Graduates 2022: Martina La Trobe-Bateman: Photography MA

“I have absolutely loved my time at Brighton. I completed both my BA and my Master’s here. I feel seen and known here. One is never just one of many, I felt like my lecturers believed in me long before I learned to do so for myself.”

Please tell us a bit about your work and your influences

“My interest in photography is in epistemological terms. I am curious to find in what way a photograph contains knowledge and to understand the quality or nature of that knowledge. For my MA research, I have been working to develop a practice that allows me to use photography as a research methodology for (systematic) theology. In this it was important to me that the photography is not subordinate to the theology, or just a mere functional tool in my otherwise theological research, or worse, of mere documentary value. Instead, I have focused on the functional and material aspects of photography as a process and on its epistemological qualities to establish equivalencies between the two fields. On the theory side I work with an understanding of three distinct spaces within photography that are productive of change, based on thought by Hannah Ahrendt and Ariella Azoulay on the political space as well as early thinkers in photography who classify the photograph as a receptive, inscribed medium with a necessary link to whatever was before the lens, like Fox Talbot and later Roland Barthes.”

“For my Masters’ project, I have worked in an archival response to medieval books of hours. These were beautifully illuminated manuscripts for private prayer and meditation. The contemplation was led by gazing at intricate miniatures that would lead their reader into the sacred halls of their own colourful imagination and eventually into the presence and imageless contemplation of the divine. An encounter through seeing in various expressions one might say. My work was made visiting the same place again and again over the space of two years, the grounds of Ashburnham Place, East Sussex. Here I would concentrate on one particular small pond, a holy well and some connecting waterways, as well as the follies and spaces designed for contemplation in the Capability Brown landscape. The repeated visits had hallmarks of pilgrimage, and I placed an emphasis on repetition and seeing. Very soon an interesting dynamic emerged between the reflective surfaces of the water and the latent image on the ground glass of the view camera with which I was working. The natural world was presenting me with its own version of an image of itself. It became a conversation. The various follies in the grounds struck just as giant versions of my camera box.

“They, too, are a box, with an aperture in one side, designed to focus and frame my field of view as I stand in them, and thus aide my journey of contemplation. But rather than photograph these views, I turned my attention to the buildings themselves. Giant cameras, standing on the hillside, offering a place of encounter whether someone enters them or not. The resulting work is very beautiful and poetic. The space of the darkroom became of equal importance to the space of the camera for the work. This became a space of the imagination, of re-seeing and of new pictures emerging. Repetition plays an important role here, too. As I meditate the images, I print them over and over again. Sometimes just as fragments, with different colour interpretations, sometimes almost exactly the same, but of course they never are. Colour as a medium of the imagination was central to medieval books of hours, and so I even print black and white negatives in the colour darkroom, interpreting them with beauty as I go. In the final work, I include facsimiles of some of the key negatives of the series. In this way the process of re-seeing and making new pictures can continue. Whoever picks up a leaflet, or buys one of the books will be able to make new prints from these.”

How have you found your course and time at Brighton?

“I have absolutely loved my time at Brighton. I completed both my BA and my Master’s here. I feel seen and known here. One is never just one of many, I felt like my lecturers believed in me long before I learned to do so for myself. They knew how to support me to flourish into the independent, self-confident artist and scholar that I dreamt of being and never thought I could become.”

How did you choose your course – why did you choose to study Photography?

“Coming to university later in life meant I was more focused on my research interests rather than primarily pursuing any vocational or career driven choices. I studied for a BA in Theology at a different university alongside my studies at Brighton. After 20 years of being a mother first to our three boys, living the rural idyll, working, volunteering, teaching, I was ready to engage my brain more rigorously. I have a deep love of learning and of the arts and to combine both served on an in-person-taught silver plate seemed like heaven on earth.”

What are your plans after graduation?

“I’m hoping to on to PhD cross-disciplinary research in Photography with Theology and do some lecturing if I get the chance.”


Instagram: Martina.Latrobebateman

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