David Ryrie’s new exhibition ‘Otherwise Arbitrary Moments’ is his first major solo show with the Goulburn Regional Gallery. It is on view now, until 3 April. The large format photographs are displayed unframed in the gallery so that the viewer bears witness to the image and its materiality; the paper, its scale and the photographs as objects. These compositions were made over a four-year period in which Ryrie visited the same select places over and over again. The locations are in his neighbourhood, at home and at the home of a close friend. As a whole the body of work brings together pieces from multiple ongoing projects. The artist is also launching a book with thoughtful reproductions of the works, and an essay by Emma O’Neill.
I understand looking for beauty in the world around us, but how would you describe the ‘meaning’ that you’re searching for and conveying?
I think there is a great deal of beauty in the most ordinary places, objects, moments. The ‘looking’ is something that I do over and over, obsessively even. When you look at something long enough it becomes seeing, and that implies that there is understanding. The beauty comes in the seeing. I don’t look for beautiful things, I look for beauty in things. It’s an enquiry of sorts. It allows, even demands that I look everywhere, and with a level of scrutiny. The understanding that accompanies seeing arises from how something feels to me. That’s when I make photographs.
You have multiple projects on the go. Do they all have a clear imperative or end goal?
Clear imperative yes, end goal, it comes with time. I work on multiple projects simultaneously for a few reasons. I am always looking for photographs. Some photographs I can only take at certain times of year so I have to wait. Actually taking the photograph, making the negative, is a small part of my practice. I do spend a lot of time behind a camera, but more making the prints and thinking about how I can make these objects that represent how I feel about that subject. As a print maker, I’m interested in returning an entirely new object to the world and a print is an object in itself.
Yes, so it’s not only taking the ‘right photo’ that’s important to you but also manifesting that image in the printmaking process…
I think a lot of the terminology used to describe photography is loaded and not something I ascribe to. I don’t take, shoot or capture anything. I don’t say that as a criticism, it’s just that if I use any of those words, it suggests to me that once you ‘press the button’, everything is done. Making a photograph is much more complex than that. The end result, the object, is the print, so my whole practice is driven by the print. When I am working with a camera, I am thinking about the drawing composition of the work and once I have a composition I can work with, my attention moves towards making the print, the new object. They are a curation of memories and how I see things.
You seem to have a very thoughtful relationship with time, please elaborate on it?
I am fascinated by time and our relationship with it. Whether we address it consciously or not, we all have a relationship with time and it is finite in the sense we have a beginning and an end. Everything between that is made up of moments that are the present and those moments are fleeting and become the past and relegated to our memory. Photography has the innate ability to preserve the present so we can revisit the past at any time in the future. There is something fascinating to me about preserving the present so that you can revisit it again and again.
Your compositions can appear exacting but chance is a huge part of the final image. So is it a study in being present?
Seeing requires practice so I do it a lot, and being present is a big part of that. They are exacting but I don’t set up photographs, I make photographs of what I find. I don’t think of it so much as chance, but in a sense, it is there. I am always looking so you find what you find. Sometimes it’s a discarded yellow ribbon on the ground or an abandoned chair. Other times, I know exactly what it is I want to photograph and I need the weather to do its work. I never think, that was lucky, or, what a moment. It’s more a feeling of discovery and relief because I have visited that place or looked at that object over and over and finally the elements conspire in a way that mean something to me.
Even though your compositions don’t have figures usually, you’ve said they are about people. What does that mean in a socially distant time?
My work is always about people, whether it is deeply personal moments, moments shared with close friends or moments that speak to us collectively. I don’t think the meaning has changed, I hope that it’s importance is more recognised.
I didn’t rush to make photographs when COVID appeared. It was the opposite. The sentiment was completely different. There was an ease to making photographs during those initial lock down periods that didn’t ring true with my practice. The intention was different. I made many photographs inside my own home because that’s where there was meaning for me. I also worked in an abandoned building that was being repurposed and made work there over a 3-month period. I planned on making photographs there well before COVID so I went ahead and made the work as I felt the intention behind the work was still the same.
Your work and process is poetic, are there any personal philosophies about art or life you’d like to share?
Maybe not so much about art or life, more about art life, as to me they are intertwined. Making art is how I understand the world and my place in it. That evolves and changes constantly, and I like that. There is beauty in the most common places, it just requires a lot of looking. I don’t know if that is a philosophy as such but my work changes with my life and equally, my life changes with each work I make. They affect me and I wouldn’t want to change that.
This article is presented in collaboration with 3:33 Art Projects