• ArtW

In Conversation with Ingrid Pollard

British artist and photographer Ingrid Pollard shares the lens through which she views her photographic process and the power it has to reflect history.

Oceans Apart, Photo, Ingrid Pollard


To hear the audio version of the interview click here.


Marjorie Martay–


I would like to introduce you to Ingrid Pollard, a great photographer and someone who was an Art W honoree during "Women We Create" England 2019. Pollard is an exceptional artist who has contributed to our cultural landscape and what's wonderful is she's represented in collections at the UK Arts Council, Victoria Albert Museum, Tate Britain, and she's also an honorary member of the Royal Photographic Society.

Pollard's practice is realized within the context of history, landscape, environment, complexities of race, autobiography, and aspects of Britishness. What I'd love to know from you is how has that manifested in your work?

Cost of English Landscape, 2018


Ingrid Pollard–


Thanks for such a great question. Well those things are issues or ideas that I refer back to in lots of different ways,

but it's all always underpinned by the fact that my medium is photography. So it's all of those things in relation to photography– in photographic history, how race is represented, how landscape from the very beginnings of photography and the Victorian Age, landscape was something they always referred to– in terms of, those early photographers being a particular level of money and scientific men. They saw those particular issues. It was always referred to through photography. So already some parameters are set up. I'm always intrigued by that and that's why I want to explore those issues as well and write an autobiography through the lens of photography.


Bursting Stone, Photo, Ingrid Pollard


Marjorie Martay–


Did you always know you wanted to be a photographer?


Ingrid Pollard–


No. I was probably about 15, in photography lessons I had to say something about the water system in the area. So I took photographs of sewage works, canals, etc...I started doing photography then. My dad lent me his camera. It never went away. I had friends who also did photography when we went on holiday.

So I never wanted to be a photographer; I knew I wanted something artistic, but those opportunities are not offered to working class black girls really in the in the 70s.

Bursting Stone, Photo, Ingrid Pollard


Marjorie Martay–


When you were four years old you moved from Guyana to England?


Ingrid Pollard–


Yes, it was part of that migration– my father was a printer. Because he had a skill when the kind of government representatives came to the Caribbean, and started recruiting people actively to invite them to move. He was one of those people that they invited specifically because he had those skills and he was there for a while. Mother went over and then my sister and I came over together. It was very typical migrant story. There was mass recruitment from all over the Caribbean and West Africa, and my family was part of that group.



Hidden Histories


Marjorie Martay–


That's pretty amazing. Was it very difficult for you to feel comfortable as a young girl?


Ingrid Pollard–


At age four, I didn't really know anything about anything, but at the time I was about seven and we moved around a bit. I kind of knew just from reactions in the street, not so much at school– those adults will have those attitudes rather than children. My mother used to work as well. She started, and she got to know someone across the road. When my sister and I came home from school, we'd go and just stay with this woman for an hour or so until my mother came back. Unbeknownst to everybody, the woman that we used to stay with– her husband was really racist. My mother used to give her a bit of money to look after us. One day, my mother went over to her house, and was interrupted by her husband who was up in arms that his wife had done this: "why have these black people come to my house?" So within a marriage or between two people, attitudes are completely different. I knew it wasn't every white person that hated black people and vice versa. That's part of life, I didn't know about these things, because it wasn't everybody.


Self Evident


Marjorie Martay–


How are you dealing with the coronavirus right now? Ingrid, how does it feel where you are? How is it affecting your work?


Ingrid Pollard–


I'm all right. I am physically socially isolating myself from people in a friend's flat who has gone away because I live in a shared house where it is much more complicated. I just took some of the complication away and I don't know how long I'll stay. Probably for 10 weeks or 12 weeks. I'm still in contact, as this interview is, with people online. I'm still carrying on with work that I'm meant to do next year– 2021 work. Some people were thinking about the autumn as a time when things are happening again. I have to carry on. It is strange, but a lot of artists tend to isolate themselves by working just by accident. When you're working on a project, you're away or you piece up your life. So it's like teaching, working studio, socializing– it's not unfamiliar, but it's just going on for a longer period.



