Artist Spotlight - 21 Questions with Philip Rogan

Artist Spotlight – 21 Questions with Philip Rogan

by Brian Jaime

This week, I had the awesome task of combing through the group to find someone to be the first victim…er…artist to showcase in the bi-weekly Artist’s Spotlight. It gave me the fantastic opportunity to view many, many outstanding RB Artist Portfolios and I was very surprised by the talent that is represented in this group. I wound it down to a handful of emotive images, which caught my eye and then narrowed those down based on the over all portfolios of the artists. So, if you did not get selected this time around, who knows, you may already be on the list! For this first spotlight, I chose a wonderfully talented artist, Philip Rogan , who is based in Spain and whose portfolio is one emotive trove of visual eye candy! If you have not had a chance to check it out, you really should. He captures piratically everything in the emotional gamut, from anger to love, with a keen eye for composition and storytelling.

I was delighted to be able to pick his brain about everything from Ireland to filmmaking, and his wonderful piece Young Actor. He has also presented some wonderful tips to artists about the business of photography and on how to capture emotions on film. And, if that were not enough, he was also able to tackle the dreaded twenty-first question with an answer that is poised and, well…emotive!

So, tell us a little about you and your life. Not so much the artist, but the person.

I am married to Maria, who is a whole six years younger than I am and who I met in Dublin six years ago at a beach party in a house. We now have a wee son named Patrick (very Irish, I know, it just felt like his name so he got it and it’s him now.) They both have a great sense of humor and crack me up a lot.

Work wise, at the moment, I am looking at a pretty intense week ahead of me starting tomorrow. I am shooting an Incentive Trip, basically thirty business managers from around the world hiking through two canyons (river gulleys); and, I am more than a little worried about surviving the trip myself because my fitness levels, which were never great, are probably at the lowest I have ever known them to be. Living here in Mallorca it’s a bit of everything type existence.

You say that you were born in Ireland. Did you grow up there as well?

Yeah, born and bred in Dublin. I am from Raheny, a suburb on the Northside of Dublin, whose recently most famous former-resident would probably be Ronan Keating of Boyzone. It’s a nice place, in many ways — near to the sea, Dollymount Beach and the great and magical St. Anne’s Park (formerly owned by the Guinness family).

Give us a glimpse into your childhood…

Childhood. Mostly good. My dad, George, was an office clerk for Sealink, mostly accounts and suchlike, though he wrote a lot of Poetry and was quite a romantic at heart. There was never a shortage of food or clothes, though my Dad’s sister from Chicago used to send us awful, out of fashion stuff that my Mom eagerly dressed us in so that I ended up wearing flairs whilst everybody else was in drainpipes. I got slagged a lot for that and my straight hair and being so skinny. I was not a fighter but was okay in schoolyard fun fights, so I was never really picked on as a target in that way; but, I hated school and the taunts as I was so bloody sensitive. At twelve, the time you go to secondary school, I sort of made a vow that I have stuck to ever since, which was that nobody would fuck with me ever again. I hit a few idiots over the years and I do not believe in pacifism as a couple of cracks to the head of a bully is much, much better than stoic resistance. I had great friends over the years and we had some great times and some wild times too (nothing overtly mental). Mitching off school was great, as was smoking fags (cigarettes, to you Americans) and all that. Also, it was in secondary school that I was introduced to the likes of David Bowie, The Doors, Lou Reed, Led Zeppelin and Van Morrison. So whilst everybody else was mad about Duran Duran or Haircut 100 (or even the Cure), I was back in the 70’s with a BASF tape of some pure genius. Bowie is still my hero.

You are now located in Spain, how has that been different from where you lived previously?

Well, the weather obviously is completely different. The languages are different — Castellano (Spanish) and Mallorquin (Catalan), and a lot of residents of Mallorca are German, so English comes in 4th place. I live in the weird society of ex-pats living in Mallorca, united by that alone whilst touching on the Spanish and Mallorcan societies through my wife and other colleagues via work mostly (well, existing, of course, but work is a common shared experience rather than just buying something or asking for a service). Mallorca is very, very beautiful and, as Gertrude Stein said, “…it’s Paradise if you can stand it.” Read "A Winter in Majorca” by George Sands and you will understand something even though it’s over 150 years old, the character is still there. It’s an island with a massive airport and the number one tourist destination in Europe that is not a big city.

Is your art (or has your art ever been) affected by the places where you live?

