Article - Interview

Interview with Nik Adam and Luke Norman

Nik Adam and Luke Norman

BTYour approach to working together is outwardly playful, I get the sense that you have fun with ideas until something sticks and makes sense. Has this approach taken time to develop or does it just occur naturally?

LNI think for us, we feel that photography is an object to be played with. This is not to say that we don’t take our work seriously. It should be something that has the capacity to make people feel scared, happy, confused. To evoke any sense of emotion either positive or negative for me is a success.

NAI think playfulness is the process and aesthetic we are both attracted to and has seemed to flow from the moment we started working together. With each project we try to do something different both subjectively and aesthetically, although our goals often remain the same.

Nik Adam and Luke Norman from the project Principles and Theories

For us it’s very important not to stick to one specific style, but to develop and push our work. I find that we make our best work once we are out of our comfort zone. Taiyo Ononrato and Nico Krebs are huge inspirations for us in terms of the way they work and approach new projects.

Nik Adam and Luke Norman from the project Principles and Theories

BTYour work often feels responsive to an environment without literally representing a place or environment. How much does the physical place where you make the work affect the outcome? Is the landscape important to you, or could you be anywhere?

LNOur working process is very spontaneous and emotionally driven, dictated by our surroundings. We shot Fade In Darkness in a wood in Surrey. Even though we knew the woods well, when we began working there at night our mentality and preconceptions of the space changed completely. All our understanding and knowledge of the area was stripped by the night, enabling our imaginations to run wild and dictate our reaction to our surroundings.

NAI think the landscape does become important but then at the same time we often adapt to new landscapes, helping us to build new ideas. Our work is as much to do with finding new ways to explore a space as it is to do with the space itself.

Nik Adam and Luke Norman from the project Fade In Darkness

BTAs you work in this fluid, responsive manner, how important is the editing process to the work itself? With a piece like ‘Principles and theories’ it’s easy to see how the pictures came together, but with your newer work such as ‘Ellerker Gardens’ or ‘Lone Wolf’ which are far less linear or clearly thematic, does your working process change with more of an emphasis placed on editing?

LNSince graduating, our perception and attitude toward photography has changed significantly. Throughout our education we were taught to permanently consider a number of required approaches to present our work; book, zine, prints, exhibition.

We have began to question these archetypes and why we are recommend to pursue them. The more divergent presentations seem to suit the work we have made more recently. It’s very easy to feel that the work is finished once the pictures are all taken, but for us the editing is just as important, the edit determines the reading and final outcome of the work.

Nik Adam and Luke Norman from the project Fade In Darkness

Our more recent work has been more open and less guided by a specific source or narrative so the editing process has allowed us to try different things that reflect the works approach.

BTCan you explain a little about your new work, Peacock, which you have recently made as part of a residency in India?

LNPeacock was a really unique project, being thrown into the new world (India). It felt quite pressured in the beginning but then we relaxed and began to enjoy ourselves and the work began to flow.

Nik Adam and Luke Norman from the project Peacock

During the project we undoubtedly encountered a wide variety of emotions, which is something we are really keen to illustrate in the series. We realised when we got there how easy it would have been to photograph the poverty and ‘classic’ India we have all seen a million times before. But we felt that there was so much enthusiasm and positives in the people and place we came across and felt this was our subject.

Nik Adam and Luke Norman from the project Peacock

The approach we took was a really enjoyable experience and one we are really keen to explore and develop. We found it to be a very creatively rich and exciting way to work. It’s interesting to look at an environment that has been photographed thousands of times before and try to see how we can give it a Nik and Luke twist.

Nik Adam and Luke Norman from the project Peacock

BTYou seem to now be collaborating even further with a great range of artists (Peter Haynes, Nico Haeni & Charles Negre). How do these collaborations come about and what makes one collaboration differ to another?

