around the Isle of Skye, Rassay and the Outer Hebrides.
The Road, Elan Valley, Mid Wales
What did you take in your back pack as you ventured into these remote parts of the U.K ?
ZG- We take as little as possible really to keep the weight down. Two sets of clothes, one to sleep in and one to walk in. The large format camera with one 90mm lens, a tripod, film, dark-bag, a 35mm for snaps, a book each, a cardboard chess board, an iPod and speakers with a solar battery charger, pots and pans for cooking, food and water plus water cleaning tablets and numerous maps!
What highs and lows have you experienced whilst out on your travels?
ZG- Highs and lows seem to go hand in hand. We got lost during a trek to a bothy on the west coast of Skye, we were walking for eight hours in total and were completely lost, night was closing in before by chance we came across a silhouette of the building deep in a valley. The moments leading up to that where more than just worrying, being hungry and tired had a major impact, but the feeling of reaching that bothy was immense.
JH- Waiting hours for a lift in the wind and rain is demoralizing to say the least, but those times are made up for by the times when you get picked up after minutes. On one trip we actually left our tripod in someone’s car, we never saw that again. We did also leave our tent in someone’s car, thank god when he dropped us off it was one of those times when we didn’t get picked up for awhile because he realised and dropped it back off in time.
ZG- Waking up to an anonymous figure snooping around the tent was strange. I opened the tent to brush my teeth to find a man hiding in the bushes. After a brief chat I quickly realised he wasn’t all there, he quoted the film fight club a few times and repeated to me the fact that we were safe from the people of Portree. We packed up and moved on after that chance meeting.
JH- I was about to get out and decided against it, instead sitting in the tent in frightened laughter! A real high has to be the company and delicious cakes of a very sweet old lady we met. Mary filled up our water bottles each day and baked us the most amazing cakes. We have included a photo of her at the bottom, for readers to put a name to a face. Photography is the best way to meet people from all walks of life, the camera is an excuse to exercise ones interest in people and places. Living the simple life out of a backpack is at times cold and strenuous but for me is by far the most rewarding way to live. You tune back into nature.
Bed & Bible, Camasunary bothy, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Is there one or more images shot during this project that has a greater personal significance?
ZG- The image of the Grwyne Fawr Bothy we visited really stands out, not only do I love the actual image but it was the first Bothy we visited so it signifies the start of the project for me. It was one of the coldest nights I have experienced in sleeping out and a memory that will last with me for a long time.
JH- Yeah, this image holds a special place for sure. I love playing with scale and trying to bring something sublime to what is actually very small in relation to us, for this I feel the photograph of the egg wrack seaweed was very successful. This technique can highlight our insignificance in the grand scheme of things, whatever that maybe.
Egg Wrack seaweed, Camasunary, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Is this project completed or will you be hunting down more Bothies?
ZH- It’s still very much ongoing, it’s constantly being refined and expanded. The nature of the work means we don’t get to go out and shoot every week. It gives us time to reflect and edit so we are in no rush.
Can you tell me about what you are working on at the moment?
JH- We are also starting a couple of new projects, one around the are of Cardiff we live in, Roath. This area is probably the most multicultural in all of Wales and offers lots of great photographic opportunities. This will culminate in an exhibition that we will situate back into the community.
ZG- We are also in the research stage of another exciting project, ending in another book. Updates will be posted on our blog when we start shooting which should be this week.
JH- As always we are constantly applying for grants, competitions and bursaries and have a few other ideas on the back burner. Big tings a gwaan!
Camasunary bothy, Isle of Skye, Scotland
If you could be commissioned to produce a body of work that bridged the gap between your commercial and personal work who would it be for and why?
ZG- I have done a few shoots for various restaurants and have really enjoyed combing my two passions. It does not have to be all about close up’s of the dishes; there can definitely be a documentary element to it and eating the food you photograph is always a highlight.
JH- I’m also mad about food. I’d love to work on a book like Faviken, recently published by Phaidon, an interesting mix between narrative, cooking and photography. I’ve recently dabbled in a bit of fashion. It’s a world I would hate to become fully involved with but there are a few photographers who’s work I really admire, Viviane Sassen, Juergen Teller, Sarah Moon and Kuba Dabrowski come to mind.
What does the future hold for Gates and Hofmann?
ZG- I would love to see Good Nature get an exhibition in an established gallery.
JH – Hopefully start making a living off photography in the not too distant future!
OGA Interview with Gates and Hofmann 07/02/2013 by T.Sussex