In conversation with Gem Fletcher, June 2019
Read the full article here. The interview was part of the Exposure series where 'Art Director Gem Fletcher introduces three exciting photographers to watch.'

Where did you grow up and how did that inform your creativity?
I was born in Grangetown, Cardiff but grew up in Exeter. We didn’t have much as kids but we went on adventures out of the city most weekends. As a child my parents encouraged me to look around and to ask questions which is still the basis of a lot of what I do now as a practitioner. 

What drew you to photography and how long have you been shooting?
It offered me a way to understand myself and my surroundings. My first experiences with photography were in the college darkroom in my late teens, I was pretty dyslexic and found it difficult to communicate my ideas but photography was like a translator. Experimentation was encouraged early on and I enjoyed the practicalities photography offered; from the sense of adventure of going out to get the pictures to the mechanical nature of the camera. In some ways pursuing photography was a ticket out of my hometown. If you count those early encounters then I’ve been shooting for 9 years but I feel like I’ve only really hit my stride in the last 3 years or so. 

You mention in your bio that your current research areas revolve around the architecture of simulation, utopia vs dystopia, science vs fiction, civilian training grounds and representations of the future. Can you unpack this a little? 
They are all themes of the current project I’m working on called Preparations for the Worst-Case Scenario. My projects tend to be research led but this project in particular feels like the most research intense by far.

The Architecture of Simulation - This is to do with facades, fakery and architectural deception. Set design that creates the illusion of immersion.

Utopia vs Dystopia - I’m interested in the relationship between the too, not as polar opposites but where they might go full circle and overlap

Science vs Fiction - Two systems for understanding, one deals with evidence, the other with storytelling

Civilian Training Grounds - Recreational spaces where the general public voluntarily go to experience military-like situations without ever being in harm's way. Paintball is a good example.

Representations of the future - I’m interested in how this can change over time and what it says about the present.

What draws you to these themes?
The only books I read for enjoyment are science fiction novels, which I think forms the basis of the themes I am currently working with. In its purest form science fiction is about using an exaggerated vision of the future to make sense of, or as an active critique of, the present. In the same way that Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Sleep of Electric Sheep can be read as a fear of an automated society, I am turning to different post-apocalyptic narratives to make sense of our collective anxieties and paranoia for the future.

Can you talk me through your creative process?
I think this can change from project to project. I can’t help but be informed by what’s going on in the world, I stay informed, I listen to the news daily and I think that feeds into what I do. But from that initial spark of an idea that can come from anywhere, I’ll do some initial research, if I’m then constantly thinking it over with ideas keeping me awake at night I’ll then come up with ways to photograph it. Then it’s a case of bouncing between shooting, reflection and research.

What elements need to be present for you to create your best work?
I want my work to be about what’s happening in the world, to mean something, but also say to something about photography itself. If it doesn’t do the latter then the work risks being too documentary and less interesting to me.

What do you want your audience to take away from your work?
I want people to ask questions about the human condition, I want it to spark critical thinking in the viewer, to not just take everything at face value.

Stories of civilisation coming to an end are as old as civilisation itself but in the last four decades or so we have been actively buying into these fantasies both financially and ideologically. It is as we are choosing to stay on the edge of our seats, to be prepared on an emotional and psychological level.

Why do we seek stories of the end of the world, why is it popular and what does it say about us and the society we have built for ourselves. That’s what I want people to take away from this work. It does not try to solve these questions, but asks of the viewer that they engage with the subject of entertainment critically.

©Gem Fletcher & Creative Review 2019 - This text is for research purposes, no copyright infringement is intended.

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