Interview #12: Lesley Clifford (2020)⁠

“Emotional Landscapes”/Interview by Paul Rowland

Galactic formations (London, United Kingdom, 2020) by Lesley Clifford.

Here’s our interview with her.

PR/Please tell us about yourself and your background.

LS/I live in the suburbs of South London, where I have both a beautiful countryside on my doorstep and a connection to the urban inspiration of central London, where I work. I studied physical geography at university and have always loved learning about the processes that shape the Earth at large and small scales.

Both my parents were scientists and spoke a fair amount in scientific language, so I think I picked up a love of etymology from them. Plus we played a lot of Scrabble. My mum passed away in May, which has caused me to reflect a lot about my childhood influences and haunts.

PR/How has your relationship to photography evolved throughout the years?

LC/I remember taking photographs on film cameras as a child — mainly of holidays and celebrations — and finding that only one or two images came back from processing! At school I played around with daft shots, myself and a friend took a box of Persil (washing powder) and shot it in various scenes, hiding it in otherwise normal portraits.

I discovered art photography when I met my husband Paul Clifford twenty-one years ago as he studied fine art and photography. He has been a huge influence on my visual style and the artists I enjoy. I didn’t have my own camera until I got my phone two years ago, and since then I have come to notice tiny pleasing details everywhere!

Flaming sky (South London, United Kingdom, 2020) by Lesley Clifford.

PR/Why do you photograph the things you do?

LC/My eye is drawn to certain shapes and textures. I just photograph what appeals to me, but I have begun to draw out themes around physical processes and patterns. I am attracted to textures that seem to hold the key to larger patterns and processes at work in the world, perhaps across the universe.

In a tiny gulley made by one channel draining with the tide are the same morphologies as in a huge estuary or in the frozen water features on Mars. I see a whole universe reflected in this tiny stream; the whole of nature encapsulated in one tiny part. The distribution of a cracking surface of paint appears random in its beauty, but is ultimately determined by the properties of the paint and the surface, plus the weathering it has experienced. It is also reminiscent of dried riverbeds or salt pans.

Consumed in fire & Nebulous (Kent & London, United Kingdom, 2020) by Lesley Clifford.

PR/What’s your process of finding new photographic material like?

LC/During lockdown, I went out daily to explore my local alleyways, which fascinated me, and turned my eye to the hidden details of people’s lives. In ‘Holloways’, Robert MacFarlane talks of “landmarks that speak of habit rather than of suddenness. Like creases in the hand or the wear on the stone sill of a doorstep or stair, they are the result of repeated human actions.” I enjoy unpicking and revealing these layers of wear or deposition.

Helen Scales in ‘Spirals in Time’ describes how, before the separation of art and science, collectors would amass private curations of desired objects in order to assemble a physical encyclopedia. This was used to make sense of how the world worked by drawing connections between apparently quite different objects. Sometimes I feel this is what I am doing. Collating my own document of treasures to try to comprehend the workings of the universe in my own way.

PR/What inspires and influences you?

LC/So many things! Landscape, language, colour, books, music, people. Trying to understand the connections between things. I have always loved learning about the sciences of the earth, such as geology, plate tectonics, fluid dynamics, processes of erosion and deposition, coastal morphology, cloud and weather formation, ocean currents… I love understanding (in layman’s terms) how these things shape our planet, its inhabitants and the distributions of people and materials.

Like a kestrel hovering above the landscape, I aspire to have the same broad perspective and intuitive sense of capture. Of the interconnected web of networks, but without the narrow focus of specialist knowledge.

Constraint and flood (London, United Kingdom, 2020) by Lesley Clifford.

“I am in love with the elemental forces, with fire and water, with gravity and evaporation and the properties of light, and there’s as much of that in the city. It’s in the way cream curls down into ice coffee and cigarette smoke coils up and the ice cubes in this drink are melting.”
— Rebecca Solnit

PR/How has your experience on Instagram been so far?

LC/I think Instagram has given me a purpose during this strange time of lockdown, uncertainty and personal mourning. Being isolated from friends, relations and varied human contacts has made me search for personal and universal connections in my images, seeing similar themes in my own work to those of other artists, poets and photographers on Instagram.

I’ve been very grateful to the community for inspiring, educating and encouraging me. And for the collaborations which have come about, particularly with Wendy Kirwood who has enhanced some of my printed images with her embroidery and found materials. Although I have not really shared the experience of my mum’s passing, the friends I have made here have helped me to focus on the positives in life.

Beach braids (Kent, United Kingdom, 2020) by Lesley Clifford.

PR/What are the next steps for you in your photography?

LC/That’s difficult to say. I have so many photographs stored, and I always take more than I can possibly share. I just post what feels right on a particular day and don’t have a long-term vision. I am becoming more fascinated with macro photography and the amount of detail that hides under other layers waiting to be discovered. I would like to get a macro lens, but I’m worried I will get completely addicted to detail!

I will keep looking for new textures and patterns, and burrowing deeper into the roots of things. And exploring language with strange titles! I will also be printing more of my images. I have had several requests but find it strange to put a price on a photograph.

Corryveckan & Yin yang (Devon & London, United Kingdom, 2020) by Lesley Clifford.

PR/Do you have any other projects in the works?

LC/I always have projects in mind, it’s realising them that’s the issue. I have started to make watercolour paintings of my photos, and have really enjoyed creating something that feels more personal from the same image. The process of replicating a painting feels very far from the visceral daubings of abstract painters though, maybe I would like to create some more spontaneous artworks.

I also dabble in pottery, jewellery making, collage, mandala drawing, amongst other things. I recently entered some of my photos and paintings into an exhibition of artwork inspired by this strange year, and I was delighted that my work sold!

Selfie of Lesley Clifford.

Riley Schmidt is fascinated by textures and shapes that seem to echo larger patterns and processes at work in the world. As such, her photographs can be seen as microcosms that invite us to make connections between the minuscule and the galactic, erasing scale and collapsing time and space. Accompanied by her inventive titles, her startling and intriguing images stimulate our eyes and imagination, reminding us how everything is connected, and that every day we are surrounded by exquisite beauty — if we only care to look.

Interviewed by Paul Rowland.

Additional pictures from Lesley Clifford curated by Paul Rowland.

New digital magazine that seeks to portray the abstract photography scene and the human-beings behind the pictures in all their depth and diversity.