NAI think it’s important to say that myself and Luke see our collaboration as one person if you will. I think it is only once you have collaborated with someone that you realise how many factors can effect how your work, it goes way beyond simply taking the photograph. Some collaborators split the workload, do separate jobs then bring the work together at the end, that is not how we work. We work on everything together from the initial idea all the way to the production; we both press the shutter just at different times!

el-plus-en in collaboration with Nicolas Haeni, Peter Haynes & Charles Negre

LNOur recent collaboration with Nico & Charles was something out of the blue and unplanned. We met them both at different times just for one day and got on pretty well, and soon enough they offered us to come and stay in Switzerland so we just said yes! They are both incredible photographers so we jumped at the chance to work with them.

There was no planning for the collaboration and as we found, it was very different to the way Nik and myself worked together, but that’s what you learn from working with different people. A new challenge is always exciting. But the plan is for the 5 of us to head to Scotland some time soon and continue part 2 of the project.

el-plus-en in collaboration with Nicolas Haeni, Peter Haynes & Charles Negre

As for Pete (the 5th collaborator in this new work), we studied together at UCA and lived together for 3 years so working with him is anything but ‘work’. He will have set up the lights and everything before we have even thought about it!

BTThis approach is quite a step away from the traditional idea of the ‘lone photographer’. What excites you about this way of working?

LNThis project is still very much unresolved, by working together in Scotland we are hoping to reconcile the series and make something really exciting. The images we took were very much a simple interaction within our location, sculptures, portraits and just stupid videos. It’s exciting to not know where the project will lead itself or what the final outcome will be.

el-plus-en in collaboration with Nicolas Haeni, Peter Haynes & Charles Negre

BTLet’s talk about self publishing and zines. Why do you self publish?

LNOur two self published zines were a result of two very different projects and realisations. Principles & Theories was a 3 volume series which was best viewed as a publication and something to be ‘read,’ created to accompany its exhibition and printed for a few Time Travel nerds like ourselves who missed the exhibition and may be interested.

NAOur second publication was an addition to the saturation of self published snapshot zines out there. ‘No One Cares About Us Dancing On Our Heads’ should be seen as a response to that culture. It’s hard to create something with depth and meaning instantaneously, as a lot of artists seem to attempt to do. NOCAUDOOH undoubtedly will have very little interest to most people simply because it’s just a series of images and snap shots that we just wanted to put together for the memory of a great trip!

LNUnderstandably it is a slight contradiction as we have made 50 copies of the zine, but at the same time its nice for us to share this inside joke with our friends and others. As Nik said, it’s difficult to make these kind of zines mean as much to the audience as it does to the photographer themselves. We are not kidding ourselves and know that we are the ones who are most happy to see this book. If someone else likes it and finds pictures of Pete dancing on his head, then that’s a bonus.

BTYou also run a website/collective, Wandering Bears, tell us about this project?

LNWhen we initiated Wandering Bears, it was simply a collective of other photographers from our university and one other from Falmouth who all seemed to share the same perspective and goals within photography. The collective was created to help us keep in contact with one another and share new ideas together. The website has developed to involve others outside of the collective. By publishing other young and exciting photographers we aim to provide them with exposure and also aim to inspire others through their work.

NAI think WB will always be a developing project, more recently it has become apparent that we have transformed into this platform for emerging artist, such as ourselves and graduates, maybe we are filling the big gap between university and the real world that no one tells you about. I guess in that sense we are similar to you guys!

Nik Adam and Luke Norman from the project Ellerker Gardens

Nik Adam and Luke Norman from the project Ellerker Gardens

BTAnd finally! I’ve heard that one of you owns a pug? Does it go on assignments with you?

NAYes that is me, well they are my mum’s but they sleep on my bed when I’m at hers. They haven’t joined us on an assignment yet, but I’m pretty sure they will come on an assignment one day soon!

About Nik and Luke

Nik Adam and Luke Norman are best described as playful problem solvers. They have been making work together since 2009, under the moniker el-plus-en, tackling subjects as diverse as the theories of time-travel, to the difficulty of avoiding clichés in representing India. They consistently throw themselves into new situations and photographically explore how to climb out.

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