INTERVIEW: MAT HAY
To celebrate our launch Fòcas Scotland features powerful work by five photographers exploring community, identity, and culture in Scotland and India today.
A Jill Todd Photo Award winner in 2015, Mat Hay makes unexpected images of rural work in Scotland’s northern reaches. He has just been selected for FotoFilmic 2016, showing in the USA, Canada and Australia.
F: Can you tell us a little about your background, how did you get into photography?
M: It was in my mid-twenties that I really got into photography, having always been inspired by the imagery of music, skateboard and snowboard culture. At around 26 I decided to leave my career, do some travelling and see if photography was something I could fit in to. Since then, I’ve explored and experimented a lot, got a degree and learned a huge amount within various areas of the industry, so I’m now starting to channel my ideas and focus on a path that resonates most to what I want to do with life.
F: Your project Long Glen is beautifully cinematic and quite eerie; can you tell us about the genesis of this project?
M: Studying for my degree I began to learn about the great documentary photographers (and some lesser-known ones) who have documented life across rural and suburban North America over the last hundred years. Somehow I felt I could relate to how they saw and subsequently portrayed that region, and how it actually shares many similarities with Scotland, for example with landscape, culture, industry etc. But the way Scotland has been represented (and therefore viewed) is quite different, at home and especially in other countries. It’s often dominated by historical context and nostalgia, which doesn’t resonate with my experience of growing up here, so I decided to see what my version would look like. Its obviously also influenced by my cultural and life experiences, so probably says a lot about me too.
F: Your use of landscape is really interesting. Your projects often feature wide outdoor spaces, with subtle hints of human presence. Can you talk a little about that?
M: This is an interesting question and it’s an area that I’m still working on, so a definitive answer probably isn’t ready. But I think it’s to do with how humans react to the environment, the relationships we have with it, and how nature is controlled. It’s an area that may well influence future projects.
F: What do you photograph with and can you tell us how you go about making your images?
M: There are a number of different cameras I use, it depends on the project, so whatever is required. I try to shoot film whenever possible, predominantly 6×7, but there’s also 5×4 work in the portfolio as well as 35mm digital. And the amount of image tweaking varies greatly between each project, ideally not a lot but sometimes a great deal. All work will get digitised, and every pixel gets some attention at some point regardless.
F: We’re especially interested in your images with groups of people (from Messengers series) – do you visualise these images in advance or compose them as you make the image?
M: There is often an element of planned orchestration in my images, but the Tableau’s are mapped out quite specifically, from ideas that are sketched on paper and then joined with reference, location and test photos. Same for going into a studio for say a portrait, the more I can plan and predict, the less I have to think about which gives space for creativity, and also saves money and people’s time. Happy accidents and random suggestions or obstructions always add something extra to images though so they are embraced.
F: Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Jill Todd Award in 2015. What have you been up to since then?
M: Thanks for that, yes the Jill Todd Award was and is a really fantastic opportunity and motivator for new graduates. Shortly after that, I moved back to Edinburgh from London and successfully pitched for a large commercial artists residency with the NHS, which I have been working on all year, along with continuing personal projects. Last month I took my current documentary project to the portfolio reviews at Arles. Which was great for assessing where things are at, for the creative process of the project, and for building new relationships.
F: What do you feel the photography scene is like in Scotland right now?
M: Scotland has some really passionate people progressing the scene, which is fantastic. I’m still discovering things, and there is always room for more, but I know there are some quality zines/magazines, photo festivals, blogs, collaborations etc., and a couple of really vital hubs in the form of Streetlevel and Stills. Places like these are so incredibly important for creative photographers, especially with their commitment to analogue film, and their affordable facilities.
F: In one sentence, what piece of advice would you give to aspiring photographers?
M: You’re not special, work hard.
Mat Hay is a Scottish portrait, landscape, and tableau photographer, based in Edinburgh and also working in London and the Highlands. He began studying during his mid-twenties, receiving a BA(Hons) 1st class in Photography and Film at Edinburgh Napier University in 2013. Since then his work has continued to gain recognition, being chosen for national and international awards, featuring in several online and print publications, while being shown in exhibitions across the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, and Korea.