Michael Savage - In Formalities
Exploringthe physical form and its presence within the natural landscape, 'In Formalities' is an expression of freedom through visual stimulus and abstractions between the body and its' immediate environment. Michael Savage, a recent BA (hons) graduate hailing from Leeds College of Art, references classic and romantic notions of beauty through his photographic knowledge of fashion and fine art genres. Identifying the discourses around form and gender politics, Savage subverts the manner in which 'beauty' in conveyed whilst systematically aiming to promote body positivity and acknowledge the intimate dialogue which remains mute in the series. Savage's work has contributed towards many touring exhibitions such as The Pupil Sphere featuring a selection of the most exciting photographers in the regions of Scotland and Northern UK. His wider body of work has also been shown in the recent viewing of post-graduate work titled 'Fresh Aire' which contains a selection of photographic endeavours by talented artists in the form of an exhibition. Earning its name from the River Aire that runs through the city of Leeds, 'Fresh Aire' is an example of exciting new opportunities that exist for students as a method of achieving recognition for creating relevant and creative photographic works in a competitive industry. In an interview, Savage explains further about his practice and the opportunities that are available for students to thrive in this community.
Discuss the ideology of ‘In Formalities’.
Linking diaristic and tableaux imagery, In Formalities explores the body and its’ potential as a sculptural, sexual and performative entity, asserting a representational balance throughout the series. Referencing classical and Romantic notions of beauty and aesthetic value, the book traces the discourse around form and gender politics yet aims to subvert the manner in which ‘beauty’ is conveyed, defined and experienced.
I gather a feeling of disconnection with the subject and their environment when viewing the images, does this apply to your own thoughts?
If you’re referring to the more rural imagery, there is somewhat of a disconnect as unaware as I was when first making the work. The project initially began as a continuation of my first self publication, human / nature, only really beginning to take shape as “In Formalities” much later on as I realised my earlier and current sets of images spoke in two different tongues. Using such images in conjunction with those taken in more personal environments perhaps helps emphasise the sense of departure – physical and mental – from those more reminiscent of human / nature.
Was there an influence from political and environmental issues surrounding nature and our impact we have on the environment?
I feel work with a core political and environmental drive is significant in todays’ world; however, I limited my social opinions to one side of the camera, instead focusing on the natural landscape (and the nude within it) in relation to form, function, line and tonality.
What are your views on naturism?
Fundamentally I agree with principals of the movement that promote physical liberty and refrain from reducing the nude form to a purely sexual definition, although such an ideology appears to be surfacing in mainstream society without much reference (or need for reference) to the movement. As a whole, western culture has come far from considering nudist groups – and consider that definition as broad as you like - as “degenerate and unhealthy-minded people” or “centres of radical thought”, as perceived from the 1930s onward, although I think it’s a very idealistic movement and one that would realistically be near impossible for modern culture to assimilate.
How has your experience as both photographer and subject influenced your practice?
Having used myself as a subject since first learning photography, it has prompted me to learn and acknowledge the physical limitations of the body before the camera, which has certainly influenced my approach to form across both fashion and fine art photography. Alongside the added anticipation of shooting film, I would say this experience has added a layer of self-awareness in relation to the foresight of a final image.
Did the choice of medium have an influence on the resulting output of the project?
Of course – as much as I had to establish a balanced representation of the body, so too did I want to balance the various photographic formats. The versatility of the medium permits an accurate depiction of any environment, but also relates to the energy of the moment.
Describe your experience taking part in Fresh Aire, and what does it mean for recent post-graduate students?
Fresh Aire’s inaugural exhibition at Village in June was a fantastic opportunity for photographers hailing from Yorkshire to have their work exhibited and help make connections between students and industry professionals. It is an exciting new platform to showcase Northern talent and, as it grows, is sure to build many more bridges for upcoming graduates – being part of the first exhibition was an amazing privilege, and anyone who came to the show will tell you of the immense range and quality of work on display.
Your work has recently been featured in other post-degree shows such as the Pupil Sphere, what were the choices you made in regards to exhibiting the work compared to presenting it in the book format?
First and foremost is a respect for the space in which the work will be received; navigating a successful exhibition often follows a certain current, determined by the space and by the curator.
As opposed to the more intimate, handheld photo book, exhibiting the work in a gallery context demands much more attention to the immediate environment and how the photographs function before an audience. From there it was important to me to reconsider a presentation format appropriate to the Brunswick as opposed to my degree show, where Dan of Pupil Sphere originally saw my work.
What is your advice to achieve opportunities like this for other students to get a foot in the door of the industry?
My main advice would be to network as much as humanly possible and make your ambitions clear. Have confidence in yourself and your practice, and don’t take any opportunity for granted.
Will there be a continuation with the project in the future?
Only in as far as curating the work for a launching exhibition to coincide with the book release; something I learned throughout In Formalities is to not dwell on a singular project for so long – to realise it to the best of your capabilities, and to develop your practice from there.