Seaside Series


Marjorie Martay–


It's going to go on for a lot longer. Is it getting better in England?


Ingrid Pollard–


No, especially not in London. Perhaps outside of London, but they are very concerned at the rate of people dying and getting infected. The curve isn't slowing down.


Marjorie Martay–


It's definitely not slowing down here in New York city yet.

So how do you, in your photography and your photographs, explore representation, history, and landscape with reference to race?

I notice that is a very big question, but maybe you could give us an idea from your perspective how you do it?


Valentine Days, 2018


Ingrid Pollard–


Well, that's obviously a phrase I wrote myself...I have no one to blame for this. I can do it rather in the abstract. I might refer to pieces of work– it might be part of your article that you look at landscape, the English landscape, particularly outside the metropolitan area. If you're out in a rural area, it's always referring to the opposite, which is metropolitan areas. Who goes in which? Who traditionally operates within the romantic middle landscape?

I look at how in terms of representation, in paintings, in prints, how they've represented black people outside those metropolitan areas– or in the rural areas. You think of the industrial revolution, the 1800s, that was a splitting point for the majority of people who stopped being in the rural areas. They came to be in the metropolitan areas. The machinery took over in the rural areas, but in cities particularly. When we talk about the rural, I'm thinking about hundreds of years. So it's that about England– who is pictured where doing what in particular pieces of work or who is associated with class, money, land ownership and how that's been represented in paintings.

"The Boy who watches ships go by (2002)," Photographic emulsion on stretched canvas  


We'll go back to painting and printmaking, but they'll represent black people in particular sort of ways. I'm always looking at that. Then eventually photography takes on some of that role. I always think back in 10 year periods, by 1835, 1860, you've got the invention of photography. William Henry Fox Talbot invents the first negative, you've got the Cooks Travel Tours starting. You've got anthropological societies in France and the police standardizing and using photography in that way. All of those things that set apart a course and identity in the armchair and travelers... all those things are happening at the same time and they're all brushing against each other. It was an establishment as a Royal Photographic Society who was in that time at the height of the colonialism.

Photography was being impacted from the very beginning, how they saw other lands, what reflection was on power, class, etc because there's never one without the other. I'm interested in those binary oppositions– here and there, them and us, before and after. I'm interested in the history of photography– now things suddenly jump into the digital not knowing its relationship to class, discoveries, colonialism, etc.

It's fascinating how the route is taken in the UK, in Europe, in the Americas and how photography is implicated in West Africa, East Africa and Southern Africa. I'm interested in the history of how it's evolved from 1923 after the WW1 to developments in small scale cameras, through those inventions being part of WW1– same thing in WW2.

Now a lot of it is about manipulation and stories rather than lens development. It's always been about product, but at the moment it's about story and how you can transform it.

Self Evident


Marjorie Martay–


Well... it's important to have a passion. You're very passionate and I felt that so strongly when we had our discussion as a part of "Women We Create England 2019"– it just came across... your passion, your warmth, your excitement about what you're doing, the beauty of your photographs which are quite stunning by the way. You received the Baltic Artists Award in 2018 and then followed up with a great exhibition in February 2019. Being honored with this award, how did that change your practice, Ingrid?


Pastoral Interlude


Ingrid Pollard–


We were all nominated by artists rather than a committee of people which makes it a bit different. I was able to have a healthy production fee and a really enormous place to realize your work. I'd been working for about 20 years and I'd always wanted it to be quite a large scale exhibition. I was allowed to be very bold and adventurous in what I wanted to do and treat it like an exhibition. Photography is so often pushed into documentation and it's about something else, not the actual facts of photography and what that means. So that's what was always uppermost in my mind– painting a fabulous sensual photographic exhibition in place called a gallery versus even a photographic gallery. I could think about it boldly and with a healthy budget...so I could think about scale and surface.


