Creative Conversations No8: photographer Jim Cooke

21 Mar

Creative Conversations 8 sees me talking to the photographer Jim Cooke. I caught Jim during the exhibition he had at the Drill Hall on Portland here during the summer of 2012. He had put on a fantastic exhibition called Riparian and he kindly agreed to give me an hour of his time for one of my recorded conversation.

The exhibition was part of Portland Quarry Sculpture Trusts inspire Mark series of exhibitions they had staged at the Drill Hall over the summer 2012.

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About the show

Jim Cooke riparian photoJim started off by talking about the exhibition – Riparian. This word was one his father used; one of his favourite words. It means alluding to the riverbank. Jim is fascinated by these areas between land and water. The work is essentially made of three strands; one an observational, topology one; secondly it is looking at the plants along the River Thames; thirdly it’s through looking at this part of the land through a microscope. He photographs microscopically the plants, his blood, engine oil, and food. What connects all the works is that it derives from this riverbank.

Given the volume of work it was a fantastic opportunity that Paul and Hannah from the Portland Quarry Sculpture Trust allowed Jim to use the space at the Drill Hall which is a wonderful large, but quite daunting space to fill. It was valuable for Jim together the work and be able to spread out and arrange the work in a way that he wouldn’t put up in any other place. For Jim the three strands are moving around each other quite nicely. He uses photography not as it often used as a narrative tool, but he likes his photographs to be very open. He trained as a fine artist and not as a photographer. He has shown some of this work in other places but not in this scale that the Drill Hall allowed.

Jim works at the University of Brighton and he used to bring students from Brighton down to Portland and through these trips has developed a relationship with Paul and Hannah. He has been coming down for quite a long time now and have had many conversations with Paul and Hannah around land. The work he does seems to slot into what the PQST are interested in. However he is afraid he doesn’t any longer bring students from Brighton down onto Portland.

The funding for this work comes from a number of sources. Jim generated some funding from the National Museum in Bradford, from the Arts Council, and from the research Department within Brighton University. This hasn’t paid for everything and Jim himself has funded a lot of the work. Hannah, Paul and Jim did discuss fundraising to put the art exhibition up – together, but none of them had the time to pursue this. Jim has a gallery in New York that holds his work, he hasn’t shown them this work yet and he hopes they will pick-up some of this work to sell.

The Drill Hall had supported Jim very powerfully, through their time, through the conversations around the work, and importantly through Paul’s practical support in getting the work displayed. Jim is very pleased with how the work has filled the space. As it is a very daunting space to fill. The Drill Hall has allowed him the time and space to explore the work, Jim sees this exhibition as a prototype, and enabled Jim to take risks with the work and the show. Another gallery like the one in New York would not allow him this freedom. Jim has found the collaboration with PQST to be mutually beneficial.

Jim was aware that the show like this would not pull great numbers of people who’d line up to see the work. He would rather have less people view the work and who are interested in the work then hundreds who want to pass with no interest.

“Some say photography takes a fraction of the session section second other say it takes a long lifetime.” Some of the work on show photos Jim took 20 years ago, these are mixed with recent photos. Though the bulk of the work has been taken over the last 3 or 4 years. What still excites Jim about the work is very much the experiential nature of the work of being there and doing the work, of being fascinated with the idea, and not expecting photography to answer any questions, but to be a document of some of the things Jim is interested in. He hopes that some people will react to that in their own terms, he’s not trying to convince them or explain anything. For instance someone that studies plants my through the work look at their world of plants in a slightly different way.

The riverbank along the Thames is quite hefty real estate, but if you go to the source towards Gloucestershire and parts of Oxfordshire it is much smaller river, much is farmland and it can be hard to tie a boat to the riverbank.

Jim has started to plan his next project which will look at the canals. He has moved his boat up close to Birmingham, where he is from.

Jim talks about his love of fishing. He has’s favourite place, a lake, its not a place that is too easily to catch a fish, but he loves the spot. He recently went and all the trees had been severely cut back and his heart sunk as one of his few spots of tranquillity had gone. We then talk about an interests that I have, about recording the changing landscape, about man’s affect on the world around them. Jim talks about his love of large industrial buildings and in previous work he’d toured Europe photographing these types of buildings that were in states of disrepair. I then talk about previous project where I’d photographed the building of the new road into Weymouth. Of how while visiting this part of the world you realise that the manmade changes of the past, the bumps of past ages, are now considered the beautiful rural countryside. How we view our effects on the landscape changes as buildings grow old and are embedded into the landscape.Jim likes blot on the landscape, for instance, the Grand Canyon and the Chrysler building are two of his favourite spots in America.

This new work is more autobiographical, more quieter. Jim doesn’t believe that photography can deliver all the things that people read into the medium. there is a real slowness in the photography that Jim practices, he uses large format camera and uses traditional film, which he prints up mainly himself in his own darkroom apart from the really large prints. This slowness in his work is reflected in his love of fishing.

One of the conversations Jim had with Paul and Hannah about this work several years ago. Was two trains of thought; one was Portland never had a river, some people say there is a stream that appears, and Jim got interested in the idea of bringing a river to Portland; a quite whimsical and fun idea. This was a serious but playful conversation that they had but stuck in Jim’s mind.

Audiences for contemporary art are difficult down here. It’s a difficult situation and very different to a place like London where a cultural visit, where people go to see the sights, is a major industry. I talk about my interest in the Drill Hall in one way being in how this space can draw in a different audience to one that would just go and see larger art show, as the place is also about history and geology, science, and naturalists, all these different disciplines run through Portland quarry sculpture trust. Jim has loved the conversations he’s had while visiting the place, say with a stonemason who might have worked the land all his life, worked it with his hands, and will talk about the work in a very different way to a conversation Jim would have within a gallery in London, in a way these, the casual conversations are more rewarding than most other conversations around art that we have. Jim finds it fantastic about people who embrace materiality, people like stonemasons.

To find out more about Jim and his work visit:


3 Responses to “Creative Conversations No8: photographer Jim Cooke”


  1. Creative Conversations No8 with photographer Jim Cooke - JOE Stevens news - March 26, 2013

    […] Creative Conversations 8 sees me talking to the photographer Jim Cooke. I caught Jim during the exhibition he had at the Drill Hall on Portland during the summer of 2012. He had put on a fantastic exhibition called Riparian and he kindly agreed to give me an hour of his time for one of my recorded conversation. […]

  2. Overview of Series 2 of Creative Conversation | creative conversations - June 26, 2013

    […] episode 8 sees me talking to photographer Jim Cooke, during his exhibition, Riparian, he had at the Drill Hall. […]

  3. Series 2 ratings | creative conversations - July 3, 2013

    […] we have my Creative Conversations with Mark Dunhill. Followed by the conversation with photographer Jim Cooke. Both these shows were recorded at Drill Hall, during exhibitions put on by Portland Sculpture and […]

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