Yeah, to a degree of course, because you learn different stuff and the light is also different. Like, here in Spain, its sun-sun-sun with very little clouds, so, with no real soft light, it’s harder for me to take a portrait here than in Ireland. I honestly prefer the simplicity of a soft light, like Ireland’s, where the face is the issue rather than shadow management. That said, the fact is that here you can shoot cleaner images as you have all this light, lots of it, and almost everyday the chances are 70-90% that, yes, it’s going to be sunny. Otherwise, people are people and, as you can see, I like shooting them, and, to some degree, I have been doing a little less of that here over the last five years as my work has been about the film festival.

What mediums do you dabble in (i.e. photography, painting, writing, graphic design, etc.) and where would you say you are at in terms of an artistic career?

Well photography, filmmaking and scriptwriting, poetry and writing stories (though I have the knack of not finishing them), and hopefully we will be doing a TV series soon (a pilot proposal and all that) with a writer friend of mine, Barbara Jago who has twenty-two finished movies to her credit. I draw in the doodle sense, but used to love it as a teenager and would spend hours, days, weeks drawing and usually copying material from a comic called “2000AD” of which I was a mad fan. In terms of graphic design, I wish I had more skill sets and tools that I was good at using, but I do art direct material particularly now for the Expo and before for the film festival. The good eye comes in handy and the brain for imagining stuff. We produced three years worth of visual material for the MFA Planet Europe Short Film Festival and I think I should post some of it up.

Why is photography one of your chosen mediums?

If I am anything, I am a photographer. I did not choose it as a medium per se. I would not really regard myself as an artist but as a photographer. I do not see photography as being art all the time, in fact most photography is not. It serves a purpose and art by definition, though this is a sticky one, does not. So wedding photography, no matter how wonderful, is a service and a product first and foremost and reportage is visual reporting, etc.

What advice would you give to anyone who may be thinking “Gee, I sure would like to be a photographer…”?

I suppose the only advice is go for it. If it’s in relation to making it a job, there are so many possible lines of advice, though one of which is that, to make money, you should follow a particular line of commercial work if you want to make a living. Unfortunately, for most it is true that, if you are shooting this and that and the other, you have to spread yourself thin and it’s hard to make a rep in any of them. So whether you do weddings, catalogs, fashion, reportage, etc., then do that as best as you can. Any other stuff, keep it as a hobby and enjoy it, and if it happens to generate some work on the side that you get paid for…great!

Do you have a muse? Or, perhaps some other “person”, “place”, or “thing” that has inspired you to create works of art?

My friends have been muses as such and their interaction as well, though I suppose some of them have been more interested in collaborating in front of the camera than others. Friends and actors, I suppose, have been the most like muses though there has never been a consistent one.

Some artists are self-taught and others get degrees (and, still others learn what they want and then leave school). Would you mind sharing your educational background with us and how it has or has not helped you in your endeavors?

Oh I am highly educated! I went to Colaíste Dhulaigh in Coolock Dublin in 1989, after secondary school (high school), which was a PLC or Post Leaving Cert course in communications. There, I studied TV, Sound, Photography and general Media studies for three years and specializing in photography in the third year. For example, the picture Orla: 70-80 Leeson Street was from my third year there and a project I did on seated or, as I called it, Chaired Portraits. Later, in 1998, I went back to college as a mature student and did four years in Dun Laoighre’s College of Art & Design in Film studies. That was a very practical course in the business of making movies, particularly shorts. By the time I finished, four years later, I had worked on somewhere like 30-40 short films in one capacity or another.

While viewing your RB portfolio, I noticed that you take a lot of photographs of people, both portraits and candids. Would you say this is your preferred type of subject matter? And, if so, can you elaborate as to why or why not?

Absolutely preferred subject matter. I get more satisfaction out of a good portrait than any other type of picture. To get a good portrait is a collaboration between the photographer and the subject. People are simply more interesting to look at, particularly in a voyeuristic wondering sense — who are they, what are their lives about, why do they look so in this picture, etc. Also its where photography performs it’s most subtle, yet dramatic transformations. People are not as we photograph them, at least I think the better photographs do not depict people as they are but as something else all together more powerful. Look at Sebastioa Salgado’s biblical portraits of people, generally poor, all over the world. They are transformed into icons. The portrait of Che Guavera by Alberto Korda provided the raw communications material for legend building. I love portraiture from Korda to Leibowitz, from Avedon to Newton.

What’s your favorite photograph throughout your entire RB portfolio, it does not necessarily have to be an emotive photograph (but bonus points if it is)?