Marjorie Martay–


Is that "Seventeen of Sixty-Eight (2019)" you're referring to?


Ingrid Pollard–


Yes, I've shown bits of it– like works in progress in other small shows, but it's always been quite small. Sometimes there are only pictures that are just five inches by three. It was time to let there be a lot of air around them, as a very spare hang can indicate a lot of confidence in the work. You don't have to cram it full of everything. You just give it a lot of space to breathe then its allowed to assume its own size.



Seventeen of Sixty-Eight, 2019, Ingrid Pollard


Marjorie Martay–


That makes a huge difference when you have space in an exhibit that you can walk around. Then the audience who is looking at the photographs and the objects have an opportunity to really take it in and see it –to explore it. It makes the overall effect different.


Ingrid Pollard–


You can see a dialogue going on between the pieces of work because there wasn't only framed photographs hanging on the wall, they were sculptural pieces, found objects, print from books, and a video piece. They were hung in a very particular way. It was a surprise because you go into the gallery two different ways. You had to negotiate your own way around understanding the relationship between found objects and the video. The video was in a cupboard. You had to actually open a door to look at it and then close it again– to build intrigue. Of course, they weren't all framed pictures. There's things that were just hung straight on the wall. Some were framed behind glass, but they're not in a frame. They're all different levels. Some of them are high, some of them are very big, some are quite small. There was the embossed work that you have to observe– look at it in a particular angle of light so you can see where the ridges are.

Seventeen of Sixty-Eight (2019)


Marjorie Martay–


You had a very interesting interview with Lubaina Himid, who nominated you, if I'm not mistaken. You talked a lot about what you wanted to accomplish with the exhibit. Do you think you succeeded?


Ingrid Pollard–


Well I hope so–it would be best to ask other people really. I did get a lot of responses from people that I did know and didn't know which was kind of interesting. I spent a long time in there trying to listen in on people's conversations or just asked them when they're in there.


Seventeen of Sixty-Eight (2019)

Ingrid Pollard–


I thought I succeeded in setting up particular questions or opening up a dialogue. It felt like an exhibition for people to spend time in, because there are so many different things in it, ways of representing.


Marjorie Martay–


You were trying to have people experience the visible and the invisible– and what that interaction is all about.


Ingrid Pollard–


I talked about the embossed things we have when you first go into a gallery space. They're quite a long way off and it looks like white bits of paper and frames. But as you get closer, you start to see there's something on those white pieces of papers depending on where the light is falling. It makes a shadow– it's both visible and invisible at the same time. You have to get up close to see those. Then some of the others are so big, you have to stand back to see what the representation is. Then the tiny objects, you have to go up close to see. Then there was a figure on a plinth that was up really high. So, if you wanted to see it, you have to get close. but as you got close your angle of view was all wrong. You can't actually see it. So you choose where you stand in terms of whether something is close, something that's visible or invisible. You don't go up close to get a bigger picture...then you start to see something behind that figure. So just how you place yourself in those shoes and space affect how you see. Then there's kind of black and white ready-made photograph which was a preexisting sign. The other images were photos I had taken. There are also some images of architectural detail too.


Marjorie Martay–


One of the other things that I felt you were trying to do is create a conversation between people, place, and history with your photography. Was that a part of this exhibit as well?

Ingrid Pollard–


Yes because I won't always be there to have a conversation with people. But I would like them to think, why did she put the two together? There was one very traditional English landscape with rolling hills, trees and perfectly exposed clouds. But then the one next to it is the color picture of a slightly different, more ramshackle building. So there's a relationship between the two and it's up to people to try and understand what the relationship between the two is. Then there's other images where there's a reputation of a building that's got a reputation of a black person, African within it, which is much more obvious. Or some text-based that mentioned black people or black boy. So some of that is obvious. After you look at the relationship between the two of them, even though people may not make that link, I'm just interested in them being intrigued by a very large representation of pages of book where most of it is obfuscated– so you only see part of it. So it's big, but then you can't really see it at the same time, because I'm drawing lines from the texts and then left particular words open.