I love Bikers at the Man o’ War because it’s probably the best photograph in my portfolio in terms of quality on all points; but, I also like Shopping with Mom because it was a street capture and it’s so balanced on normality and has an angelic quality that this bored shopping girl possesses. It switches I suppose, I love the portrait of Nuala in Irish Girl she is just stunning. I have an image that I have not posted yet of a friend chewing on his thumb whilst staring out the window all pensive, and that has always been one of my favorites.

Do you have a favorite emotive photograph, other than your own, that you have sighted on RB (it does not necessarily have to be from our group, but bonus points if it is)? Why?

Well looking through my favorites, I saw J+D by Paula Birch which I saw months ago on RB and which I really like for its fresh, natural and loving sense. It was a picture that I would have been very happy to have taken and to have in my portfolio.

One of the photographs in your RB collection is “Young Actor”, can you tell us more about the background of this shot and why you chose to place it in your collection?

Well I just uploaded it before I got your mail for this interview. I do not know the name of the child anymore, but the woman yes. Both were acting in a film I was producing in Dun Laoighre for my classmate Danny O’Dwyer, who had written the script and was directing it. It was a week of great madness in Cashel Co. Tipperarry. The story was about a young girl who wrote fairytales in which she featured as a defense or escape because her real life was just so awful. The actors in “Fairytale” were all non-actors as such (bar the hunchback, played by JP Dunleavy) and some of them were not too far from their characters. Danny weaved a certain grubby magic that week, and the film, though somewhat slapped together, was quite harrowing in its entire thirteen minutes. It´s there because the kid is staring at me like he wants to punch me for taking his picture.

While the child in the photograph is extremely adorable, he looks rather unhappy. Was this the case at the time of the shoot?

Adorable? Yeah, he was a bad tempered kid who was not happy to be on the hot set, but as he was there anyway he decided to stare us all out of it and let us know how unhappy he was.

Some people say that children and animals are the hardest subjects to film and photograph. Was it a daunting task photographing a child? What has been your experience?

This was not daunting, and, though kids are hard to photograph, they also present you with a million opportunities where adults have learned to clam up and provide you with three or four faces only (usually the camera “smile” which is about 85% of all the posed photos in the world). I think with kids you can have great craíc photographing them and though you might burn more film, nowadays with digital it’s not an issue.

What advice would you give to other photographers about capturing the different states of emotion, which you have captured throughout your portfolio?

Well keep looking, pre-empt if you can and, in posed images, work hard to get it right between you and your subject. I can be quite demanding of a subject and sometimes resort to “look here”, “raise your chin”, “now close your eyes…on three open and stare at me”, etc. I also move peoples bits and pieces, arms and legs primarily (ha ha ha), into positions that work for the camera. I also ask a lot of questions of the subject to see if we reach a common conclusion. They are transformations with elements of truth, but they are not “true representations capturing that persons soul”, that’s rare or maybe just bullocks.

Are the people in your photographs acting for portraiture? Or, did you just happen to be in the right place at the right time to be able to capture such great emotiveness?

As above yes, though not all of them. Sometimes, like in Love at the Man o’ War or Small Job you see something that is already a photograph and you just got to click fast.

Acting in portraiture vs. real life candids, which do you prefer? Why?

Real life candids, in terms of just getting a great lucky shot, but that’s normally a surprise, unless you are working a social occasion like a wedding and picking them off. But, more work goes into getting a posed portrait right and, so, it’s a different maybe more complete sense of satisfaction.

Where do you see yourself and your artwork in the next 5 years? What would you like to happen/accomplish?

Nowhere, particularly, but I would love to exhibit on the physical plane and see how that might go down. Otherwise, I want to make a short film or two in the next few years, and my major ambition is to make a feature length film that’s worth making. I do not want to make a feature film that sucks or is just alright but not very emotive. I would like my audience to sit in their seats somewhat stunned, awash with conflicting emotions and unsure as to what to do next. I would make a rip roaring horror where its a laugh a second, as a second best option. Neither is an easy to achieve ambition and I have them on a long finger, before I am 50 is my general aim.

And, now for the 21 million dollar question… eh, just adding dramatics…

If given the choice to either never take another photo again OR live in a world where you can take all the photos you want but everyone else would go blind and would never see those photos, which would you choose? Remember, you have to choose one of them, but you can tell us why you chose it.

I would never take a photograph ever again and I would not be in the least bit bothered knowing that I had saved the world from blindness. Photography is important to me and images are important to man, but way, way down the list whereas music would be way up the list by a few hundred places. I can’t sing nor play an instrument, so go figure, but music moves me and I think almost everybody much, much more than a photo or painting. Stories are just after music or maybe before?

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