Seventeen of Sixty-Eight (2019)


Marjorie Martay–


We've talked about a lot about what your subject matter is, but how do you actually choose what you photograph?


Ingrid Pollard–


I have 8 million things I'd like to make work about, exhibitions or book. I have more than I'll ever achieve in my life. It's what pushes forward, gets to the front of the queue or my mind really. There's certain areas that I have done, so I've also got pre-existing knowledge around it. There's all these new things that I want to investigate. For example, I think gold is fascinating and it might just be a phrase in a book... Or I was in one particular bit of an exhibition and there's something just at the side that's not appropriate, but I'll come back to it. I get it from everywhere really. But usually things I come across, even phrases in books, it's one particular idea and I'll run with it.



Seventeen of Sixty-Eight (2019)


It's been caught a lot in landscape, but I'm trying other things now with the confidence I got from that award and then I got the Paul Hamlyn Award this year. It's financial reward or recognition in that particular way. It helps build up my confidence that I have financial aid, I don't have to think small because I don't have enough money. I can be bigger and bolder. There's a certain amount of recognition that comes with something else– suddenly the ball keeps rolling, recognition and confidence, and then more recognition, not always financial. There's a particular wind behind me at the moment if that's not too silly of an expression.


Marjorie Martay–

I think it's incredible and there's a certain amount of boldness now that I see coming across. In terms of all the awards you're getting, where people can actually see your work as you're a part of these major collections now, you're getting a lot of accolades, and getting more financial support. All that together has really helped you achieve what you've been wanting to do. Having other people see it as well– I think that's what's so terrific.

Seventeen of Sixty-Eight (2019)


Ingrid Pollard–


It's consistent. There's lots of things. In the 1980s and 1990s, when some galleries are just interested in the young black artist and on the other hand, ignoring black artists that have been working for quite a long time. The majority of them look through their own collection there is this large gap from the eighties and nineties so they're amending some of that and then that's motivation to ask them, would you be interested? Then there is a young set of curators that have not been touched by that particular mentality so they're kind of taking up all of that work alongside all the up and coming artists.

There is a change happening. Artists and professors in education like Lubaina Himid and Sonia Boyce who are also encouraging young curators, white and black and looking internationally as well. There is never quite enough, but there's a number of small changes happening.

Marjorie Martay–


Well, that's probably one of the reasons that I did ArtW to advocate for women artists of all disciplines– having people like yourself get recognition. I'm happy to see that more curators are looking at this work and trying to move a lot of artists like yourself to get the recognition that you deserve. Ingrid, what would you like your legacy to be?


"Oceans Apart (1989)," Hand tinted silver prints and Xeroxes, & text, 11 - 24x20in. 

Ingrid Pollard–


I'm happy that there is more work now in public collections so that will be looked after and it'll be held up within the canon of photography so I know there's that legacy there. My legacy is really not in my control– it's when I've passed on and what's left. My responsibility now is to continue to make work that's noteworthy and collectible and things that people want to write about and engage with. I've probably got another eight or ten years inside of

me to make work.


Marjorie Martay–


You absolutely do. You have such a great way of looking at things and then you're transferring it through your lens. It's very impactful.


Ingrid Pollard–


Great. Thank you.


Marjorie Martay–


I want to thank you for being a part of this and I know that there are going to be so many more wonderful global exhibitions from you for all of us to come and see. I look forward to it.


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Where can you see Ingrid Pollard's work next?


Ingrid Pollard will be exhibiting a solo show and monograph at MK Gallery in February of 2021. The project will bring together early archival work from the 1970s as well as new commissions in film, photography and wallpaper, alongside reconstructed / restored major pieces. MK Gallery is a non-profit gallery, 30 mins north of London with a very varied program of exhibitions, films, conferences, workshops, etc. with many solo shows of women artists, most recently with Paula Rego. More info can be found here: www.mkgallery.org


To view more of Ingrid Pollard's work, please visit her website here: http://www.ingridpollard.com/


Self Evident

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